COLUMBUS -- President Bush will return $4,000 in campaign contributions donated by Toledo area coin dealer Tom Noe and his wife, officials said yesterday.
A spokesman said the Republican National Committee will also return $2,000 contributed by Mr. Noe, who is facing multiple investigations for allegedly misappropriating at least $10 million in state money and possible federal campaign finance violations. The money will be refunded to charity.
But President Bush will not at least for now return more than $100,000 raised by Mr. Noe for his re-election bid last year, said Aaron McLear, a spokesman for the RNC. Democrats continue to call on the President to return all of the tainted money raised by Mr. Noe.
On Wednesday, Gov. Bob Taft as well as U.S. Sens. George Voinovich and Mike DeWine, three Republican gubernatorial candidates, and several GOP leaders tried to cleanse their hands of Mr. Noe's cash by announcing they would direct the money to charities and organizations.
The Blade has reported that the state has given Mr. Noe $50 million to invest in rare coins, but millions of dollars in assets are now missing.
"We are going to be following the lead of our state chairman for the President's campaign, Bob Taft, and Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett, and donate the contributions from the Noes to an appropriate charity," Mr. McLear said.
The spokesman said the President's advisers are continuing to monitor the situation in Ohio, where a federal grand jury has convened to hear testimony on allegations that the coin dealer laundered political contributions to Mr. Bush's re-election campaign.
"It appears that all other donations are completely appropriate, but we will remain committed to following the spirit and letter of the law, and we will take further action if the situation necessitates it," Mr. McLear said.
The Democratic National Committee, which last week began calling on Mr. Bush to refund all of the tainted money Mr. Noe raised for him, said the President did not go far enough.
"The Republicans response is completely inadequate because it does not eliminate the possibility that the hard-earned money of Ohio's workers was used to bankroll the President's re-election campaign," Josh Earnest, a DNC spokesman, said.
Mr. Noe, who led the Bush-Cheney campaign in northwest Ohio, gained elite status as a Bush pioneer because he helped the re-election effort raise between $100,000 and $250,000.
"The people of Ohio deserve better than a President who's willing to give special access to donors offering tainted cash," Mr. Earnest said.
"President Bush should immediately return the more than $100,000 that Noe raised for his campaign."
During the campaign, Mr. Noe had frequent contact with Karl Rove, the architect of Mr. Bush's re-election bid. Mr. Bush numerous times during the campaign visited Ohio, which turned out to be the pivotal state on Election Day.
On April 3, The Blade first reported on Mr. Noe's agreement with the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation to invest in rare coins.
A battery of state and federal investigations has been initiated during the past two months pertaining to how Mr. Noe obtained the contract, his business practices, political contributions, and the conduct of elected officials.
Last week, as fraud inspectors served a search-and-seizure warrant on Mr. Noe's Monclova Township coin shop, his lawyers told Ohio authorities that at least $10 million in state assets were missing.
Governor Taft, who initially dismissed questions about the state's investment and hailed Mr. Noe as a friend and leader for northwest Ohio, accepted the resignation of bureau CEO/administrator James Conrad a week ago, saying he was outraged at what had transpired with Mr. Noe's rare-coin funds.
A statement by Mr. Taft and Mr. Bennett released Wednesday said Mr. Noe's actions will not be tolerated.
Ohioans deserve bold and aggressive leadership in cleaning up this abuse of public trust, and we are committed to providing that leadership, Mr. Taft and Mr. Bennett said.
The Ohio Republican Party yesterday commended the RNC's move to relinquish the money contributed by Mr. Noe.
"The RNC is following suit on the action we took on Wednesday," said Jason Mauk, a spokesman for the Ohio GOP.
"It is the responsible thing to do given the questionable nature of the contributions that were made."
Jim Ruvolo, a political strategist and former adviser to President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, said Mr. Bush's returning the contributions shows the seriousness of the situation in Ohio.
"What you've got is Republicans from Toledo to Columbus to Washington scrambling for cover," said Mr. Ruvolo, a past chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party.
"This is easy for people to understand," Mr. Ruvolo said. "There is someone who misappropriated [millions of state dollars]. The same individual gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates. It is clear they have to react to that.
"There is not a lot of gray area here."
Mr. Ruvolo said if the federal investigation proves Mr. Noe gave money to other people to give to Mr. Bush's campaign, that money must be returned.
Politically, if they don't do it, it is a big problem for them, he said.
"This may be money that should have gone for workers in Ohio. If that's the case, there is no way anyone elected officials, politicians should keep that money."
State Sen. Marc Dann, a Democrat from suburban Youngstown and a leading critic of Republican conduct in dealing with the coin scandal, welcomed Mr. Bush to the efforts to try to clean up Ohio.
"Maybe even President Bush is starting to understand what's wrong when you have a pay-to-play system, which has become a pay-to-steal system," Mr. Dann said.
"The fact that the President of the United States is willing to give his money back indicates the broad scope of this money machine in Ohio."
Mr. Dann added, "This is not about Tom Noe, but about the politicians who were so willing to take his contributions and give him government contracts and highfalutin appointments ... and calling him a 'pioneer.' "
The senator said "$4,000 is a drop in the bucket for a Bush pioneer," and the President must return additional money if it turns out to be stolen property.
Herb Asher, a political science professor at Ohio State University, said the RNC made the right decision.
"They are doing what everybody is doing, which is saying, We think what [Mr. Noe] did is wrong," Mr. Asher said.
Contact Steve Eder at:firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.