FBI Probing Questionable Donations To Two Ohio Republicans

Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH)

Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH)

The Federal Bureau of Investigations is looking into a series of contributions by employees of the Canton, Ohio-based Suarez Corporation to Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) and freshman Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH), according to reports by the Toledo Blade and The New Republic. Mandel is the Republican challenger to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) and, due to redistricting, Renacci is facing a member-versus-member re-election fight against Rep. Betty Sutton (D).

TNR explains:

Renacci’s biggest single source of support, however, has been Suarez Corporation Industries, a large direct-marketing company in North Canton that sells a motley mix of products (space heaters, collectible coins, jewelry, and more). Last year, The Toledo Blade noticed that many large contributions were being made to Renacci by Suarez’s non-executive employees. Seventeen employees, plus six spouses, had given to Renacci, Mandel, or both, with most giving at the maximum allowable level, for a total of $100,000 for each candidate. (Company founder Benjamin Suarez had himself given the maximum to both candidates.) This sort of pattern raises red flags: Federal law bars employers from reimbursing employees for giving to a certain candidate—a method employers could use to evade limits on their own giving.

While companies often encourage employees to “bundle” contributions to candidates who support their interests, it is illegal to coerce employees to donate or to reimburse them for their contributions. Many of the donors had no history of political giving and lived in modest homes. One of the Suarez employees, copywriter Michael Blubaugh, joined with his wife Donna to give $10,000 to Renacci and $10,000 to Mandel. She told TNR that she had been interviewed about the donations by the FBI and that the donations were all made freely, out of their savings. She did acknowledge that, though $10,000 of the money was donated in her name, her husband “made the decision,” not she.

The company has denied reimbursing employees and has refused to “respond to gossip, rumors, or innuendo concerning its operations.”

But if indeed it turns out these were improper contributions, the Mandel and Renacci campaigns may find themselves having to refund a combined $200,000.