Aftab Pureval, the Democratic challenger for Ohio’s District-1 congressional seat, violated state and federal elections laws when he comingled funds between two separate campaigns for two different offices, according to a complaint filed with the Ohio Elections Commission.
Pureval spent money donated for his Clerk of Courts race in Hamilton County to buy services, including at least one TV ad, for his congressional campaign, according to the complaint.
Pureval, a 35-year-old lawyer, took office in January 2017 as Clerk of Courts for Hamilton County. He served in that office barely a year when, on Jan. 31, 2018, he announced he was running for the congressional seat held by Republican Steve Chabot, an 11-term incumbent who was one of the first Republican House members targeted as vulnerable by the Democratic Congressional Committee in this year’s midterms.
Since his announcement, nearly $1.6 million has poured into Pureval’s campaign coffers, most of it from outside Ohio.
But there is one chunk of money, about $30,000, that flowed from his own mother and is the subject of the complaint filed Aug. 10 with the Ohio Elections Commission.
The 120-page complaint was filed by the Finney Law Firm against Pureval, his campaign committee and its treasurer, Evan Nolan.
Federal and State law prohibit redirecting state campaign funds to a federal campaign, according to an Aug. 13 statement by the Finney firm.
Here’s how Pureval allegedly skirted those laws to his own advantage:
Federal law limits contributions to Pureval’s federal campaign to $5,400, but contributions to the clerk of court’s campaign are unlimited. In an effort to exploit Ohio’s lack of contribution limits for clerk of courts campaigns, this year alone Pureval’s mother has donated $30,000 to the clerk of court’s campaign, and almost all of that money has been spent in support of Pureval’s congressional race.
According to facts presented in the complaint, it appears quite clear that Pureval was already campaigning for Congress before his seat was warm at the Clerk of Courts Office in Hamilton County.
It makes one wonder if Pureval ever intended to serve the residents of Hamilton County or if he saw that office as merely a quick and easy stepping stone for his ultimate ambition, which was to challenge Chabot and turn a long-Republican House seat from red to blue.
Pureval tweeted on Aug. 1 that he was “inspired” to run for Congress by former President Barack Obama, who earlier that day had endorsed him.
President Obama inspired me to get involved in public service. It is surreal and incredible to have his endorsement. As he told us, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Change starts with us. And in 100 days, we’re going to make it happen here. #FiredUp #ReadyToGo https://t.co/ooTofsqZXI
— Aftab Pureval (@AftabPureval) August 1, 2018
“Even before he announced his run for Congress, Pureval was spending his clerk of court’s campaign funds improperly,” the law firm contends on its website. “In the summer of 2017, just after taking his current job [as clerk of court], he was traveling across the country testing the waters for a congressional run. Those travel costs included airfare and a hotel stays in Washington, D.C., [and] Atlanta, Georgia.”
It is perfectly legal for one person to run two campaigns, but funds for the two cannot be comingled.
While Pureval’s D.C. attorneys suggest “dividing” costs can be done legally, a review of the state and federal campaign reports makes clear the two campaigns are not dividing joint costs. “The clerk of court’s campaign account has simply been placed into the service of the congressional campaign,” according to the Finney firm.
Since announcing his run for Congress in February, Pureval has used his clerk of courts’ campaign fund to pay for a photographer to document his congressional campaign kickoff (footage that has been used in his campaign commercials); $16,000 for polling; a congressional campaign staffer; and thousands of dollars for travel.
The complaint sets forth violations of three sections of Ohio campaign finance law: converting contributions for his clerk of courts campaign to the use of the federal campaign, and to other third parties; failure to file accurate reports of receipts; and failure to file accurate reports of expenditures.
Pureval has turned the front page of the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts website into a virtual campaign ad for “Aftab for Congress,” featuring a large portrait of a smiling Pureval across the top and a video featuring “A Message from Aftab Pureval” under that.
If found to have merit, the charges in the complaint could derail the Pureval campaign, which is locked in a race some analysts, such as Cook’s Political Report, have rated as a “toss up.”
- In 2017, An Ohio judge was sentenced to ten days in jail for improper expenditures from his campaign account, paying for expensive meals and cigars.
- Also in 2017, a California man was sentenced to one year in prison after organizing a money laundering scheme to support his son’s run for Congress.
Some have suggested Pureval may have made a “rookie mistake” given his lack of experience.
But the Finney lawyers said they see evidence of intent.
“We expect that a full investigation will reveal that this was not a mere ‘bookkeeping mistake’ or ‘dividing costs’ but was part of a calculated plan to evade federal and state campaign finance laws and illegally finance his congressional race,” the law firm states on its website.