Congressional midterms are about to heat up post-Labor Day, and one of the campaigns Democrats are most excited about is Ohio’s First Congressional District, where Aftab Pureval is pitted against incumbent Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH-01).
Chabot has held the seat for 20 of the past 22 years.
But even as Pureval’s campaign generates energy on the ground, he continues to face questions about whether he violated campaign-finance laws, particularly with regard to two donations made by his mother, Drenko Pureval, to his Clerk of Courts campaign in 2018 after he announced his candidacy for Congress and opened his Congressional campaign bank account, “Aftab for Ohio” on January 31, 2018, according to Federal Election Commission records.
The first deposits to the “Aftab for Ohio” Congressional campaign account were made on January 31.
One day later, on February 1, Drenko Pureval donated the maximum amount allowable under federal election laws– $5,400–to her son’s Congressional campaign in contributions deposited in his “Aftab for Ohio” bank account, according to Federal Election Commission records.
That same day, February 1, one day after he announced his run for Congress, Pureval’s clerk of courts’ campaign account, called “Friends of Aftab Pureval,” received a donation of $15,000 from his mother, Drenko Pureval.
In early April, Drenko Pureval wrote a second check for another $15,000 to her son’s Clerk of Courts campaign account, “Friends of Aftab Pureval,” for a total of $30,000.
You can see the documentation of those two checks, as reported by “Friends of Aftab Pureval,” here:
Such a large donation to a single candidate would be illegal in a federal race, but in a local Ohio race it is perfectly legal – as long as the money is spent on the local race.
The Cincinnati Enquirer noted in an August report: “If Pureval did use the county account for his federal race, such use could violate federal and state campaign finance laws.”
Violations of this sort carry criminal penalties up to and including jail time.
Just ask another Indian-American, conservative filmmaker/activist Dinesh D’Souza. He pleaded guilty in 2014 to felony violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act for using “straw donors” to contribute to Republican Wendy Long’s failed U.S. Senate campaign.
D’Souza directed two people to make donations to Long, according to the FBI. He later reimbursed them and their spouses for the donations, which totaled $20,000. He was fined $30,000 and sentenced to a five-year probation, including eight months in a halfway house.
The pivotal question remains: Did Purevall use his mother’s large donations to his local-office campaign to pay for services rendered to his congressional campaign?
That will be up to the Ohio Elections Commission to decide, but it appears he did, based on the exhibits in the complaint.
On April 4, Pureval’s County Clerk campaign, Friends of Aftab Pureval, paid the Washington, D.C.-based Democrat polling company GBA Strategies $16,400.79, which a complaint filed on August 10 by the Cincinnati-based Finney Law Firm with the Ohio Elections Commission says were for services provided that consisted of polling for his congressional race.
You can see a copy of that canceled check, from the Friends of Aftab Pureval bank account, here:
The complaint alleges that Pureval used campaign money from his local clerk of courts campaign account in Hamilton County, “Friends of Aftab Pureval,” to pay for services used by his congressional campaign, which should have properly been paid for by his Congressional campaign account, “Aftab for Ohio”, which is governed by federal election laws.
Of particular interest is the $30,000 his mother, Drenko Pureval, donated to his Clerk of the Courts campaign, “Friends of Aftab Pureval,” in those two separate transactions shortly after he announced his run for Congress in January.
The complaint alleges that his mother’s donations were not intended to support Pureval’s campaign for re-election as clerk but were made “for the purpose of evading the contribution limits applicable to federal candidate committees” and to support Pureval’s federal campaign.
A person cannot donate more than $5,400 to a single candidate for federal office but may make unlimited contributions to candidates in local Ohio races.
If the allegations in the complaint turn out to be valid, Pureval may have placed his own mother in jeopardy of violating federal campaign-finance laws.
Drenko Pureval is a widow who owns a commercial building called the Shops at King’s Yard in Yellow Springs, where she also owns and operates Tibet Bazaar Gift Shop, selling clothing, jewelry and other items imported from Tibet and Nepal.
Pureval is not up for re-election to his clerk’s office until 2020, yet his clerk campaign account spent thousands of dollars in the first six months of 2018, according to a semi-annual campaign finance report on file at the Hamilton County Board of Elections.
The complaint alleges Pureval’s Clerk of Courts campaign paid for a photo shoot, travel and polling, all for his congressional run.
Ready the entire complaint here.
Aftab often recounts with pride his family’s immigrant journey while campaigning and posting on Twitter.
— Aftab Pureval (@AftabPureval) October 27, 2016
Pureval, 35, was born in the United States.
His mother, Drenko Pureval, escaped from Tibet as a child with her parents finding refuge in India, after a stop in Nepal, which is where Drenko met her future husband, Devinder Pureval.
Drenko Pureval’s parents now live in Khatmandu, Nepal, according to Aftab’s 2017 wedding announcement.
As The Ohio Star reported previously, Aftab Pureval worked on behalf of the Communist controlled government of Nepal in 2011 while employed by the Washington, D.C. law firm White & Case.
His father, Devinder, the son of an Indian general, earned a master’s degree in business administration from New Delhi School of Economics before migrating to the U.S. in the 1970s with his wife and settling in the Dayton area. He worked as a computer engineer for NCR Corp. and defense-technology giant Lockheed Martin. He died in 2007 at the age of 54, leaving behind a wife and two sons, Aftab and Avid.
A preliminary-review hearing for the campaign-finance complaint against Pureval has been set for Sept. 20 at 10 a.m. at the Ohio Election Commission’s Columbus headquarters. All eyes on both sides of the race will be watching.
After reviewing the documents submitted, the commission will decide to either:
- Find no violation;
- Find there has been a violation; or
- Set the case for a full hearing to obtain additional testimony and evidence.
The Cincinnati Enquirer called the activity alleged in the complaint a “campaign no-no” and offered Pureval a chance to defend the payments. Pureval declined to comment.
His campaign manager, Sarah Topy, has described the filing as a “phony complaint.”
Pureval’s lawyers told the Enquirer that what he did was completely legal under federal laws that allow a candidate to run for two offices at the same time and “divide the cost.”*
But the Finney Law Firm, which filed the complaint on behalf of Hamilton County resident Mark Miller, issued a statement saying the case appears cut and dried, citing the $30,000 in donations to Pureval’s local campaign office that were used to fund a poll, a photo shoot and travel that appears to be related to the congressional campaign.
“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,” said Brian Shrive of the Finney Law Firm.
A complaint has not yet been filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Anthony Accardi is a staff writer for The Ohio Star.