Aftab Pureval’s legal troubles won’t go away.
In fact, they are growing more serious by the day.
The Democrat candidate for Ohio’s first congressional district already has a complaint pending before the Ohio Elections Commission, which will be the subject of a hearing Thursday, Sept. 20, alleging he illegally used funds donated to his local Hamilton County Clerk of Courts race to pay for services used by his congressional campaign.
But now there are questions about whether someone from the Pureval campaign pressured a local Hamilton County Board of Elections employee to possibly cover up the purpose of several payments reported by his clerk-of-courts campaign.
His campaign’s check-writing irregularities were the subject of scrutiny on Wednesday morning, Sept. 19, at an emergency meeting of the Hamilton County Board of Elections.
Board of Elections chairman and former Hamilton County Democratic chairman Tim Burke confirmed to The Enquirer that the meeting was about the actions of the board’s deputy director, Sally Krisel, who previously served as director.
Pureval is running for Congress against incumbent Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH-1), but the matter addressed Wednesday relates to his 2018 Clerk of Courts campaign finance report filed in July.
The Board of Elections wants to get to the bottom of why the memo lines in checks written by Pureval’s clerk-of-courts campaign were redacted, or blacked out, by Krisel. This is more than a little unusual.
His filings raised red flags because he spent $30,000 in the six months of this year, an unusual time to spend that much money on a campaign for re-election that is still two years into the future. And what makes it smell even more fishy is that the source of those funds were two donations totaling $30,000 from his own mother.
The Pureval for Clerk of Court campaign paid for expenses related to out-of-state travel, polling and photography. It appears these services were not used for his clerk of courts campaign at all, but rather for services rendered to the Aftab Pureval for Congress campaign. If that turns out to be the case, Pureval would guilty of violating federal election laws that forbid the use of funds donated to a state or local campaign for a federal campaign. This is a felony punishable by fines and/or jail time.
According to The Enquirer article, someone on Pureval’s campaign staff had asked Krisel whether it was legal to black out the memo line. Krisel said it was legal as long as the reason for the check was described in the campaign finance report, Burke told the Enquirer. So Krisel proceeded to redact the memo line.
“It is not our practice for the board staff to do that redaction,” Burke said. “The campaign should do it. It’s their filing. I don’t think she knows why she did it.”
Even if she did not know why she did it, the question is whether any laws were broken.
Wednesday’s hearing is important, said Brian Shrive, the attorney who filed the complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission. He said it speaks directly to the “integrity” of the board.
“Sadly, my faith in the integrity and transparency of the Hamilton County Board of Elections is rocked,” Shrive told the Enquirer. If a board worker altered public records, “that employee and anyone else who knew about it but did not come forward should be fired and held criminally accountable. The integrity of our elections demands nothing less.”
Pureval’s campaign has said all of the spending was for the Clerk of Courts campaign. He will presumably have a chance to prove that at Thursday’s hearing.
Until then, all eyes are watching on both sides of a contentious race for a key congressional seat.
Mandi Merritt, spokesperson for the Republican National Committee, says that raises questions about what Pureval was trying to hide.
“We’re less than 50 days away from the November election, and Aftab Pureval continues to be embroiled in legal trouble and scandal, raising serious questions about his integrity or fitness for office,” she said. “Ohioans deserve a congressman who is honest and transparent — something Aftab Pureval clearly is not.”
To recap, Aftab Pureval is under investigation for the improper use of $30,000 from his County Clerk of Court’s account that appears to have been used for his congressional campaign. And the memo lines on the checks in question were blacked out so the public couldn’t get answers.
Were these checks indeed used for political purposes related to his congressional campaign? Check out the tweet Wednesday from longtime Enquirer reporter Sharon Coolidge, who includes a scan of the unredacted check:
And now, campaign shows unredacted check. Again, “poll balance.” pic.twitter.com/OLc0kub91L
— Sharon Coolidge (@SharonCoolidge) September 19, 2018
Pureval’s campaign manager Sarah Topy wouldn’t tell The Enquirer who made the redactions, but did say Pureval’s campaign asked whether redactions could be made.
“We asked whether redactions are permissible,” Topy said. “We asked whether the memo line was party requirement for filing, and we were told it was not. We filed in a way that was appropriate that provided all the necessary information.”
Will Pureval be able to say with a straight face that his local campaign paid a Washington polling firm more than $16,000 to conduct a poll for his clerk-of-courts race in March 2018, more than two years before he was up for re-election? That would be more than a little odd.
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Anthony Accardi is a writer and reporter for The Ohio Star.