Aftab Pureval’s legal woes continue to mount.
Already the subject of an investigation into his campaign finance activities by the Ohio Election Commission, he is now the focus of a new complaint filed with the Federal Elections Commission.
The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, or FACT, filed a complaint with the FEC on Oct. 1 seeking a similar investigation into Pureval’s campaign expenditures, alleging violations of federal law.
FACT is a nonpartisan, nonprofit government-watchdog organization. Its complaint alleges that Pureval’s campaign intentionally skirted federal campaign finance laws through a local donation from Pureval’s mother.
FACT states in a letter to the FEC chief counsel:
FACT files this complaint requesting the Federal Election Commission (FEC) immediately investigate and take appropriate enforcement action to address apparent violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act as amended (Act) and Commission regulations by federal congressional candidate Aftab Pureval and his authorized campaign committee, Aftab for Ohio.”
The complaint bases its claims on reports in The Cincinnati Enquirer, public filings, information and belief that Pureval has used a county campaign account that is not subject to federal law to fund the early stages of his federal congressional race.
Pureval is running for the District 1 congressional seat representing Cincinnati and surrounding suburbs. He won an endorsement of former President Obama, which led to hundreds of thousands of dollars pouring into his campaign coffers from liberal special-interests based outside of Ohio.
Purevall was elected clerk of courts for Hamilton County in November 2016 and took office in January 2017. Just one year into his four-year term, on Jan. 31, 2018, he announced his candidacy for the congressional seat held by Rep. Steve Chabot, (R-OH-1). More than two years before his local-office re-election, he paid for and received polling services from Washington, D.C.-based GBA Strategies, a polling firm known for serving Democrats in federal elections.
Pureval’s campaign signed two checks to the polling company that drew funds from his local campaign account. If proven that the polling services were used for his congressional campaign, that would be a clear violation of the law.
The Pureval campaign’s story keeps changing. First, campaign manager Sarah Topy said all services paid for with the local funds were for the local race. When the allegations didn’t go away, the campaign’s attorneys stepped in with an alternative explanation.
“Ohio law and federal law expressly provide for the concurrent operation of the local campaign and the federal campaign at the same time,” attorney Brian Svoboda said.
But Svoboda’s statement misses the point. Nobody says Pureval can’t run for two offices at the same time. The issue is whether he used donations for the local campaign to pay for services rendered to his congressional campaign. That’s strictly illegal.
FACT argues that the poll itself, obtained by The Enquirer, indicated the payment was intended solely for research related to Pureval’s congressional campaign. The poll focused on the 2018 congressional race and asked no questions about the more distant Hamilton County clerk-of-courts race set for 2020.
Pureval’s “attempts to obscure and explain only demonstrate intent to violation (sic) the law,” the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust states in its complaint. “If the Commission does not act and punish such a clear violation, then the laws are without purpose.”
On Sept. 20 the Ohio Elections Commission voted to hold a full evidentiary hearing examining the campaign’s use of funds.
One of the specific pieces of evidence being evaluated by the Ohio Elections Commission is the Pureval campaign’s decision to cut a $16,427 check from a clerk-of-courts’ re-election campaign account to pay for polling services related to his congressional run.
Pureval’s campaign manager, Sarah Topy, added fuel to the controversy when she asked the deputy supervisor of the Hamilton County Board of Elections to redact, or black out, the purpose of the $16,427 payment in the check’s memo line. When the blacked-out line was later revealed, it said “poll balance.”
Three other checks also had blacked-out memo lines, and two of them had nothing written under the black ink, which FACT says reflects an intention to deceive and conceal spending the Pureval campaign knew was illegal.
FACT explains as follows:
When Pureval initially filed his clerk report, the memo lines on all four checks written during the reporting period were redacted. It was later revealed that three of the checks had nothing written in the memo line, but the check written to GBA Strategies stated “poll balance.” Thus, it appears the redaction of all the checks was made for the purpose of hiding the expenditure to GBA Strategies for polling. Additionally, the Pureval campaign’s explanation for the polling expenditure has changed from claiming all county campaign expenditures were not for the federal campaign, to the $16,427 check was “used to pay for polling related to both” campaigns, to the poll was for both campaigns and both campaigns paid for it.”
And what could have been the motive for such a sneaky move?
That’s simple. Candidates running for county office have no restrictions on the amounts they can accept from a single individual in a year — but a candidate running for federal office cannot accept more than $2,700.
Pureval’s mother donated $30,000 to his local clerk-of-courts race, money that was then allegedly used for congressional polling. If that turns out to be the case, it’s hard to imagine how Pureval could get away with what he did. The Federal Election Campaign Act would be reduced to a toothless piece of paper.
Violating the Act is a felony and carries fines and/or jail time.
And the polling services aren’t the only questionable transactions paid for out Pureval’s local campaign account.
According to the complaint, FACT calls into question another $360 in photography services, $578 in consulting services and $4,376 for state-of-the-art fundraising software. Such a software program would be considered highly extravagant and unnecessary for a local clerk’s race. He may have even paid for a congressional campaign staffer’s salary out of the local account..
While the FEC slaps most violators of campaign-finance law with fines, the FEC’s website notes “knowful and willful violations of certain FECA provisions can lead to imprisonment.”
Pureval and his attorneys insist they acted in line with the law while characterizing the complaints as politically motivated. If that’s the case, why would The Enquirer, no bastion of Republican support, be running story after story, making a scandal out of a baseless charge?
The Ohio Elections Commission has given each party the chance to make their case at a pending hearing. Possible hearing dates include Oct. 11 or Nov. 1.
FACT concludes by saying Pureval’s use of his non-federal account clearly indicate he has accepted donations and made expenditures for his federal campaign with non-federal funds.
This is not a case of a single expenditure being mischaracterized. Rather it appears Pureval used his non-federal account to accept donations from a family member who also made the maximum donation for his federal campaign, and immediately used those funds for his federal campaign.”
Reiview the full complaint:
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Anthony Accardi is a writer and reporter for The Ohio Star. Photo “Aftab Pureval’ by aftabforohio.com