Two Days After Co-Sponsoring Impeachment, Ohio Representative Becomes Target of Investigation

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On Monday morning, Representative Nino Vitale (R-Urbana) began the week with an announcement on Facebook releasing the details of his co-sponsorship of articles of impeachment levied against Republican Governor Mike DeWine.

Vitale and three other representatives co-sponsored the articles that outlined 10 offenses the foursome listed as reasons for DeWine to be removed from the state’s top post.

Wednesday morning Vitale received a call from a Dayton Daily News reporter inquiring about newly released election law violation allegations. The call was the first the representative heard of the charges filed by Frank LaRose, Ohio Secretary of State accusing him of campaign law infractions.

The campaign finance infractions center around six different allegations involving missing a filing deadline by a couple of hours; using the campaign committee website, email marketing, Facebook and Twitter platforms to advertise concealed carry weapon (CCW) courses Vitale teaches; and mingling remuneration for CCW courses with campaign money.

“I’m involved in co-sponsoring articles of impeachment and a couple days later I’m the target of an election finance investigation,” Vitale said. “I’ve worked with the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee (JLEC) for over seven years and cleared the CCW practices each time.”

Due to the backlog at the Secretary of State office, Vitale was informed his matter may not receive full attention until around November.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced the investigation referral to the Ohio Election Commission through a press release on Wednesday.

The Ohio Star reached out to Secretary of State LaRose to inquire beyond the alleged infractions – diving in on the procedural handling of the matter. Below are the questions and answers, if given, by  Ohio Secretary of State Office Press Secretary Maggie Sheehan.

Question: Is it common for an election violation allegation to be leaked to a media contact who – in turn – contacts the target of the complaint ahead of the secretary’s office?

Answer: No comment provided.

Question: How many election violations are filed by the secretary each year versus, say, an election contest opponent?

Answer: 2019: 64; 2018: 54; 2017: 54; 2016: 27

Question: If these practices have been going on for a few years (as the exhibits suggest) why are alleged violations just now being released?

Answer: “These penalties are determined by Ohio Revised Code and enforced by the Ohio Elections Commission. “

Question: How many make their way to a press release on the SOS site?

Answer: “As I’m sure you can see on our website, there are three OEC referrals within our media section.”

Question: In the wake of the FBI investigation into HB6, DeWine pledged to return campaign contributions from FirstEnergy to charity – those amounts are significantly higher than the $25 to $100 violations alleged in Vitale’s citations.  Would Vitale be given relief if he donated money to charity? Are FirstEnergy contributions to DeWine and Lt Governor Husted being investigated or are those deemed compliant?

Answer: No comment provided.

Question: Does LaRose have a comment on the optics of the investigation – given that Vitale has been a long-time opponent of the state’s COVID response and just Monday was very vocal about the release of the articles of impeachment?

Answer: No comment provided.

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Jack Windsor is Managing Editor and an Investigative Reporter at The Ohio Star. Windsor is also an Investigative Reporter at WMFD-TV. Follow Jack on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Frank LaRose” by Frank LaRose. 

 

 

 

 

 

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