Ohio Attorney: Ohio Elections Commission ‘Hamstrung Voters’ by Delaying Investigation into Blystone’s Campaign Finances

The attorney representing the Ohio woman who filed a campaign finance complaint against businessman Joe Blystone’s gubernatorial campaign blasted the Ohio Elections Commission (OEC), saying the government organization has done a disservice to voters by failing to take action against Blystone’s campaign for alleged financial mismanagement.

“They hamstrung the voters,” Curt Hartman, attorney for complainant Mary Cappellan, told The Star Friday. “The heart of campaign finance is full disclosure and information available to the voting public. It’s disappointing in the Elections Commission’s initial delay that they didn’t appreciate that that’s why they exist.”

Hartman said he had to push the OEC to expedite the hearings on the complaint, noting that state law mandated a speedier process because the complaint came within 60 days of the primary election. At first, he said, the commission stalled. Finally, he received a phone call Tuesday telling him of Thursday’s expedited hearing before the panel.

That panel decided that there was probable cause to further investigate Blystone’s campaign finance recording practices, but that hearing won’t happen until May 3, the day before the primary election.

But Hartman believes that given the date of the full hearing, the outcome will have little impact on the primary race itself. Whatever the outcome, he said, Blystone will remain on the ballot.

“The committee will make their decision [May 3],” Hartman said. “Unfortunately, I think they delayed. I mean, if they had done their expedited hearing and all that, the full adjudicatory hearing would have been no later than April 18.”

Thursday, a panel comprised of Ohio Election Commission (EOC) commissioners D. Michael Crites (R), Charleta B. Tavares (D), and Ernest C. Knight (I) voted unanimously to dig further into the Blystone campaign’s finances.

In early March, hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations – including $99,051 in cash contributions that had to be returned outright – came into question. At the time, Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) sent a letter to the Blystone campaign outlining potentially illegal campaign finance practices.

Included in that letter was an allegation that the campaign listed $133,038 in campaign donations as coming from locations or broad event descriptions, instead of donors themselves.

For example, on Blystone’s March 4 filing with the Secretary of State (below), he listed a $950 contribution from something called “Horse Farm Days,” $731 from Fox Winery, $730 from the Loudonville Fair, and $6,000 from “Owner the Pines.” All of those donations were reportedly made in 2021.

Campaign contributions must be made by individuals, not corporations, and those individuals must be listed on campaign contribution filings.

“They basically built a system, a scheme, if you will, to accept anonymous donations,” Hartman said. “These people were setting up a system – their whole scheme – to raise a significant portion of money through anonymous donations.

Asked whether he thought the Blystone campaign was intentionally concealing donations for the purpose of stealing the funds, or whether Blystone was acting maliciously, Hartman said he believed Blystone’s campaign was just willfully ignorant, or simply does not care about the law.

Though Hartman believes the late nature of the full hearing on the matter likely won’t cause a change in the outcome of the primary election, he said Blystone could still face consequences.

“First, [the commission] could say, ‘we found a violation, but for good cause [and] we’re not going to impose a fine,” he said. “The second option is that they can impose a fine. The third option they have, is they could refer him for criminal prosecution.”

Hartman says prosecutions for mismanaged campaign finances are rare, but have happened before.

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Pete D’Abrosca is a reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Joe Blystone” by Blystone for Governor of Ohio.

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