Ohio Republican Party (ORP) Committeeman Dave Johnson dropped his lawsuit against the Ohio Republican PAC (Political Action Committee) on Thursday, giving the latter group a major win as they advocate for conservative Republican State Central Committee candidates across the Buckeye State.
Johnson, who represents the ORP’s 33rd district, is running for re-election to that seat against Rick Barron, who has the Ohio Republican PAC’s endorsement. Johnson sued the PAC and its affiliates in Mahoning, Carroll and Columbiana counties for conducting what he called a “sham” operation designed to mislead voters into believing that Barron had the ORP’s support. The ORP itself has not issued endorsements for the state’s central committee this year.
Ohio Republican PAC leaders maintained that their organization did not violate any rules and said Johnson therefore had no basis for suing them in the first place. PAC President Kelly Kohls suggested her association may pursue its own legal action on the basis that Ohio Republican PAC and its local chapters were defamed when Johnson sought to mark them as illegitimate.
“It was a frivolous claim,” Kohls told The Ohio Star. “We are a legitimate PAC; we have been for eight years. It makes no sense to even try to do this, but he did. And before our legal counsel could file her motion to dismiss, he, I think, knew he had no case” and ceased his litigation. “We are considering [our own potential litigation] very seriously.”
Ohio Republican PAC has endorsed dozens of state-committee candidates, all of whom are noted on the group’s Facebook page. Their priorities include support for the right to life and substantial familiarity with the U.S. Constitution. Republicans across the state will vote on these state committee seats on Tuesday, Aug. 2.
“Voters need to understand that, while there’s a lot of bullying going on in politics, there are people you can trust,” she said. “What we do in our filter process is we find the candidate who is the most Republican, the most conservative, the most patriotic, and we endorse those people and we expect them to adhere to our principles.”
While the Ohio Republican PAC does not take positions on internal committee business, Barron and some other PAC-endorsed candidates have taken issue with the manner in which ORP has overseen financial and other concerns and have proposed changes to address these matters. Barron has cited litigation which alleges that Johnson, who serves as party treasurer, and ORP Chair Bob Paduchik have failed to ensure that ORP finances are regularly and properly audited. Five committee members who brought that lawsuit asserted that “significant funds [amounting to more than $3 million] have gone missing from ORP financial statements without adequate explanation … .”
One of those ORP members, Laura Rosenberger, had the Ohio Republican PAC’s endorsement in her last committee race but is running unopposed this year. She said a Barron victory over Johnson on Tuesday would help the state GOP improve its budgetary administration.
“If he loses his state central committee race, then he will obviously not be treasurer of the Ohio Republican Party anymore and that might give the Ohio Republican Party the chance to clean up its books, because its finances have been mismanaged under corrupt Dave Johnson,” she said.
She added that Johnson has publicly accused her of attempting to stir up negative press for him via The Star, though she had not spoken with the newspaper before this week.
Rosenberger and Mark Bainbridge, another party to the lawsuit against Johnson and Paduchik, have furthermore objected to what they believe is the state party’s practice of funding party leaders’ favored candidates in state-committee races despite no endorsements having been issued.
Although Bainbridge, a certified public accountant, is not seeking re-election to his committee seat, an unidentified individual or entity who believed he was running issued a robocall against him. Such calls do not need to include disclaimers identifying who originated them because state campaign-finance laws don’t apply to party committee races.
Shannon Burns, an incumbent member of the ORP representing District 24 in the Cleveland area who is endorsed for re-election by Ohio Republican PAC, also expressed concern that the state party may be making expenditures to aid certain committee candidates. He mentioned that one of his opponents, Zacch Ashcraft, has sent out copious mailers in anticipation of Tuesday’s election.
“If I add it up in round numbers, I think that Paduchik and [Gov. Mike] DeWine [R] and their team have spent more than $40,000 against me already in the race,” Burns said.
Bainbridge said the outcome of such elections Tuesday will determine whether the ORP going forward will serve elite interests or popular concerns.
“I think voters should really think about the corruption and that the political bosses are running the state Republican Party and that we really need to get away from that and get regular Republicans or people who aren’t in with the establishment Republicans elected …,” he said.
Neither Johnson nor the ORP returned a request for comment.
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