The Ohio Elections Commission (OEC) announced last week it will hold a hearing on Thursday, January 5, 2023 to review evidence against former gubernatorial candidate Joe Blystone concerning alleged campaign-finance violations.
Charges against the Republican former hopeful include failure to report contributions from small-dollar backers and breach of rules regarding corporate donations. The onetime candidate was engaged in negotiations with Commission Executive Director Philip Richter over a possible settlement, but some GOP members of the commission, including D. Michael Crites and Christina Hagan, reportedly insisted on continuing the probe to achieve full accountability.
Blystone arguably had a major effect on the course of Ohio gubernatorial politics this year, having challenged moderate Republican Governor Mike DeWine for reelection when Jim Renacci, a former congressman who represented the Cleveland and Akron suburbs, was pursuing his own bid for the office. Renacci and Blystone, who collectively received more support than DeWine, ended up splitting much of the conservative base, making the governor’s path to renomination easier.
Earlier this year, complainant Mary Cappellan alerted the OEC to what she claimed was Blystone’s flagrant financial mismanagement. The board delayed hearings on the matter until one day before the May 3 primary, even though it determined in April that probable cause existed to investigate the allegations.
By declining to look into the allegations before voters decided on the nomination, Cappellan attorney Curt Hartman said at the time that the commission “hamstrung the voters” who rely on “full disclosure” when it comes to adherence to campaign-finance law.
Blystone was made aware of Cappellan’s accusations against him in a March letter from Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Director of Campaign Finance Brian Katz. Therein, over two dozen irregularities were listed.
Those findings included $40,299 in campaign spending that lacked needed documentation, $133,038 in financial and other contributions for which “locations or event descriptions” were noted as the contributor “rather than an individual or entity” and $17,111 in expenditures that weren’t supported by campaign bank statements.
LaRose suggested Blystone could be forced to return over $100,000 in donations that either exceeded state limits or improperly came from corporations. The former candidate and the secretary of state reached no repayment agreement and in September LaRose publicly discussed the possibility of prosecuting Blystone.
In his negotiations with the secretary of state, Blystone indicated he would calculate the sum of all contributions he determined his campaign incorrectly accepted and would return that amount. The former hopeful ultimately said that sum came to about $20,000, a figure LaRose did not deem accurate.
Blystone’s hearing will take place in Room 1932 of 77 South High Street in Columbus. The commission has indicated that the event will be viewable via its website.
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