Cindi Andrews | Cincinnati Enquirer || 6.26.14
Money seems to be job one for Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel – not properly collecting and investing taxpayers’ money, but collecting what he needs to fulfill his political ambitions.
Something stinks in Cleveland, and it’s not the water.
The smell is emanating from a federal courtroom where a Canton area business owner is standing trial on charges that he bought off state politicians with donations filtered through his employees.
“I’ll give you $100,000; you help me fend off a lawsuit against my advertising practices in California,” is the gist of the conversation the prosecution is alleging Ben Suarez had with Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel.
Mandel definitely sent a letter to the California state treasurer May 23, 2011, and his U.S. Senate campaign definitely started receiving money three days later from employees of Suarez’s telemarketing business, according to a Cleveland.com report.
The letter used virtually the same wording as suggested in emails from Suarez’s company and sought help to end “legalized extortion” against the company, according to Cleveland.com.
Suarez is on trial because prosecutors think they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his employees made those contributions on his orders and were then reimbursed for them. Mandel isn’t on trial – evidently because prosecutors don’t think they can establish a firm enough cause and effect between the contributions and the letter.
“To say, ‘I’ll support you; do you support me?’ – in some form or other, that happens in a million different ways,” Xavier University political expert Gene Beaupre told Enquirer reporter Chrissie Thompson.
Suarez faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted of conspiracy to violate federal campaign laws, obstruction and witness tampering. Closing arguments are expected Thursday on charges that include $100,000 given to U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci’s 2012 re-election campaign as well as the money given to Mandel. Both Republicans have since returned the contributions, and Mandel’s office says he did nothing improper.
The trial hasn’t been top-of-mind here in Southwest Ohio – probably because it’s occurring on the opposite end of the state, with a cast of characters who aren’t from around here.
It matters greatly, however. Most concretely, it matters because popular Democratic state Rep. Connie Pillich, an Air Force veteran from Montgomery, is challenging Mandel this fall.
But most importantly, it matters because pay-to-play strikes at the heart of our system of government.
Whether or not a legal case can be made against Mandel, a picture has emerged of a politician who’s all about money and naked ambition. The suburban Cleveland native jumped from small-town councilman to state treasurer in four years, and less than six months into his four-year term as treasurer he was already raising money to run for the U.S. Senate.
Mandel vs. incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown ended up being one of the most expensive races in the country in 2012, not only because the money raised by the candidates but also that spent by outside interests in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Dark money found Mandel like a homing pigeon.
The revelations about Mandel’s dealings with Suarez add to the narrative that money is job one for our state treasurer – not properly collecting and investing taxpayers’ money, as he was elected to do, but collecting what he needs to fulfill his political ambitions.
For Ohio voters who haven’t followed the blow-by-blow of the Suarez trial and investigation, here’s my take-away: Mandel is the worst kind of politician – the kind who makes us all more cynical about democracy and public service. Let’s remember that in November.