The complaint was filed by the father of a former congressional candidate.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The Federal Election Commission didn't have to wait long to get a complaint filed about a questionable $50,000 loan from state Sen. Timothy Ryan, and co-signed by a friend, to his congressional campaign committee.
The complaint was filed Wednesday, the same day an article about the loan appeared in The Vindicator, with the election commission by Donald L. Walter, who lives in Rome in southern Ashtabula County, and serves as president of Don Walter Kitchens in Austintown. Walter is the father of Randy Walter, a former congressional candidate.
"I would like a full investigation of this matter and believe all appropriate penalties and sanctions should be applied," the elder Walter wrote in the letter to the FEC's general counsel. "All deliberate speed is asked because if these funds were obtained in violation of federal law, they should not be able to be used during the balance of the campaign."
Co-signed by former coach
Ryan, a Democratic candidate for the 17th Congressional District seat, said he obtained the money from Second National Bank in Canfield, but because he had no collateral, he needed someone to co-sign the loan. Ryan has refused to publicly state who co-signed the loan, except that it was one of his former basketball coaches.
Dennis Rossi, who was Ryan's junior varsity basketball coach at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, acknowledges he is the co-signer. Rossi, an insurance salesman, said Ryan "has been like a son" to him.
Rossi said Ryan asked him to co-sign the loan and because he is completely unfamiliar with federal election rules, he asked the congressional candidate that everything be done properly.
"All of a sudden, this came out and I'm very surprised," Rossi said. "I trusted him to make sure everything was done right. As far as I'm concerned, I don't think anything is wrong."
Ryan and Julie Stitzel, his campaign treasurer, had insisted the co-signer's name does not have to appear on the campaign finance reports, but federal election rules say otherwise.
Also, because there was no prior written agreement between Ryan and Rossi about who was responsible for what amount of the loan, federal election rules say they are each responsible for $25,000.
$1,000 is limit
Election rules also say bank loans are considered campaign contributions, thus the loan is considered a $25,000 campaign contribution. Individuals are permitted to give only $1,000 per election to a congressional campaign.
Reached Wednesday for a comment on Walter's complaint, Stitzel declined to discuss the matter.
Ryan said that his campaign had contacted the Federal Election Commission about the loan because he had questions about it and that he was told there was no problem. Ryan said that because he got prior permission the loan should not be an issue.
But a campaign guide issued by the FEC for congressional candidates and committees, which Ryan said he has, states that a loan "is considered a contribution to the extent of the outstanding balance of the loan. ... An unpaid loan, when added to other contributions from the same donor, may not exceed the contribution limit."
Letter to FEC
In his letter to the FEC, Walter wrote, "I believe this loan, with a single co-signer guaranteeing it, is a clear violation of the federal campaign laws."
Walter said he felt compelled to file the complaint because he is "interested in the truth, and we've had too many untruths in the Valley."
Walter said he offered to lend money to his son, Randy, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2000, but his son declined.
"He said I couldn't give him money because it would be illegal" to give more than $1,000, Walter said.
Walter said Ryan, who has a law degree, should have a better understanding of the law than most people.
Walter's son, who withdrew as a Democratic candidate this year for the 17th District seat, said federal election rules about loans and contributions are crystal clear.
Statement from Sawyer camp
The committee to re-elect U.S. Rep. Thomas C. Sawyer, an Akron Democrat who is also running for the 17th District seat, issued a statement about Ryan's loan.
"Federal election law is very clear on matters involving loans and the requirement of securing and reporting them," wrote Mike Thomas, Sawyer's campaign manager. "So far, it appears Tim Ryan has not followed these regulations and has not given voters the full story. What is Tim Ryan hiding from the voters of the 17th District?"
Thomas wrote that Ryan needs to reassure voters that he has not broken the law by disclosing all pertinent information about the loan.
Ryan could face a monetary penalty from the FEC if he were found to have violated election rules.
Kelly Huff, an FEC spokeswoman, had said the commission would not launch an investigation into the loan until someone filed a complaint. An investigation will begin if four of the agency's six commissioners agree to move forward.
Ryan's initial financial disclosure report listed the $50,000 as a contribution from the candidate. But a few days later, Stitzel amended the report and identified the money as a loan, but failed to include the name of the co-signer.
The $50,000 represents 76 percent of the money Ryan has raised for his campaign.