By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Congressional candidate Timothy Ryan says a supporter of U.S. Rep. Thomas C. Sawyer, whom he will face in the May 7 Democratic primary, is doing the congressman's dirty work to discredit him.
That's because Sawyer is fearful of his challenge, Ryan added.
"Only Tom Sawyer benefits from this; it's nothing but dirty politics," Ryan said.
Ryan, a state senator from Niles, accuses Sawyer, of Akron, of being behind the disclosure about a questionable $50,000 loan to his campaign -- even though reporters have told Ryan that is not the case.
The Vindicator first disclosed the loan on Wednesday. Ryan obtained the money from Second National Bank in Canfield, but because he has no collateral he needed someone to co-sign the loan. The co-signer is Dennis Rossi, an insurance salesman who was Ryan's junior varsity basketball coach at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren.
Ryan has insisted he did nothing improper. But federal election rules state that the co-signer of a bank loan is considered a contributor to a congressional campaign. Because Ryan and Rossi do not have a written agreement as to who is responsible for what amount of the loan, the Federal Election Commission considers them 50-50 partners.
That means Rossi contributed $25,000 to Ryan's campaign, well over the $1,000 limit an individual is permitted to give to a congressional candidate.
Ryan has since paid back $25,000 of the loan, but FEC rules consider Rossi as giving $12,500 to the congressional campaign. Also, on his financial disclosure reports, Ryan fails to list Rossi as a co-signer.
Don Walter, owner of a kitchen supply store in Austintown, filed a complaint Wednesday with the FEC about the loan, saying he was concerned about honesty in local government. Walter said he respects Sawyer, but neither the congressman nor his supporters had him file the complaint.
But Patrick Lowry, Ryan's spokesman, said there is more to it.
Walter gave a $1,000 contribution to Sawyer's campaign Monday, and that calls his intentions into question.
"Certainly he can contribute, but there's more to it in this case," Lowry said. "He has a political agenda."
Also, Ryan said unspecified polls show him and Sawyer neck and neck and the congressman is doing what he can to hurt the state senator's chances.
Sawyer camp's rebuttal
That's just nonsense, said Mike Thomas, Sawyer's campaign manager.
"Is the claim that we're supposed to be afraid of him?" Thomas said. "You can't ignore a question of integrity. He needs to examine his own behavior before he points fingers at others."
Also, Thomas said, Walter is a supporter and contributor, but he did not act on behalf or at the request of Sawyer's campaign when he filed the complaint.
"The whole we're-out-to-get-him conspiracy is silly," he said. "Anybody who knows Don Walter knows he does what he wants. He's asking a legitimate question. Is [Ryan] funneling money into his campaign that isn't allowed? It raises grave concerns."
Before obtaining the loan, Ryan said he had questions about it and asked for guidance from the FEC. Ryan said he gave a blow-by-blow description of the loan to an agency employee and was told it was permissible.
"I can't imagine that we gave wrong information in this case," said Kelly Huff, an FEC spokeswoman. "Maybe there was a miscommunication. I'm trying to give them the benefit of the doubt."
Ryan said his campaign is back in touch with the FEC and he is seeking a written opinion from the agency on the loan issue.
For an investigation to begin, a majority of the six FEC commissioners would have to approve it. It is doubtful that the matter will be resolved before the May 7 primary.
Ryan could face a monetary penalty from the FEC if found to have violated election rules.