The Democratic Party chairman said no one intentionally did anything wrong.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains said his office investigated an improper $2,500 contribution funneled through the county Democratic Party by a local trade council to state Sen. Timothy Ryan's congressional campaign and found no wrongdoing.
"This practice is not prohibited as long as everything is disclosed on campaign finance reports about the money coming from two sources," Gains said today.
"There doesn't appear to be a violation of state law, but I don't want something like this repeated in the future. If this is done, there must be full disclosure as to the source of the money."
Gains spoke to the Ohio Secretary of State's Office this morning after reading press reports about the contribution and questioned its legality.
Here's what happened
The party received a $2,750 donation from the Western Reserve Trade Council and was asked to give $2,500 of it to Ryan, said Mahoning County Democratic Chairman David Ditzler, who added that the donation was essentially the funneling of money from the council to Ryan through the party. Ditzler said the process has been done numerous times with other candidates.
To add to the confusion, the council intended the money be given to Ryan's congressional campaign, but Ditzler said he was under the impression the $2,500 was to be given to Ryan's state campaign to pay off a portion of a $40,000 loan debt he borrowed in 2000 from the state Senate Democratic caucus.
Ditzler said the check was made to "the committee to elect Ryan" and was drawn on the party's state party committee fund.
The county party is not permitted to contribute more than $1,000 to a federal fund because it does not have a federal political action committee designation. Because of that, Ryan returned the contribution over the weekend and took "full responsibility for this misunderstanding."
Patrick Lowry, Ryan's spokesman, said the $2,500 contribution was mailed to Ryan's congressional headquarters in Warren and because the money was sent in the middle of the congressional race, there was no reason to think the money was for Ryan's state fund.
"I thought we were paying down state Senate debt and it wasn't that big of a deal," Ditzler said.
"Ryan didn't know about it. Ditzler didn't know it was improper, but it was done," Gains said. "I don't want to see this done in the future."
Lowry agreed that this should be investigated.
"If there's a questionable activity, it came from the party," he said.
Gains expects someone to file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission about the Mahoning Democratic contribution to Ryan. An FEC spokeswoman said this morning that she could not comment as to whether anyone has filed a complaint about the contribution.
Ryan is already facing questions about a $50,000 loan from him, and co-signed by a friend, to his congressional campaign committee. A complaint was filed by Donald L. Walter, a Mahoning Valley businessman, with the Federal Election Commission.
Ryan borrowed the money through a bank, but because he did not have collateral, he got Dennis Rossi, his former basketball coach and an insurance salesman, to co-sign the loan. FEC rules consider the loan to be a contribution, shared equally between Ryan and Rossi. Rossi's $25,000 contribution would exceed the $1,000 maximum contribution a person can give a congressional candidate.
Half of the loan has since been paid back to the bank, but FEC rules still consider Rossi as giving Ryan a $12,500 loan.
Ryan is among six candidates running in the May 7 Democratic primary for the 17th Congressional District seat.