Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel’s political operatives insist that state and federal campaign finance lawyers were consulted on a vehicle rental arrangement that has gained intense media scrutiny.
The potential violation of federal campaign finance laws was raised by the Associated Press, which first revealed that Mandel was riding in a vehicle owned by his 2012 U.S. Senate campaign when it was involved in an accident in March.
The wire service has noted that under federal campaign finance laws, Senate campaign property can’t be used for personal use or to campaign for a different office, such as treasurer.
Mandel’s state treasurer campaign — the Republican officeholder will be seeking re-election next year — says it rented the vehicle from the federal campaign. But the Associated Press revealed that the rental check cleared June 30, more than seven months after Mandel lost his bid for the Senate last November to incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown.
More to the point, the check cleared almost four months after the accident, which totaled the vehicle.
The AP investigation has raised important questions about the state treasurer’s possible violation of the law that cannot be brushed aside by clever political retorts.
An independent review of the use of the vehicle owned by his 2012 Senate campaign is demanded.
In addition, Mandel, who is making much of the fact that he does not use state-owned transportation for official business, thus saving taxpayer money, needs to fully explain the circumstances of the March accident and an earlier one in April 2011.
Had he been using a state-owned vehicle, all the information pertaining to the accidents would be open to public scrutiny.
But by using private vehicles, the state treasurer is able to keep a lot of the details under wraps.
Such secrecy breeds suspicion, which is certain to haunt him in next year’s election.
Democratic state Rep. Connie Pillich of Cincinnati is expected to challenge Mandel next year.
While the potential violation of federal campaign laws by the state treasurer may not rise to the level of high crimes, it is about trust. Ohioans have a right to know that the officeholder is not playing fast and loose with the truth.