Kitchen’s campaign finances prompt questions

On the side

Change in the menu: The Mahoning Valley McKinley Club will break with tradition at its 99th annual dinner Monday at the McKinley Memorial Auditorium in Niles.

The club has served President William McKinley’s favorite meal — Salisbury steak with some sort of orange-colored gravy and mashed potatoes — for as long as most people can remember. It’s actually one of the most horrifying looking plates of food you’ll see on the rubber-chicken political circuit.

Instead the club — which consists of Republicans from Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties — is serving chicken at Monday’s event.

Gov. John Kasich, seeking re-election this year, is the keynote speaker at the event, which is sold out.

The annual event honors McKinley, who was born in Niles.

It’s not unusual for a candidate who loses a big election to go into hiding.

Failed candidates don’t return telephone calls from the media, don’t file required reports on time, and seem as though they’ve fallen off the face of the earth.

DeMaine Kitchen didn’t have a good end to 2013. Kitchen, an independent, lost the Youngstown mayoral election in November to Democrat John A. McNally and followed that up a month later with his resignation as the mayor’s chief of staff/secretary four days before an investigation determined he sexually harassed a city employee.

Kitchen hasn’t returned several phone calls and text messages from me since Dec. 2, the day he resigned.

He finally got around to filing a post-general-election report on March 4. The deadline to file that report was Dec. 13.

That report would have probably gone unnoticed if I didn’t check the Mahoning County Board of Elections’ website twice a week since that deadline to see if Kitchen would ever file the report, and I had my doubts.

The document is certainly interesting.

Former county Republican Party Chairman Clarence Smith and his wife gave $10,000 to Kitchen’s campaign about two weeks before the election.

Kitchen withdrew $1,500 in cash from his account on Election Day to pay people to work polling locations and to drive voters to those places.

That’s an election law no-no, but the law is so weak that nothing can be done to penalize Kitchen.

Then there’s a $4,000 cash contribution, given on Oct. 27, from former Mayor Charles Sammarone, who hired Kitchen as his chief of staff/secretary.

Not only did Sammarone, a Democrat who serves as city council president, give money to a candidate running against an endorsed Democrat, but he did it in cash.

Also, the $4,000 didn’t come from Sammarone’s campaign fund, which had $15,574 in it as of Dec. 31. It came from his own pocket.

State law doesn’t permit cash contributions of more than $100, but there’s nothing in the law requiring a candidate to refund contributions over that amount.

Of course Kitchen hasn’t said anything about this.

Sammarone initially told me he gave cash, but couldn’t remember the amount. He then checked his records and confirmed the $4,000 amount on Kitchen’s campaign finance report.

Sammarone said he should have known about the limit, “particularly with how long I’ve been in politics.”

Sammarone said he tries “not to get into other people’s elections,” but declined to respond to questions about how he could make that statement in light of the Kitchen contribution.

Saying this may become a legal issue, Sammarone declined to discuss it further, referring me to his lawyer, a former business partner of the council president’s son in a downtown restaurant.

The $4,000 cash revelation angered Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras who said Sammarone recently told him he supported McNally and was “a true Democrat.”

Betras is asking the county’s state legislators to introduce a bill making it a first-degree misdemeanor to give or accept cash contributions of more than $100.

State Rep. Ronald V. Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th, said exceeding the limit isn’t uncommon and the chairman’s proposal “is probably not going to happen.”

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