Trumbull board to send letter seeking PAC probe

WARREN — The Trumbull County Board of Elections will send a letter, rather than an affidavit, to the Federal Election Commission, the Ohio Elections Commission and the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office to investigate the activities of a political action committee during the primary election.

The board voted 4-0 during a Tuesday meeting to submit a letter to the agencies about the actions of the TCR Grassroots PAC.

“We decided a letter is more appropriate than an affidavit,” said board Chairman Mark Alberini, who also heads the county Democratic Party. “An affidavit typically is an individual-only signed and sworn document and not a collective group thing. That’s why we decided to do it in the form of a letter. It doesn’t change how we want it handled.”

Alberini added: “The end result is it gets to the appropriate bodies to determine if an investigation is warranted. An investigation is out of the purview of the board of elections.”

The letter was to be signed today by the four board members, Alberini said, after it is placed on official board stationery.

The letter states the board met March 18 and 19 as well as April 18 and May 7 to discuss “the possibility of a fraudulent PAC operating in our county” after receiving a complaint by Commissioner Niki Frenchko and “several complaints” by “phone from other local candidates as well as from members of the public.”

The board’s letter reads: “While we are not an investigative agency, after review of the complaints received, a review of documents and our own cursory research, we have determined that there appears to be possible improprieties involving persons / PAC and an LLC operating as a PCE (political contributing entity) that may have been attempting to influence elections (federal, state and local), while at the time, operating as an unregistered PAC and other entities. Further, documentation shows several possible campaign finance violations and lack of reporting.”

The letter’s timeline is identical to one read April 18 by elections board member Marleah Campbell, also the county Republican Party’s secretary, outlining the complaint against TCR she said was initially compiled by the local party over election interference concerns about the PAC.

Echoing Campbell’s outline, the board complaint states that between Feb. 20 and March 12, the PAC mailed 1,140 slate cards to absentee voters, worth at least $1,000 in postage costs, and the PAC wasn’t registered with any entity for virtually that entire time.

A statement of organization, signed by Regina McManus, a Republican political consultant, on March 11 and filed with the FEC, lists her as the PAC’s treasurer and designated agent. The PAC filed a statement of organization with the Ohio secretary of state on March 29 and filed a finance report with the secretary April 15, showing it raised and spent no money.

The PAC was supposed to file a quarterly report with the FEC by April 15, but hasn’t. Deborah Chacona, an FEC assistant staff director, sent a letter April 30 to McManus about not filing the report.

“The failure to timely file a complete report may result in civil money penalties, an audit or legal enforcement action,” Chacona wrote.

Numerous PACs and candidate committees fail to file timely reports and receive similar letters.

TCR has not submitted a designation of treasurer with the county board of elections.

During early voting, McManus and others distributed slate cards of recommended candidates, primarily for county and judicial offices. It also included recommendations for two state House seats and one U.S. House race.

Slate cards are not considered expenditures under federal law.

McManus said after the April 18 meeting: “Mrs. Campbell has publicly vowed revenge on me through emails and social media, and slanders and belittles anyone who disagrees with her. For her to say she is impartial with a straight face is laughable. I am confident the PAC has dotted every I and crossed every T. Marleah is using her board position to attack a political opponent. We welcome any inquiry into the PAC and will continue to work for conservative candidates in all races.”

McManus added: “The appropriate and legal response for the board should have been if any individual, including Marleah Campbell, feels injured by a group supporting conservative winning candidates then they should take their concerns to the FEC and not ask the board to be a vehicle for their personal vendetta.”

The elections board on March 19, the day of the primary, requested the county prosecutor file complaints with investigative agencies on behalf of the board. The prosecutor’s office subsequently told the board it doesn’t file complaints for its clients.

The prosecutor’s office then sent a letter on April 1 to the elections board stating it would offer assistance in identifying the proper entities for review and the board held off a day later on a vote wanting to spend time reviewing that letter.

The board voted April 18 to move forward with formally asking for investigations and voted Tuesday on what would be included in the letter.

“The board voted on the form and format to use,” Alberini said.

Have an interesting story? Contact David Skolnick by email at dskolnick@vindy.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @dskolnick.


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