Commentary: Will Missing Money Spell The End For Chabot's Long Run?
U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot apparently believes the Federal Elections Commission's finding that $123,625 has come up missing from his campaign fund is not going to hurt his campaign for re-election and that a "thorough audit" will clear things up.
There are only two explanations for him believing this:
- First that he is whistling past the graveyard and knows well what the consequences could be (that is to say, his rapidly approaching unemployment);
- Or that the 12-term congressman from Ohio's 1st Congressional District is totally disengaged from his campaign organization, and has no more idea of what is going on under his nose than a sea anemone. In other words, he's past it. Time to pack up and head back to Westwood.
Either one of these explanations is serious business.
We don't know who did what to whom to make this money vanish into thin air.
We know that Chabot and his campaign believe they are the victims of criminal fraud. Chabot's lawyer, Mark Braden, has been speaking for Chabot through written statements.
"The campaign and Congressman Chabot appear to be the victims of a financial crime,'' Braden said. "Congressman Chabot was shocked and deeply disappointed to learn of this financial malfeasance and is taking every appropriate action to resolve this matter."
We also know this – that Jamie Schwartz, Chabot's longtime campaign aide and manager, shut down his political consulting firm, The Fountain Square Group, after the FEC's letter on the financial irregularities.
Suddenly, a campaign consulting firm that was raking in a lot of money from a multitude of Republican campaigns, including Chabot, closed up shop, took down its Facebook page and suddenly disappeared, leaving all of its other clients – like Andy Black, a GOP candidate for county commissioner, and Matt Wahlert, a Republican running for Colerain Township trustee, to fend for themselves.
For eight years, Schwartz's Fountain Square Group has been running every aspect of Chabot's congressional campaign.
We know, too, that Chabot's campaign has until Oct. 1 to respond to the FEC's questions about the missing money.
Here's something else we know: There are a whole lot of Republicans who have had about enough of Chabot and think a quarter of a century in the U.S. House is quite enough.
There are a number of Republican office holders who probably could be convinced to run against him in a primary right now.
If you put two well-known Republicans in a primary against Chabot in March 2020 – say, Cincinnati Council Member Amy Murray and former NFL linebacker and radio personality Rocky Boiman, both of whom are said to want the job – it would not surprise us one bit if Chabot came in third in that race.
No matter what the outcome of the investigation into the missing money, Chabot is going to have a hard time raising much more of it.
Let's say you are one of the many local GOP fat cats who have been raising large amounts of money for Chabot for decades now. What would you say to Chabot if he came asking you for more? Sorry, Steve, if I raise money for you, how do I know where it is going?
Chances are, you wouldn't give him milk money.
There are two Democratic women who have announced they want to take him on in 2020 – Kate Schroder of Clifton and Nikki Foster of Mason.
Both Schroder and Foster joined Ohio Democratic Party chairman David Pepper, Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Gwen McFarlin, and Warren County vice chair Mike Norman in a press conference at the downtown law offices of former Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke.
Schroder called for a House Ethics investigation into the missing money. Foster called on Chabot to resign.
Pepper made the point over and over again, the same point Chabot used on Democratic challenger Aftab Pureval a year ago – that, in a campaign, the buck stops with the candidate. He or she is responsible when things go right or when things go wrong.
And, in this case, Pepper said, something went horribly wrong.
"Why would anyone give you a dollar – and that dollar may be going out the door to someone to make money as opposed to actually running a campaign to win?'' Pepper said.
Right now, Schroder and Foster are the only announced candidates on the Democratic side. There could be more by the Dec. 18 filing deadline for the March 17 primary.
Even if Chabot somehow survives this race, his political career is probably living on borrowed time.
The 2020 race will be in the district that the Republicans in the Ohio legislature created in 2011 that included all of Warren County – a bottomless pit of GOP voters - with western and northern Hamilton County. I call it the Chabot Preservation Act of 2011.
By the 2022 election, Ohio's congressional districts will be re-drawn and it is unlikely the new district will split Hamilton County.
If Chabot had to run only in the increasingly blue Hamilton County in 2022, you could probably stick a fork in his congressional career.
He would be done.
The TV ads about the missing money are coming this year. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has suddenly sat up and taken notice of Ohio 1.
What really puts this whole affair over the top is that it was only a year ago that Chabot, Schwartz and the Fountain Square Group were spending enormous amounts on TV ads cudgeling Democrat Aftab Pureval, the Hamilton County clerk of courts who was running against Chabot in 2018, over complaints filed with the Ohio Elections Commission by lawyers and an officer from Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, a conservative group that has long been a Chabot ally.
The allegations were that Pureval's campaign had spent money from his clerk of courts campaign, a state campaign account, for things related to his congressional campaign, a federal account.
The money involved was just a fraction of the money that has come up missing from Chabot's campaign; and, what's more, Pureval's money actually bought things, unlike Chabot's money, which, apparently, has simply disappeared.
Pureval made a lot of dumb, rookie mistakes in that campaign, and the way that money was handled was the dumbest of them all.
But, in the end, the Ohio Elections Commission fined him $100 for a technical violation in paying a freelance photographer.
Chabot's campaign – along with Chabot himself – worked themselves into a lather over Purevel's actions, saying that, in the end, the candidate is responsible for the campaign's mistakes.
They even had TV ads saying Purevel faced prison time, with doctored photos showing the Democrat behind bars.
The idea that Pureval was going to jail for these mistakes was patently false.
Funny, as of last week, the Chabot campaign and his allies have seemed to have stopped talking about the candidate being the responsible party.
Sorry, Steve, you don't get a pass on that.
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