By Julie Carr Smyth
COLUMBUS — The Federal Bureau of Investigation has confirmed its involvement in an investigation of questionable campaign contributions to two Ohio officeholders, freshman U.S. Rep. James Renacci, R-Wadsworth, and state treasurer and U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel.
Andrew Hayden, the FBI’s supervisory resident agent in Canton, said Tuesday the bureau has questioned employees of Suarez Corp. Industries about combined donations to each campaign totaling $100,000.
Hayden said he could not release further details because the investigation is ongoing.
Spokesmen for Renacci, a former Wadsworth mayor, and Mandel, both Republicans, had confirmed knowledge of a federal investigation Monday.
Renacci’s office said the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cleveland contacted his campaign several months ago. The government sought donor records for retail marketing executive Benjamin Suarez, his family members and employees to either the congressman or Mandel.
Mandel is seeking to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown in one of the nation’s most closely watched Senate races. Renacci faces a challenge from Democratic Rep. Betty Sutton, whose district was reconfigured as a result of redistricting.
Investigators are reviewing combined donations by Suarez family members and employees totaling $100,000 to each campaign. The donations were first identified by The Blade of Toledo.
Many of the donations came from individuals who lived in modestly priced homes and who had never before given to a political campaign. That raised questions of whether they had donated their own money and whether the pattern of giving was an attempt to circumvent the $5,000 limit on individuals’ campaign contributions.
Federal campaign finance law prohibits a donor from contributing in someone else’s name. Corporations also are prohibited from awarding bonuses or other rewards to employees in exchange for campaign contributions.
The company has said the employees gave freely and weren’t compensated. An attorney for the firm did not return calls Monday or Tuesday seeking comment.
The candidates are not accused of any wrongdoing. Both campaigns have said that if investigators determine there’s a problem with the money, they will return or donate it.