Josh Mandel has been a young politician in a hurry. In 2011, he jumped into the U.S. Senate race just months after winning election to the office of Ohio treasurer. In a federal courtroom in Cleveland, prosecutors recently explained what he would do to raise money for that race. They told the story of Mandel doing the bidding of Benjamin Suarez, the North Canton businessman currently on trial, accused of making illegal campaign contributions.
Suarez faced trouble in California, investigators looking into his business practices. His team contacted the Mandel camp requesting that the state treasurer and candidate dispatch a letter to the California state treasurer advising the investigators to step back from pursuing Suarez. Mandel performed the deed, even warning about putting Ohio jobs in jeopardy.
What followed? Campaign contributions, money flowing from Suarez employees. The charge is that Suarez engineered a scheme involving “straw donors,” family members making donations knowing they would be reimbursed by Suarez. He pursued something similar with U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci. Both Mandel and Renacci returned the contributions, roughly $100,000 each, shortly after the allegations surfaced.
The circumstances are unflattering, to say the least, especially for Mandel. In his rush to rise, he has played at the edges of the ethical, or responsible. Consider his ugly ad campaign in the treasurer’s race, suggesting his opponent was linked to Islamic extremists, yes, terrorists.
Of late, Mandel has exploited the concept of “tele-townhall” meetings with Ohioans. They are just as the name indicates, a chance for the treasurer to meet via phone with constituents. Mike DeWine, the state attorney general, has approved using state money to pay for the calls, as long as they are conducted within boundaries.
No surprise that Mandel has pushed the idea, as the Dayton Daily News recently reported. He talks about the value in holding officials accountable and Ohioans having an opportunity to speak directly with an officeholder. Yet one Ohio State political scientist told the Daily News that the practice sounds “very much like electioneering.”
Members of Congress have held tele-townhalls, yet they deal with a wide range of matters as part of their jobs. The treasurer has narrow duties, making it harder to justify spending public money so Mandel can address topics, such as school choice, energy and tax cuts, that have little, if anything, to do with his office.
The Daily News noted one episode of accountability, Mandel caught massaging his position on the homestead exemption. In the main, these calls are about promoting Josh Mandel — without having to tap his campaign fund. As such, Ohioans have another episode of the pol in a hurry, so eager to get ahead he neglects the impression he leaves behind.