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Will Brewing Corruption Scandals in Ohio Have an Impact on November's Election?

Investigations by the FBI into campaign donations and strong-arm tactics in Ohio's Republican Party implicate big-name politicians, like anti-union Governor John Kasich.

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Ohio governor John Kasich has taken some hits since his election in 2010's Tea Party wave; the most famous was the “Citizen's Veto” of his anti-union legislation. 313,000 more people voted to overturn the law than had voted for Kasich himself a year earlier—and that was in an off year, with no big-ticket candidates on the ballot.

And now he's reportedly become the target of an FBI investigation looking into allegations that he abused his power and offered “influence” to a state Republican Party official if he would step down and allow someone loyal to Kasich to take his place.

This, combined with another investigation into campaign donations to Republicans Josh Mandel (running against Senator Sherrod Brown) and Congressman Jim Renacci, shows a Republican party in turmoil—but will it be enough to make a difference in the upcoming election? Ohio is one of the focal points of a presidential campaign all but guaranteed to get messy, and Democrats will be looking for any advantage. A split within the GOP, combined with FBI agents nosing around campaign finance records and political backroom dealings, could be something with which a savvy candidate can make hay.

Battling for Party Control

In March, Andrew Manning, chairman of the Republican Party in Portage County, went to the FBI as well as state law enforcement with a complaint about Kasich. Specifically, he said that Kasich's allies (Bryan Williams of the Ohio Board of Education and Summit County Republican Party Chairman Alex Arshinkoff) asked him to withdraw from the race for the state party's central committee.

Kasich's people wanted to consolidate their hold over the state party, then run by Kevin DeWine. DeWine is close to John Husted, the current Secretary of State, who has made no secret of the fact that he wants to be governor one day—so close, in fact, that reporters in the Statehouse press corps used to refer to them as “Damon and Affleck”. Kasich and his allies waged an all-out campaign--including robocalls from the governor, paid for by his campaign--to win control of the party and swept DeWine from power, putting in his place Bob Bennett, who'd been party chair for 20 years before DeWine. The party's central committee chooses the party chair.

“Had I agreed to withdraw as a candidate, they told me I would be designated as the ‘Governor’s Guy’ in Portage County and that I would be given influence in who Gov. Kasich appoints to Kent State University boards and other state government appointments as they come open,” Manning's statement, provided to the Columbus Dispatch, said.

On May 17, Manning's attorney confirmed that FBI agents were in fact looking into his allegations, had interviewed Manning, and that he would have no further comment until the conclusion of the investigation.

But Manning isn't the only one accusing Kasich of shady dealings. Maggie Cook, who worked as membership director for the Associated Builders and Contractors, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that she was fired from her job after refusing to get out of a similar central committee race. Like Manning, Cook was a supporter of DeWine. She was cagey, and wouldn't say directly that she thought Kasich's people had pushed for her firing, but she did tell them, "I don't really know what to think because they brought a new president on, but I was in sales and it was really easy to see if you were doing your job well or not. I was making all my targets. I had sales metrics, monthly and quarterly goals, and I had met all of my metrics for the year.”

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