A $3 million loan that Mary Taylor's husband made to her gubernatorial campaign constitutes an excessive, illegal campaign contribution, according to a complaint filed Monday with the Ohio Elections Commission by a supporter of Mike DeWine.
State Rep. Mike Duffey, R-Worthington, filed the action after The Dispatch first uncovered the transaction Friday ahead of the Republican primary next Tuesday.
The complaint alleges that the lieutenant governor, her husband and her campaign committee violated campaign finance laws and face a mandatory fine of up to three times the amount of any excessive contribution, an amount that could reach nearly $9 million.
Duffey's complaint says Taylor and her campaign violated election falsification laws in the manner the loan was reported as obtained and repaid, an offense punishable by up to a year in prison.
In her annual campaign-finance filing Jan. 31, Taylor reported personally loaning her campaign $3 million on Jan. 26. She reported that she repaid herself later the same day, apparently just having the $3 million in her kitty long enough to inflate her cash-on-hand total in the public filing.
However, when the campaign filed its pre-primary report Thursday, documentation included a check showing a $3 million "loan repayment" Feb. 20 — not to the candidate, but to her wealthy husband, Donzell Taylor.
State law indicates that while a statewide candidate can loan "personal funds" to her campaign, money obtained from another source is considered a contribution — and the annual personal contribution to a candidate is restricted to $12,707.
Taylor campaign spokesman Michael Duchesne said the transactions are legal because the loan obtained from and repaid to her husband involved marital assets they share equally. Under state divorce law, marital property is defined as "all real and personal property that currently is owned by either or both of the spouses."
"Stop the presses. D.C. DeWine has one of his swamp cronies file a complaint on his behalf. This is just the latest example of the DeWine camp trying to muddy the waters so Ohio voters won’t be focused on his pathetic, liberal record. It’s not going to work. Ohioans are too smart to be tricked by these amateur hour attacks," Duchesne said in a statement.
The Taylor campaign's filing Thursday also reported that the lieutenant governor subsequently loaned $500,000 to her campaign on March 27 and $2.5 million on April 11. Taylor is listed as owing the loan to herself, not her developer-builder husband. The Duffey complaint said there is probable cause to believe the loan also improperly came from Mr. Taylor and represents two more contributions in excess of the limit.
Duffey said, "It looks like the contribution cannot occur because the (Taylors) don’t co-mingle their assets together. Do we know for a fact? No. But, I expect the elections commission will determine whether that is true or not" through discovery in the case." Duffey is a Franklin County co-chairman of the DeWine campaign.
Taylor's campaign said she and her husband have filed their federal income taxes separately for years, with her 2017 federal tax form seemingly indicating she did not have $3 million in the bank as of Dec. 31. The law states: "Any funds or assets held jointly by the candidate and his or her spouse shall be considered to be the candidate's own personal funds."
The Jan. 31 filing listing the first $3 million loan as being repaid the day it was received, instead of on Feb. 20, was a clerical error, Duchesne said. The campaign corrected the date Friday evening through its online access to the secretary of state's finance reporting portal.
It is unlikely the Elections Commission will deal with the complaint before the primary a week from Tuesday. Its next meeting is set for May 24. Philip Richter, the commission's executive director, said it apparently never has ruled on a complaint involving a source of a loan and a claim that it involved marital assets.
Attorney General DeWine and Taylor have been locked in a bitter, multimillion-dollar TV-commercial-stoked campaign for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. A DeWine campaign spokesman declined to comment on Duffey's filing.