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State commission dismisses Aftab Pureval poll payment complaint, issues $100 fine over photo shoot

Posted at 4:10 PM, Nov 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-02 01:25:11-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- "For months, I've been saying that we followed the letter and the spirit of the law, and today, we are vindicated," Aftab Pureval told a group of local reporters at his campaign headquarters Thursday afternoon.

Hours earlier, the Ohio Elections Commission dismissed two of the three campaign finance violation charges that hampered the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts' congressional run throughout October, forming a nexus of press coverage and fertile ground for Republican opponent Rep. Steve Chabot's television ads.

The commission determined that Pureval's team did improperly use clerk of courts campaign funds to pay a photographer $360 for a photo shoot attached to his congressional campaign. Former campaign manager Sarah Topy testified she had made the payment by accident while using a Venmo account linked to several credit cards.

The punishment: A $100 fine, which Pureval said at the news conference he intended to pay that day.

"To that small extent, we feel vindicated in that there clearly was some improper expenditures," said Chris Finney, a lawyer employed by conservative watchdog (and originator of the complaints) Mark Miller.

The commission dismissed Miller's claim over a larger polling payment, which he alleged had been improperly taken out of the Hamilton County clerk of courts campaign budget although it was exclusively meant for Pureval's congressional run. The candidate and his staff repeatedly denied this.

"The poll would tell us whether a path forward with a congressional campaign made sense or whether we should stay with the clerk of courts," Pureval testified Thursday, as he did at a WCPO-hosted debate in late October. "Based on the results of the poll, it looked like a congressional campaign, that there was viability for it. If the results had been different, I would have stayed put."

The commission voted 4-3 in favor of no violation for an allegation of filing an improper campaign finance report and voted 4-3 in favor of dismissing the polling payment complaint. They voted 5-2 in favor of finding the photo shoot payment was a violation and voted 6-1 in favor of the $100 fine.

Finney said the dismissal of the polling payment claim is "a green light to any state campaign to launder money for a federal campaign." He alleged it was a violation of federal law.

"Don't believe any attempt by Aftab Pureval to claim that he was exonerated," Chabot campaign spokesman Cody Rizzuto said in a written statement. "He wasn't. He was convicted on one charge and the commission failed to reach a verdict on the other."

Pureval said the commission's ruling showed that the accusations were "baseless" and alleged that Chabot's campaign had been "deliberately and maliciously misleading voters" over the issue.

That resolved, he launched with renewed fervor into a final-week pitch for his campaign.

"We’ve got the momentum, and I’m excited about today’s result," he said. "We’ve been totally vindicated. Guys, for months on television, Steve Chabot’s been telling voters I’m going to go to jail. There’s been coverage saying I could potentially go to jail. And today resulted in a $100 fine. …. (The people of the 1st District) are looking for something positive, something substantive. That’s what we’re offering, and that’s why we’re going to win."