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Commission Drops Most Charges Against Pureval, Fines Campaign $100

Aftab Pureval speaks during a District 1 debate with Republican Rep. Steve Chabot at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, in Cincinnati.
Leigh Taylor
Aftab Pureval speaks during a District 1 debate with Republican Rep. Steve Chabot at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, in Cincinnati.

Nearly all the charges of about $30,000 in illegal campaign spending by Aftab Pureval's congressional campaign were dismissed today by the Ohio Elections Commission.

After six hours of hearings in Columbus, the seven-member panel made only one finding against Pureval's campaign and issued a minimal fine of $100.

The campaign was found guilty of paying $360 to a photographer to shoot his congressional campaign announcement. The money came out of Pureval's campaign fund for his present office, Hamilton County Clerk of Courts, instead of a federal congressional campaign fund.

Pureval hurried back to his campaign headquarters in Queensgate after the hearing to hold a press conference in which he said that he and his campaign "have been vindicated" by the Ohio Elections Commission. 

"Twenty-eight of the 29 charges they brought against me have been shown to be utterly baseless,'' Pureval said. "The one issue found was a mistake, a clerical error that resulted in a $100 fine because one member of my staff hit the wrong button on Venmo." 

The 37-year-old Pureval has been locked in a contentious battle all year long with Republican incumbent Steve Chabot, who has held the seat for 22 years.

In his press conference, the Democratic challenger had harsh words for his opponent. 

"Steve Chabot has been deliberately and maliciously misleading the voters of the 1st Congressional District,'' Pureval said. "He spent $3 million on television ads telling people I am going to jail." 

The charges were brought against Pureval's campaign by Mark Miller of Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, known as COAST.

Pureval testified, as did Sarah Topy, who resigned yesterday as Pureval's campaign manager. At the hearing, Topy testified that she made the mistake that paid the photographer out of the wrong fund. 

The commission voted 4-3 that they could find nothing improper about Pureval's campaign spending $16,400 on a poll, using some money from his clerk of courts campaign.

Don McTigue, Pureval's lawyer, argued that the poll could be paid with both state and federal campaign funds because it was done to help him make a decision on whether or not to challenge Chabot.

Several charges about spending money on travel were dropped.

Pureval said he does not believe his campaign has been damaged in any way by the Ohio Elections Commission complaints. 

"In fact, I am more excited than ever,'' Pureval said. "We are going to win this thing in five days." 

The Chabot campaign put out a statement saying that, by a 4-3 vote, Pureval was convicted of a campaign violation for paying the photographer out of his clerk of courts campaign fund. 

The Chabot release said that "despite clear evidence that he also committed a violation for illegally paying for a congressional poll, the (Ohio Elections Commission) was unable to reach a verdict on the charge due to Aftab's continued efforts to delay, obstruct and hide the truth behind his actions."

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Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.