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The Suburbanite
  • Renacci returns donations from Suarez employees

  • Congressman Jim Renacci’s re-election campaign says it’s refunded $100,000 in contributions from employees of Suarez Corporation Industries and some of their spouses.

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  • The re-election campaign of U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Wadsworth, confirmed Monday it has returned $100,000 in contributions from employees of Suarez Corp. Industries and some of their spouses.
    Renacci’s Democratic opponent in the 16th Congressional District race, U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Copley Township, had been calling on Renacci to return the contributions since late May, when the FBI confirmed it was investigating the donations.
    In the spring of 2011, 13 employees of Suarez Corporation Industries, and seven of their spouses each gave Renacci’s campaign $5,000 — the maximum allowed per election cycle. After the Toledo Blade reported the contributions, the FBI began contacting the employees, seeking to determine whether the contributions were funneled through the employees to circumvent the laws on contribution limits.
    Andrew Hayden, the supervisory special agent for the FBI’s Canton office, said Monday that he had no new information to release on the status of the investigation.
    When the probe became public in May, Renacci’s campaign, which had known about it since at least February, said that it would return the money if federal investigators found any problem with the donations.
    The campaign of Josh Mandel, the Republican candidate for U.S. senator, decided in May to return about $100,000 in contributions to the Suarez employees and their spouses.
    WHY THE CHANGE?
    On Monday, Renacci’s campaign spokesman, James Slepian, said that the congressman’s campaign had mailed the refund checks to the donors last week.
    “This issue is dead. It’s off the table,” said Slepian. “(Sutton) can no longer hide behind these contributions anymore. The point of returning them now is if Betty Sutton was ... not willing to run an honest and substantive campaign on her own, it became necessary to force her hand by taking away her last tool of distraction.”
    Suarez Corp. Industries president Benjamin Suarez has said that the contributions were all legal, his employees could afford  to make them and that no one funneled money through the employees. He and his wife, Nancy, will get a refund of their $10,000 contribution to Renacci’s campaign.
    “I guess he’s going to make his own decisions, so it’s up to him,” Suarez said Monday. “We think he’s a good guy, which is why we contributed to him. He has to do what he has to do.”
    The refunded amounts make up about 6.5 percent of the $1.55 million in cash the Renacci campaign said it had on June 30.
    On Friday afternoon, Renacci’s campaign released a letter it sent to Sutton that announced he was giving back the money so she could no longer use the contributions as a distraction from the real issues.
    Renacci said before changing his mind he had originally chosen to wait until the end of the FBI’s investigation before deciding whether to return the money. He said that was consistent with what Sutton did two years ago when, according to Politifact, she waited until the conclusion of a House committee’s ethics investigation of one of her campaign donors — U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. — before deciding to give to charity his $7,000 contribution to her campaign.
    Page 2 of 2 - PRESSURE?
    The Ohio Democratic Party issued a statement Monday saying that Renacci “has finally been publicly shamed into returning the money.”
    Sutton’s campaign said Renacci had given the money back due to “weeks of pressure from Betty Sutton.” It said that there were still questions about whether Renacci’s campaign had solicited the contributions and why it didn’t return them earlier.
    “She did not pressure us in any way,” Slepian said. It was “the campaign that was being run by her and her allies that was defined by gutter politics and inconsistent refusal to talk about the issues that led to this decision.”
    Suarez, the company president, said in May that the Renacci and Mandel campaigns had asked him to find out if any of his employees were interested in contributing to them.
    Slepian said he did not know if anyone on the behalf of the Renacci campaign made such a request.
    But “neither Mr. Renacci nor anyone affiliated with our campaign has asked anyone to do anything improper or had any knowledge of (anyone) doing anything improper or been accused of doing anything improper,” Slepian said. “We obviously can’t control the conduct of everyone who donates to our campaign. ... we’re not an investigatory committee. We don’t ask people to submit W-2s or things like that.”