The Hamilton JournalNews/Middletown Journal is committed to reporting on how your money is spent, regardless if its tax dollars or political contributions. We have spent hours pouring through years worth of political campaign finance documents to bring you this story on how the Butler County Republican Party is spending its money.
The Butler County Republican Party is spending almost $120,000 a year just to maintain its profile as the county’s dominate political party.
And soon, if the county GOP can’t raise significant cash, it might fall behind on basic monthly expenses such as rent or utilities, according to party treasurer Nancy Nix.
Nix announced her resignation as the GOP’s bookkeeper last week, and will step down as soon as a replacement is found. She is also Butler County’s treasurer, who was first elected to the county office in 2008 in an uncontested election.
“We are not going to be able to make payments soon,” Nix said Wednesday. “As a certified public accountant, I ethically cannot be in a position where I’m not paying bills.”
The Republican Party has members elected to all 11 non-judicial countywide seats, and has 14 of the 15 countywide judicial seats occupied by party members. A Hamilton JournalNews/Middletown Journal investigation of the party’s finances found the party is spending more than $6,000 monthly on payroll, rent and utilities. Not a single dime of the $60,000 the party spent so far in this off-year local election cycle has gone to campaigning efforts, according to financial records.
A large portion of the money, according to the records, went to pay the $2,700-a-month rent payment for office space at Bridgewater Falls Shopping Center in Fairfield Twp. and a $481 copier and scanner lease. Both leases were signed under the leadership of Tom Ellis, the previous executive committee chairman, and about a year before the party’s current chairman, Dave Kern, was elected to the executive chair post.
The Bridgewater Falls lease expires toward the end of next year, and Kern said the lease turned out to be “too heavy of a burden for this party to carry.”
Ellis declined to comment as to what happened under his leadership.
“Having been chairman of the party, it is a big job,” he said. “It involves constant, on-going fundraising as well as the political management aspect of the position. Because I know that, and I respect that position, I really would not comment on the party’s direction today. I think it’s important to defer to the chairman as the spokesman for the party.”
The party held a policy meeting late last week to “consider our options,” Kern said. He said they will be moving out of the Bridgewater Falls location.
“The Butler County GOP, in an ongoing effort to streamline costs, is restructuring its administrative operations,” Kern said. “We are committed to electing Republican officeholders and educating the public instead of spending resources on overhead. We will continue to practice the values of fiscal restraint and responsibility that we represent. Technical capabilities now allow us to fully serve our officeholders, candidates and volunteers from a much smaller space, using social media and current technology.”
Kern said since 2010, the same year the party moved into Bridgewater Falls, “We have worked with a much smaller staff and are committed to operating within our means.”
Nix said the party is working to rebound from a dismal fundraising period, in a off-year for local elections, that has left the party struggling to pay its bills.
The Republican Party also pays people to staff its Bridgewater Falls office. Through June, two employees were paid nearly a collective $14,000. Last month, the party let go of one of its part-time employees, which saved the party more than $1,000 a month. And as the party treasurer, Nix is paid $500 a month.
“We’re working toward taking (our costs) down halfway,” Nix said. “If that means a small building, a free building or volunteers … the organization has to change because we just don’t have enough money available.”
By comparison, the Butler County Democratic Party pays no one to man its offices, said spokesman David Spurrier.
“Every one of us is a volunteer,” he said.
Butler County Commissioner Cindy Carpenter, who joined the Republican Party in the late 1970s, said when the party was on Ninth Avenue and High Street “everyone took turns on volunteering, and you took your turn when there was a need.”
Though the GOP does have many volunteers that help the party, Kern said they have paid for part-time help for years, dating back to the previous location on Ohio 4 in Fairfield Twp. The party sold that building and signed a five-year lease before moving into its current office more than three-and-a-half years ago.
Butler County Commissioner and Republican T.C. Rogers said fundraising seems to be “on pause” until the party can reorganize its finances.
“When (party leaders are) trying to work out a new economic model for the party, there’s no sense in raising a bunch of funds until that’s done,” he said. “We don’t need the funds until the next election.”
Ohio’s Republican Gov. John Kasich will face a Democratic challenger, Ed FitzGerald, next year, for example. Nix said once 2014 hits, she expects more funds will roll in. And, since news broke last week that the GOP was in financial trouble, some donors have opened up their checkbooks to give “at least $3,000.”
Since 2009, U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner, who got his political start as a trustee in what is now-West Chester Twp., has also stepped in to boost the GOP’s funds, records show. Since 2009, Boehner has given around $60,000 from his campaign finance committee, Friends of John Boehner. That includes a $45,000 payment in October 2010.
Lack of local support
Some Butler County Republicans say the party, in recent years, has rarely spent money on local campaigns. Instead, the party pumps funds into overhead costs or state and national campaigns, they say.
Nix, who became treasurer of the party in October after the former treasurer died, said the GOP spent most of its money on bills and working to get Presidential candidate Mitt Romney elected last year.
“At that time, the thought was, we’re going to leave it all on the field for Romney,” Nix said.
In fact, the party spent nearly $170,000 in just three months, between July and mid-October of last year, when the national election campaign season was in full swing, according to the party’s financial records.
“It used to be the party would give money to local candidates,” but that ended year ago, said Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones, now in his third term. “I think they would like to give to candidates, but they don’t have any money.”
Jones, with a campaign war chest of more than $200,000, said he supports the party by attending fundraising events, but writing a check to the party is not something he is willing to do. The sheriff said the county GOP has grown into a “big, fat machine” that can’t be sustained in a down economy.
“I have been asked would I be interested in donating money to the party every year,” Jones said.
He declines the party’s request, saying “it is just too hard to raise.” But the sheriff does give up some of his campaign’s cash to support select individual candidates seeking election.
Carpenter said, in the 1990s, the party chair used to sit down with each candidate to explain how much the party would give them and why.
“Fast-forward to now, the fundraising occurs by tapping into the candidates,” she said. “That is a complete paradigm shift when the party really started growing in Butler County.”
Rogers said he didn’t expect the party to give him any money when he was elected to the County Commission last year.
“My experience has been that you don’t get your money from the party,” he said. “It’s up to the individual officeholder to arrange their own campaign funds. I didn’t get any money from the local GOP.
The Democrats’ opening?
The Butler County Democratic Party has only one elected county official in office — Butler County Court Juvenile Judge Kathleen Romans — and has, according to financial records, almost twice as much money in the bank compared to Republicans.
“I think what this has shown is the folks that are in charge of the county that are telling people, ‘You can trust us because we’re fiscally sound, and we’re fiscally responsible and that kind of thing,’ when they aren’t,” said Spurrier.
He said this is a dent in the Republican’s facade and it’s time to “break up the monopoly they have.”
“They basically feel Butler County is theirs to do with as they please,” Spurrier said. “When you have one-party rule, no one is served, or only those who are served benefit from their support of the power structure.”
The Democrats, up until the late 1960s to the early 1970s, used to be the dominant party in the county. Then things changed.
Every countywide office was held by a Republican by 2000 after long-time county prosecutor and Democrat John Holcomb died while in office in July 2000 and Republican Robin Piper was elected to the position in November of that year.
“We feel everybody does better when everybody does better,” Spurrier said.“The ‘our way or the highway’ mentality doesn’t work for Butler County. It works for some of the special interest groups, but not the county.”
Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser, who accepts no donations to finances his campaigns, said it is a mistake for the Democratic Party to “make hay” of the GOP’s lean times.
“I have seen what goes on in this party for 40 years. There is nothing new to this picture,” he said. “This county is resoundingly Republican, and it always will be — in good and lean times.”
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