Butler County GOP records flawed, audit shows

Tens of thousands of dollars invested by the Butler County Republican Party into helping Donald Trump win Butler County and Ohio in the presidential election were not properly reported to the Federal Elections Commission, according to a recent audit.

Audits recently completed by the Butler County Board of Elections turned up missing pages of campaign finance reports, laxed record-keeping, and more than $43,000 in discrepancies related to the 2016 general election.

GOP officials told the Journal-News they were “overwhelmed” with contributions during the election, but they are working to correct the discrepancies.

RELATED: Butler County GOP’s money mostly goes toward overhead

According to the audit:

  • The GOP was unable to identify people who gave several hundred dollars worth of donations. A dozen “anonymous” donors gave a total of $445 and 80 people were not identified with a full name — they were either identified by a first name or last name only, or a first initial and last name. Their collective contributions were $1,175.
  • The party accepted $3,000 in cash donations from 10 people, but donors cannot contribute more than $100 in cash, according to state election laws.
  • Some in-kind contributions were listed among monetary contributions.
  • There were missing or vague expenditure purposes.
  • Receipts for donations or reimbursements were missing.

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In a four-month time frame, more than $84,000 was spent by the GOP in support of the Trump election campaign — including rental for two Trump campaign offices, reimbursements for spending on Facebook ads, and paying for Donald Trump Jr.’s campaign stop at Oxford.

None of those costs, however, was reported to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), according to a Journal-News review of campaign finance reports. Because more than $5,000 was spent in support of the presidential race, the party was required by law to register with the FEC.

MORE: Butler County GOP denies insolvency

The party’s treasurer did “continually seek guidance along the way,” Butler County Republican Party Executive Chairman Todd Hall said, but “volunteers handling mass donors at different locations did present some logistic and reporting issues.”

But University of Cincinnati political science professor David Niven said, “This sounds like an awfully convenient amount of ignorance about the laws that apply.”

Niven and other political science experts contacted by the Journal-News said it’s not uncommon for errors to arise when dealing with campaign finance reports, especially with sizable reports like the Butler County GOP filed.

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But, “it’s somewhat embarrassing for a professional political operation to be called out on so many errors,” said Xavier University political science professor Mack Mariani.

“This is not for amateurs,” Niven said about the laws surrounding campaign contributions.

Hall said the party was “overwhelmed” and “in uncharted waters for donors and contributions.”

“In a year of such passion and involvement by so many people in our county, and when our party opened four separate headquarters for our presidential nominee, we were obviously in uncharted waters for donors and contributions,” he said.

RELATED: Butler County GOP opens two more Trump campaign offices

GOP officials have told the Butler County Board of Elections they are in the process of correcting the report and intend to self-report the issues.

“Everything will be made complete,” Hall said.

The Butler County Democratic Party did not spend any money in support of the Hillary Clinton campaign, leaving that for the Clinton campaign and the Ohio Democratic Party to do, and Jennifer Rieger, a Butler County Democratic Party spokeswoman, said, “We will continue to monitor this to ensure Republicans are held accountable and the laws are enforced.”

RELATED: How Democrats plan to win back Butler County

In its letter to the GOP, the Butler County Board of Elections wrote it “may consider referring this matter to the FEC for their review.”

However, Elections Deputy Director Jocelyn Bucaro told the Journal-News the office will not refer the matter to the FEC at this time “because the Butler County Republican Party indicated verbally that it intended to self-report the issues raised in our campaign finance audit.”

“The board intends to follow up to confirm the party has self-reported,” she said.

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