A massive federal public corruption investigation into Cuyahoga County is center stage in races for the county’s first county executive and 11-member county council, with reform-minded candidates pledging to restore integrity to government and doing everything to distance themselves from two prominent Democrats: County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora and former Auditor Frank Russo.
Dimora, known as Public Official No. 1 has been charged with 26 federal crimes and has pleaded not guilty; Russo is Public Official No. 2 and has already pleaded guilty to 23 charges and will serve more than 20 years in federal prison.
The federal probe, which is more than 2 years old, inspired Cuyahoga County voters last year to change how the county operates. So it’s not surprising that the probe has played a prominent role in campaign literature and TV ads of the candidates promising to deliver a more honest, open government to Cuyahoga County residents.
But the scandal also has become a useful weapon for those seeking state offices, including Republicans who want to see State Sen. and former Ohio House Speaker Jon Husted become the next Secretary of State.
The Ohio Republican Party is distributing a piece of campaign literature for Husted that juxtaposes the now iconic photo of federal agents leading Dimora from his home in chains last month with an unflattering image of Husted’s Democratic opponent, Maryellen O’Shaughnessy.
Even without words, the ad is playing the guilt-by-association game. (Democrats mastered the game four years ago, tying every Republican they could to the now infamous coin dealer and Republican fund-raiser Tom Noe, who ended up behind bars for theft and corruption charges.)
The ORP literature claims O’Shaughnessy "accepted campaign cash from indicted politician Jimmy Dimora."
That charge could certainly resonate with voters, especially in Northeast Ohio, so PolitiFact Ohio decided to test its truthfulness.
Dimora’s campaign in fact did give money - $100 - to O’Shaughnessy’s campaign. And Dimora has been indicted on 23 federal charges.
However the two facts don’t fit together as neatly in reality as they do on the flier.
O’Shaughnessy received the donation on June 25, 2008, a month before the federal investigation became public and agents raided Dimora’s home and office. At the time, O’Shaughnessy was not a candidate for secretary of state, but was running for her current job, Franklin County clerk of courts.
By using the term "indicted politician," the ad implies that O’Shaughnessy accepted money from Dimora after he was indicted. Dimora, who maintains his innocence, wasn’t indicted until September 2010. And it's worth noting again, the federal investigation was not public when the donation was made.
The GOP flier restates the claim with more dramatic flare on the back. "O’Shaughnessy took campaign cash from corrupt politician Jimmy Dimora," a point illustrated by a close up of a thick stack of $100 bills passing between two hands.
Husted, though not directly responsible for distributing the advertisement, supports its messaging and believes the ad is fair description of the facts.
The ORP also stands by the claim argues that even after O’Shaughnessy learned of the indictments, she never returned the money or donated an equal amount to charity as other Democrats in a similar predicament have done. (O’Shaughnessy argues her campaign account is closed and therefore can’t do anything. But that doesn’t preclude her from donating an equal amount from her current campaign to charity.)
Turning back to the claim at hand, O’Shaughnessy did accept a campaign contribution from Dimora. And Dimora has been indicted in a federal corruption probe. Separately those are correct.
But the flier’s combines the two facts to make the underlying suggestion that O’Shaughnessy took the money from a politician under federal indicted at the time of the contribution. That underlying message qualifies the claim for a rating of False.