"Congressman Renacci is under FBI investigation."
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Friday, June 1st, 2012 in a news release
DCCC claims FBI is investigating Jim Renacci over campaign donations
There’s nothing like a law enforcement investigation to set off a political mudslide.
That’s what happened to Wadsworth Republican Rep. Jim Renacci after a May 18 article in The New Republic revealed that federal law enforcement authorities were examining donations that his campaign received from employees of a North Canton direct marketing firm called Suarez Corporation Industries.
Federal law enforcement officials sought contribution records from the campaigns of Renacci and GOP U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel after the Toledo Blade published a report about large sums of money the firm’s employees gave to the two campaigns. Wealthy political donors sometimes try to skirt caps on the amount they can give campaigns by having other people write checks and reimbursing them. That practice is illegal. The company and its employees deny any wrongdoing, as do the political campaigns.
Still, the questions were enough to prompt Mandel -- who serves as Ohio’s state treasurer -- to return the donations at issue.
"We have decided to issue refunds for any contributions that appear to be under investigation by federal authorities," Mandel campaign treasurer Kathryn Kessler said in a letter to Suarez Corporation."We believe we have no reason to be concerned with the contributions, but out of an abundance of caution and until the investigation is complete, we believe this course of action is most appropriate."
Renacci’s decision to hang onto the cash pending the investigation’s outcome prompted predictable political attacks from his foes. Demanding that an opponent get rid of donations from a controversial campaign backer is a common political tactic, one that Renacci himself has repeatedly used in the past.
"After several months of investigation and countless stories in the press about suspect campaign contributions, Congressman Renacci’s continuing refusal to return the funds speaks volumes," said a May 29 press release from Renacci’s November election rival, Copley Township Democratic Rep. Betty Sutton. "Every day that passes is a day that he fails to do the right thing to come clean about what he knew about these potentially illegal contributions and return or donate the suspect funds."
Eager to capitalize on the controversy, the campaign arm of Democrats in the House of Representatives issued a June 1 missive announcing it had named Renacci its "Corrupt Republican of the Month," a designation whose sole purpose seemed to be providing an excuse for press releases.
"Congressman Jim Renacci is under FBI investigation for taking $110,250 in suspect campaign cash and refuses to return the money," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Jesse Ferguson said in the release.
While it is clear that the FBI is investigating Suarez Corporation’s donations, PolitiFact Ohio had not heard that Renacci himself was under investigation by the FBI.
We asked the DCCC to back up their claim.
The DCCC said its assertion was consistent with statements from groups such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Government, whose website claims that the FBI is investigating Renacci, and headlines such as this one from the Medina Gazette’s online edition: "FBI confirms campaign investigation of U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci." The article underneath that headline clearly stipulates the FBI is investigating Suarez’ donations to Renacci and Mandel, and states "The candidates are not accused of any wrongdoing."
While a claim on a watchdog website, or sloppy headline could have conveyed the impression that Renacci or his campaign was being investigated by the FBI, none of the news coverage we found on the subject indicated that was the case. To settle the question, we went straight to the source: the Canton office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In a June 18 interview, Andrew Hayden, the supervisory senior resident agent of Canton’s Federal Bureau of Investigation office confirmed that Renacci is not a target of the FBI’s investigation.
"We are looking into the donations from the Suarez Corporation, and not the congressman’s campaign or the congressman," Hayden said.
It couldn’t be much clearer than that. The FBI says it is not investigating Renacci.
On the Truth-O-Meter, the DCCC’s statement rates False.