OH-Sen: Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown's newest spot against GOP Rep. Jim Renacci invokes the Republican's connections to wealthy businessman Ben Suarez, who spent over a year in prison after a campaign finance scandal. The narrator says that Renacci "used his office to try and get a lawsuit dropped" against Suarez, and then received $100,000 in campaign donations from Suarez days later. The ad further asserts that while Renacci publicly claimed he wasn’t close to Suarez, court records revealed the two had "exchanged 40 calls surrounding the donations."
That "$100,000" figure, of course, is far beyond the maximum contribution to congressional campaigns allowed by law (currently $2,700), but even Renacci wouldn’t have been dumb enough to cash a check that size from a single supporter. Rather, in 2012, Suarez was accused of using his employees as straw donors to direct $200,000 in campaign contributions to Renacci, who was seeking re-election at the time, and Republican Josh Mandel, who was running for Senate that year (and in fact was the candidate Renacci replaced earlier this year when Mandel abandoned his second bid against Brown).
Suarez ended up getting indicted that year, and a month later, a top executive at his company killed himself the day before he was to testify before the grand jury that was investigating his boss. At a jury trial in 2014, Suarez was ultimately found not guilty of violating campaign finance laws, but he did receive a 15-month prison sentence for tampering with a witness in the case. The story resurfaced again last month when a Dayton Daily News report revealed the 40 calls exchanged between Renacci and Suarez between 2010 and 2012 that Brown's ad refers to. Renacci dismissed the story as "old news," but Brown is betting that's not the case.
Suarez, who got out of prison in 2016, is also far from "old news." To retaliate against Brown and Steve Dettelbach, the former U.S. attorney who prosecuted him, Suarez put together something he dubbed "The Justice Association," which released a memo in June laying out plans for an investigation, lawsuit, and ad campaign against both Brown and Dettelbach, who is currently running for state attorney general. The "association" even claimed it would offer "rewards" of up to $100,000 for supporting evidence that could be used to request a grand jury investigation.
Days later, Suarez spoke on the record about this alleged ad campaign, declaring it would "consist of, generally, a parade of victims of all the damage that it [the federal investigation] caused," and that "We're going to call Sherrod Brown and Steve Dettelbach the job-killer team." So far, these ads have yet to materialize.