The Federal Elections Commission is looking into why vulnerable Republican Rep. Steve Chabot amended his first-quarter fundraising report in May to show an additional $124,000 in receipts—money that, presumably, did not just turn up under the cushions of the couch at campaign headquarters.
Chabot, who represents Ohio’s 1st Congressional District, has not offered any explanation for the irregularity, but, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the matter concerns Chabot's longtime campaign manager, Jamie Schwartz. Schwartz, the paper reports, had owned a consultancy called the Fountain Square Group, which counted Chabot as its leading client. But that firm appears to be no more: It shut down this week, disconnected its phone line, and erased itself from the internet.
Schwartz's whereabouts are also unknown, it seems. Schwartz's father told the Enquirer that his son is no longer involved with the Chabot campaign. "[H]e's doing a lot of running around right now," Jim Schwartz said. "I couldn't tell you where he's at."
Adding to the strangeness, a letter from the FEC opening its inquiry was directed to the elder Schwartz in his capacity as treasurer for Chabot's campaign, but Schwartz insists he doesn't hold that role. If true, that would be a rather recent development, as Schwartz signed Chabot's most recent FEC filing (his second-quarter fundraising report) as campaign treasurer on July 15.
Chabot and his campaign have called themselves "victims of a financial crime," and the congressman has promised a "thorough audit" of his books. The two Democrats running against Chabot, Kate Schroder and Nikki Foster, have both slammed Chabot over the burgeoning scandal, leading a local Republican official to complain that they were "attack[ing] the victim of a crime for the sake of politics."
Chabot's shop, though, is no stranger to questionable financial practices. In 2017, USA Today reported that the Chabot campaign had paid over $150,000 to the congressman's son-in-law, Kevin Bischof, to design his website. While the practice of compensating family members for campaignwork is legal (so long as market rates are paid) and common, good-government advocates have long decried it.
Chabot's team, of course, defended the expenditures, even though experts called his website outdated ("It looks like it was designed five or 10 years ago," said one), and even though Chabot was Bischof's only political client. The Chabot staffer who claimed to hire Bischof said, "By its very definition, nepotism would suggest that the individual employed is not qualified to do the job, and my answer to that is Kevin is more than qualified. He has the technical experience superior to others that I know in the field."
That staffer's name, by the way? Jamie Schwartz.