Elections commission reviewing complaint against county auditor

A complaint filed with the Ohio Elections Commission alleges the campaign committee of Montgomery County Auditor Karl Keith violated state campaign finance laws.

The Keep Karl Keith committee earlier this year failed to record the dates of contribution and addresses of contributors on its post-primary campaign finance report, according to the complaint, filed by Emery Phipps, the former political director of Republican Seth Morgan’s campaigns for state and county auditor.

The committee also did not report on the correct forms contributions from employees of the auditor’s office, and it incorrectly reported information about cash contributions, the complaint states.

“I am surprised that something like this would be forwarded to the elections commission, because it’s pretty common and minor and once we were notified of it, we corrected it,” said Keith, who did not contest any of the allegations.

The complaint has been accepted for preliminary review by the Ohio Elections Commission, and the case is expected to be considered at its Oct. 30 meeting.

Keith said he was unaware of any problems with his campaign finance report until contacted by this newspaper this week.

He said he filed an addendum on Tuesday to correct the information, and he believes the basis of the complaint is now moot.

Jan Kelly, the director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections, said finance reports filed with her office routinely do not contain all of the necessary documents and information.

“It’s normal for people to leave things out, and then we have to go back and ask them to provide the information,” she said.

Phipps’ complaint accuses the Keep Keith Auditor campaign of failing to file complete and accurate statements in its pre-primary and post-primary campaign finance reports.

Phipps, who did not return calls seeking comment, was Morgan’s political director when he ran against Keith for the county auditor’s seat in the 2006 election.

According to Phipps’ complaint, auditor’s office employees who made contributions were not reported on the correct form.

The campaign also did not provide the addresses of contributors and the dates of those contributions on the post-primary report, the complaint states.

Keith’s campaign also improperly reported cash donations of $25 or less, the complaint states.

Keith admits some campaign transactions were recorded on the wrong forms and others did not include all of the necessary information.

He said he spoke with board of elections officials Tuesday, and he immediately filed documents fixing the errors.

“They told me these issues that were raised are pretty common and they’re minor, and the spirit of the finance reporting laws are full disclosure, and we met that, meaning we fully disclosed our transactions,” he said.

It’s unclear what impact Keith’s actions to correct the reports will have on the complaint.

Philip Richter, executive director of the Ohio Elections Commission, said the complaint met the basic requirements to be presented to the commission for preliminary review.

Richter said the board will determine whether or not a violation occurred and if a penalty is appropriate.

Richter said Keith and his campaign will have an opportunity to respond to the complaint.

“Until all of the evidence is out, there is no telling exactly the nature of this particular case,” Richter said.

The commission most commonly issues fines as penalties, but it has the authority to refer a case to a county prosecutor if a serious offense is committed, Richter said.

Kelly said her office tries to avoid referring cases to the Ohio Elections Commission because often it is inexperience with the filing process that is to blame for mistakes.

She said her office audits the campaign finance reports to ensure they contain complete and accurate information, but the audits of Keith’s campaign reports have not occurred. It can take up to a year before an audit is completed.

Harry Bossey, Keith’s Republican opponent in the Nov. 4 election, said county taxpayers should be concerned about issues with Keith’s campaign finance report because it shows he makes mistakes.

“Karl Keith’s arrogance and lack of knowledge of his responsibility to the taxpayers has carried over to his own campaign,” Bossey said in an e-mail.

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