Mike Turner accuses Desiree Tims of campaign violations

Democrat Desiree Tims is challenging Republican incumbent Mike Turner for the 10th District congressional seat.
Democrat Desiree Tims is challenging Republican incumbent Mike Turner for the 10th District congressional seat.

Tims calls it ’dirty political attacks.’

Democratic Congressional candidate Desiree Tims took a salary from the Ohio Democratic Party to run for Congress and twice missed deadlines for filing financial disclosure reports — once by 105 days, which her opponent, Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, alleged is improper.

Tims acknowledged that she accepted a salary from her campaign but said it was legal.

Tims said in a written response: “While, these kind of dirty political attacks are exactly what we expect from career politicians like Mike Turner — after nearly a quarter of a century in elected office, it’s sad that he has nothing positive to offer the people of our area, only smear attacks and distortions.”

Turner says the Ohio Democratic Party is also paying Shannon Freshour to run against incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of Urbana.

Federal rules allow candidates to be paid a salary from their campaign committees under certain conditions, according to the Dayton Daily News research and interviews.

Turner says the problem is the Tims campaign donated to the state party, which then paid her a salary and the payments exceeded limits set by federal regulations.

A campaign can’t pay a candidate more than she made in the prior year. According to Tims’ original financial disclosure statement, she made nothing in 2018 but received $7,500 from the campaign in 2019. The Tims campaign corrected its disclosure statement to say she made $28,000 in 2018 — after the Daily News made inquiries.

“This systemic payment laundering scheme appears illegal. Outside groups cannot pay candidates to run for Congress,” said Turner campaign manager Mason DiPalma in a written statement.

Spokespeople for the Ohio Democratic Party and the Tims and Freshour campaigns said that the state party provided payroll administrative services, which is common practices for smaller campaigns.

ODP spokeswoman Kirstin Alvanitakis said the state party provides administrative services to campaigns. “For several years the state party has provided third-party payroll services and access to our group health insurance plan for Democratic campaigns. This is nothing new and has helped ensure that campaign staff have good health coverage. Ultimately, individual campaigns are responsible for their own compliance issues,” she said.

The Tims campaign chalked up the late filings as paperwork errors made by a first-time candidate.

“Her disclosure was filed, and her finances are public. She has nothing to hide,” the campaign said.

The Freshour campaign said she was granted a filing extension for her disclosure reports.

The Tims and Freshour campaigns said the candidate salaries were paid with campaign committee money.

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Brendan Fischer of the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C., said: “It is difficult to unpack what is happening here. Candidates may lawfully use campaign funds to pay themselves a salary — if the goal is that the candidate ultimately gets a salary, this seems like a convoluted way to make payments that could lawfully be made directly. It could also result in the party making unreported contributions to the candidate.”

He added: “The candidates’ failures to accurately disclose their sources on income on their personal financial disclosure reports does appear to violate their reporting obligations.”

Capital University law professor Brad Smith, former chairman of the Federal Elections Commission, said FEC rules changed nearly 20 years ago to allow candidates to be paid a salary directly from their campaigns, but it cannot exceed the lesser of what the job sought pays or what the candidate made in the prior year. The intent of the rule is to make it easier for people of modest means to run for public office, he said.

Smith said at a minimum, the situation might be worthy of an FEC investigation but the FEC currently lacks a quorum so opening new cases is unlikely.

The Turner campaign plans to file an FEC complaint but it hasn’t been decided when that will be filed, spokeswoman Morgan Rako said.

Freshour said in a written statement that the FEC recognizes that few Americans have the financial resources needed to run for Congress and thus allows campaigns to pay salaries to candidates.

“As a first-time candidate taking on an entrenched incumbent in a gerrymandered district, I am not blind to the challenges that I face. I made the decision to accept a salary from my campaign in order to focus on this race full-time. But I wasn’t going to take anyone else’s money before I put my own on the table. I depleted my retirement savings supporting myself early in the campaign,” she said in a statement. “My district desperately needs a voice in Washington who understands their struggles and will put their interests first. I take this responsibility very seriously, which is why I have invested so heavily in this campaign.”