State Rep. Nino Vitale accused of campaign finance violations

One of the most conservative and outspoken state lawmakers, Urbana Republican Nino Vitale, is accused of campaign finance violations in a complaint filed Wednesday by Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose to the Ohio Elections Commission, including that he used campaign resources for his personal business as a firearms instructor.

Vitale said his reports have been the same for years and he has received clearance from the legislative inspector general about offering firearms instruction classes while serving as a lawmaker.

“But two days after I sign onto a co-sponsor request to impeach the governor this happens? I don’t know,” he said.

Vitale is one of a handful of state lawmakers seeking to impeach Gov. Mike DeWine for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The complaint alleges that Friends to Elect Nino Vitale failed to file a true, full and itemized campaign finance report; failed to keep a strict account of all contributions; failed to disclose all expenditures above $25; and didn’t deposit all contributions received into an account separate from a personal or business account.

Since 2014, Friends to Elect Nino Vitale has reported $69,318 in expenses paid to Vitale’s wife, Lilli Vitale, for items such as mileage and credit card charges. The Dayton Daily News submitted a public records request to the Secretary of State for itemized receipts for those expenditures but the request has yet to be fulfilled.

Vitale said he files detailed receipts with the Secretary of State and he prefers to use a personal credit card for campaign expenses because he doesn’t want a second card.

The complaint also alleges that Vitale converted for personal use his campaign website, email and marketing program and social media accounts.

Documents filed with the complaint say that Friends to Elect Nino Vitale paid for Facebook ads that promoted Vitale’s concealed carry weapons permit classes. Vitale is an instructor and has a shooting range on his Champaign County property.

Vitale said he has worked with the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee for seven years to make sure his CCW permit class offerings don’t conflict with state ethics requirements.

Ohio Elections Commission Director Phil Richter said the complaint likely won’t be considered until November or December because agendas have already been set for September and October meetings.

Vitale said the Secretary of State is currently auditing his campaign finance reports and set Friday as the deadline to supply requested information, which he is working to meet.

“I’ve been working with the (legislative ethics committee) for seven years on all this stuff and they’ve told me I’ve been doing is OK. We’ll work it out. I’m not trying to skirt the law. I don’t need to do that,” Vitale said.

Campaign finance reports show Vitale has raised $302,950 since 2014, including $79,524 from political action committees representing unions, law firms, energy companies, home builders and others.

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Vitale is an outspoken critic of public health orders, Dr. Amy Acton, Dr. Anthony Fauci and DeWine.

In May, Vitale made national news when he said he wouldn’t wear a mask to protect against the spread of COVID-19 because it would cover “the image and likeness of God.” Vitale is sponsoring legislation that would make a universal mask order on the public more difficult.

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Earlier this year, he pushed back against resolutions that would declare racism a public health crisis. Vitale said in a Facebook post that he is “darker” than most members of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus and was made fun of growing up, including being called a “greasy Italian.”

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Vitale’s videos on his Facebook page, which receive thousands of views, rail against many public health measures. For example, he said “contract tracing is illegal search and seizure; they will track all phones using Bluetooth technology; Thousands of army agents will FIND YOU and FORCE YOU into isolation; They will REMOVE YOU or a FAMILY MEMBER from your home if you only have one bathroom.”

Vitale is employed by Johnson Welded Products Inc., a maker of tanks and reservoirs used in braking systems for heavy trucks.

He and his wife have five sons and have served as foster parents. The couple met an Ohio State University Marching Band alumni event, according to Vitale’s web page.

Vitale’s web page describes him as a marathon runner, licensed pilot, NRA pistol instructor, karate black belt, professional drummer, kickboxing instructor, fruit farmer and Boy Scout leader.

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