Ohio

Embattled Democrat Fundraiser Tied to Pay-to-Play, Blackmail Plots

Organizations

Franklin County Democratic Party fundraiser Melissa Barnhart, under increasing scrutiny by her own party for alleged campaign finance misconduct, is also tied to a pay-for-play scandal involving former Democratic governor Ted Strickland’s administration and a former candidate for state auditor who is accused of cheating the Ohio Democratic Party out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In 2010, former Mahoning County Treasurer John Reardon told FBI investigators that Governor Ted Strickland — or members of his campaign staff — promised Reardon a cabinet-level position in 2006 in return for dropping out of the Democratic primary race for state auditor.

Strickland and his former chief of staff John Haseley denied the allegation. Ohio Democratic Party officials ultimately convinced Reardon to bow out of the race, paying Reardon $115,000.

Reardon claims that he got the idea to blackmail the Ohio Democratic Party from embattled Ohio Democratic Party fundraiser Melissa Barnhart. Apparently taking her advice, Reardon allegedly listed numerous false loans on financial reports to burnish the image of his campaign coffers.

According to notes from the FBI’s interview with Reardon’s political consultant, Leo Jennings III, “Reardon also wanted a promise of cabinet-level state job after the election…the [Ohio Democratic Party] agreed to pay off Reardon’s campaign debt.”

In 2007, after Strickland was elected governor, Reardon was hired by the Ohio Department of Commerce as the superintendent of the Division of Financial Institutions, a position paying $100,984 a year. Notes from the FBI’s interview indicate that “he was unequivocally certain that Strickland knew that a job was part of the tentative deal for Reardon to get out of the race.”

Reardon also allegedly bartered with Democratic Party officials to obtain a job for his girlfriend in the office of former Ohio Treasurer and Attorney General Richard Cordray.

Additionally, Reardon’s political consultant was hired by Attorney General Marc Dann, who later resigned amid the bizarre 2008 “PajamaGate” sex scandal. Jennings — a former roommate of Dann — was also involved in the scandal and was placed on administrative leave shortly before Dann resigned.

Reardon resigned in May of 2010. Two months later, Reardon was indicted in a public corruption case involving a shady Mahoning County land deal.

Barnhart is now under scrutiny from the Franklin County Board of Election, as years-old payouts to her mysteriously appeared on the Franklin County Democratic Party’s campaign finance reports. Barnhart, who was one of the masterminds behind Anthony Giardini’s failed coup against Ohio Democratic Party chairman Chris Redfern in March of 2012, claims that the payouts were for services rendered in past years.

The amended reports say that Barnhart was paid $48,000 for services rendered in 2007 and 2009, but state law requires that spending be disclosed the year it is incurred. Barnhart claims she is owed a total of $63,000 in back pay, but Redfern claims Ohio Democratic Party records show that “all expenses incurred during 2007 and 2009 were paid at that time

Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott, another Barnhart client, is also under scrutiny for shady campaign-finance dealings.

Five property appraisers employed by the Sherriff’s Office donated $26,000 to the Franklin County Democratic Party, who in turn paid Barnhart $9,000. All five appraisers are either friends of Scott or former campaign workers. Barnhart insisted that the payment from the county party was part of an agreement that “the party would pay me back the money when it [became] available.” However, three Democratic Party officials who Barnhart claimed would be able to explain the payouts were all unable to recall why Barnhart is being paid.

Earlier today, the Franklin County Democratic Party announced that it was prematurely ending all existing contracts with Barnhart, noting that it was done “for the best interests of the party at this time,” but was not intended to serve as a “validation of the accusations in the media.”

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