County Sheriff Fined For Accepting Illegal Campaign Donations
Ashtabula County Sheriff Billy Johnson was fined $1,000 by the Ohio Elections Commission (OEC) last week for accepting illegal corporate donations. In a June 14 meeting, OEC found that Johnson, a Democrat, accepted 56 donations from Ohio corporations during the past three years. Johnson was fined because the donations were prohibited by Ohio Revised Code 3599.03, which states that no corporation [ ] shall pay [ ] a candidate for election or nomination to public office.
Steve Magda, whose wife is running for Ashtabula County Treasurer, requested Johnsons campaign finance reports from 2011 and found that the Committee to Re-Elect William Billy Johnson for Sheriff” received 13 checks from Ohio corporations. Additional public records requests found that Johnson received 43 more suspicious contributions from businesses over the course of three years.
The records provided to Magda by the Ashtabula County Board of Elections show that no money was spent on media or advertisement expenditures for the fundraisers. This indicates the donations were solicited by Johnson or an agent representing him, which is also in violation of Ohios campaign finance laws.
Magda alleged that Johnson’s campaign committee accepted a total of 141 illegal contributions from 1999 through 2011. Additionally, Magda alleges that the Deputy Director of the Ashtabula County Board of Elections — who is also the chairman of the county Democratic Party — attempted to destroy 80 boxes of documents containing Johnsons campaign finance records.
In April of 2012, Johnson admitted to the Ashtabula Star-Beacon that illegal contributions may have accidentally been accepted due to campaign volunteers who were unfamiliar with campaign finance laws. Johnson denied any allegations of intentional wrongdoing and returned a portion of the donations.
According to a Media Trackers interview with OEC Executive Director Phillip Richter, OEC dismissed two of Madgas complaints during the June 14 meeting because they contained allegations regarding actions that occurred too long ago or were outside OECs jurisdiction.
Johnson is running for re-election against Republican challenger G. Randy Gentry, who is currently serving as Chief of Police in the village of Andover, Ohio. Johnson and Gentry will face off in this year’s general election, on November 6.