COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose has accused an outspoken state lawmaker of a series of campaign-finance violations, via a complaint his office filed with the Ohio Elections Commission on Wednesday.
LaRose said the review began after Rep. Nino Vitale, an Urbana Republican, submitted a blank page on June 5, when the most recent campaign-finance report was due.
“I swore an oath to uphold the law, so when I see an apparent violation of our state’s campaign finance statutes, I am duty bound to refer it to the Ohio Elections Commission,” LaRose, a Republican, said in a statement. “All public officials must be held accountable.”
LaRose accuses Vitale of improperly using his campaign resources, including his website and social media account, to promote his personal concealed-carry firearms training business, and also alleges Vitale failed to properly report fundraising activity in his most recent campaign-finance report that he filed in June.
LaRose’s complaint details six alleged campaign-finance violations. The most serious is converting campaign resources for personal use, which is a first-degree misdemeanor under Ohio law.
Vitale in an interview said he believed using his website to promote his firearms-training business is allowed under advice he’d previously received from the Joint Legislative Ethics Commission, which advises state lawmakers on legislative ethics rules.
He said he’d been working with LaRose’s office to provide additional details on his campaign spending, and had been under the impression it was a routine audit.
“I don’t know, we’ll have to work this out, but as far as I know, I’ve always been in compliance with all of this stuff,” he said.
Vitale said JLEC told him the site is deemed to be “mixed use,” so promoting his business is allowed.
Legislative Inspector General Tony Bledsoe told cleveland.com | The Plain Dealer he can’t comment on individual cases.
But he said generally, “mixed-use” refers to whether a state lawmaker can use their official title on campaign materials, including websites and social-media accounts.
“If a member uses their official title on a mixed-use page, that is not a concern, but we cannot and do not opine on campaign-finance issues,” he said.
LaRose’s complaint against Vitale was first reported by the Dayton Daily News.
Vitale, first elected to the state legislature in 2016 and originally from the Cleveland area, has made a name for himself outside of the area he represents for his extremely conservative views and occasional outlandish statements.
He was one of three Republican lawmakers who this week moved to begin impeachment proceedings against Republican Gov. Mike DeWine in a long-shot effort that drew rebukes from party leaders. Vitale on his Facebook page called DeWine a “dictator” who should be “charged and tried for crimes against humanity.”
He previously made national news in June for urging citizens not to get tested for COVID-19 to keep positive results down and in April, Vitale floated whether the coronavirus was part of a conspiracy to sell mandatory vaccines.
Phil Richter, executive director of the Ohio Elections Commission, said he hadn’t yet thoroughly reviewed the complaint and couldn’t comment on it. The elections commission has the power to levy fines or in rare circumstances, make referrals for criminal investigation.
Read LaRose’s complaint below: