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WVXU has been covering the stories of politics and corruption at Cincinnati's City Hall since early 2020. We have now launched an initiative to more closely examine Cincinnati politics and the individuals who have shaped it, along with the current allegations of corruption. We'll also explore proposals for change, and seek feedback from local leaders and community members on what can be done to restore trust in City Hall.Trust in Local Government, WVXU's Public Integrity Project will analyze our council-manager form of government and the charter amendments designed to reinforce ethical standards at City Hall; take a historical look at corruption in Cincinnati government; talk with the candidates for Cincinnati mayor and continue with an ongoing series of features, interviews and candidate profiles.

Commentary: How Could Steve Chabot Not Notice $1.4 Million Missing From Campaign Fund?

steve chabot
John Minchillo

The news this week that Rep. Steve Chabot's long-time political strategist and campaign manager Jamie Schwartz was charged by the feds with embezzling $1.4 million from Chabot's campaign fund was a great big, heaping helping of irony, slathered in a glaze of hypocrisy.

Chabot, who has spent all but two of the past 24 years representing Ohio's 1st Congressional District, hasn't had squat to say about this situation, speaking instead through his lawyer.

What he is feeling today; I have no idea. (He won't call me back.) What he ought to be feeling is ashamed of himself and his campaign organization.

Only three years ago, Chabot was being challenged for re-election by an up-coming Democrat, current Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval.

Pureval and his campaign made some rookie mistakes with campaign finances that, in the end, didn't amount to a hill of beans.

But once Chabot's campaign guru, the young Mr. Schwartz, who headed The Fountain Square Group, the most "prestigious" GOP campaign firm in Cincinnati, got hold of the Pureval mistakes, he turned them into a TV and direct mail campaign that suggested Pureval might go to prison – compete with cartoonish photos of Pureval behind phony prison bars.

There was not a snowball's chance in hell that Pureval was ever going to jail for this penny-ante stuff.

Jamie Schwartz knew that. The GOP establishment in Washington knew that. The local Republican Party establishment knew that. Anyone with the sense that God gave a goat knew that.

And, most importantly, Steve Chabot knew that. Yet he allowed such deceptive advertising to go out under his name.

Chabot won re-election with 51% of the vote.

Shameful behavior, up and down the line.

And, in the meantime, Schwartz, the man who had Aftab Pureval going to jail, was busy writing inflated checks to the companies he owned and stealing the Chabot campaign fund blind.

In Sept. 2019, the Federal Elections Commission noted that $123,625 had gone missing from Chabot's campaign account.

Jamie Schwartz had used his father's name, James Sr., as treasurer of the Chabot for Congress campaign. His father, a jeweler in Bridgetown, told the media that not only was he not the campaign treasurer, he had never had anything to do with Chabot's campaign committee.

Schwartz immediately closed the door to his Fountain Square Group offices, cut the phone lines, and basically went underground for a long time.

Earlier this week, when the FBI and U.S. Attorney's office announced the charges against Schwartz, the former campaign manager's lawyer, Kevin Tierney, told WVXU that his client had turned himself in to federal authorities weeks ago and felt "great remorse" for what he had done. When a hearing is heard in the case in a few weeks, Schwartz is expected to plead guilty to the charges.

The 41-year-old could face as much as 20 years in prison.

Chabot has not said anything about the case. His current campaign strategist, Jon Conradi, sent WVXU a statement Chabot's campaign lawyer, Megan Sowards Newton released Tuesday.

Newton, said that the campaign "continues to work with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to correct any potential inaccuracies in past campaign filings that may have been caused by these crimes and will continue to assist the Commission in order to ensure that the public record is accurate."

"As the victim of Mr. Schwartz' crimes, Congressman Chabot is pleased that the matter has come to a conclusion,'' the lawyer wrote.

Conclusion? Well, maybe not.

After his re-election win last year, Chabot said he plans to run for another term in 2022 – even though the district is likely to be redrawn to be less friendly to a Republican candidate.

Through his years in Congress, Chabot has been given one award after another from conservative groups praising him for being a watchdog over the spending of taxpayers' dollars.

But he's proven himself to be not much of a watchdog over his own campaign fund.

The special interest PACs will likely continue to give him money, if he, indeed, follows through on his plan to run again. After all, giving money to incumbents is what they do.

But what about the smaller individual donors of Hamilton and Warren counties? Will Joe and Jane Bag O'Donuts in Cheviot be so quick to write their $25 or $50 checks to the Chabot for Congress campaign?

Joe and Jane may be wondering about exactly where their hard-earned dollars are going to end up.

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Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

  Read more "Politically Speaking" here.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.