Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R-Ohio) has referred Rep. Nino Vitale (R-Urbana) to the Ohio Elections Commission based on several potential campaign finance issues. Among the referrals is a claim that Vitale mixed funds from personal or business accounts with his campaign account.
In the referral, LaRose says Vitale turned in a blank campaign finance report a day after the deadline, and also said Vitale directs students in his concealed carry class to pay through his campaign website.
There are six claims in the referral, which include alleged discrepancies in reporting online campaign contributions.
"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. All public officials must be held accountable," LaRose said in a written statement.
Vitale responded through a post on his Facebook page saying the secretary of state's office never contacted him and that he learned about the claims through the media.
In the Facebook post, Vitale said "I have worked with the Legislative Ethics Committee for years and have been proactive about calling them and asking what is and is not allowable under Ohio Ethics law. Each time, starting back in 2014, I was told using my campaign site and Facebook page for firearm classes was allowed as I was told it is a ‘mixed use page’ among other activities that were approved. When the director of Ohio Ethics approves something, I assumed that was legal. Now, seven years later, these are flagged as a problem."
Vitale noted that his campaign has been audited several times since 2014 but nothing had been flagged until this year.
"I look forward to continuing to provide whatever information is necessary. I’m hopeful the many times I have proactively called into the Ohio Ethics Commission asking questions and clarifications and the many times I have been audited, will show that I have been above board and transparent about all activities, income and expenses my campaign has had."
Vitale has been a vocal critic of Gov. Mike DeWine's (R-Ohio) response to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the non-essential business shutdown. He is among the four House Republicans who are leading the charge in seeking impeachment.