Under pressure from his Democratic rival, Ohio Rep. Jim Renacci says he is returning approximately $100,000 in campaign contributions that have become the subject of a federal probe.
The contributions, whose legality has recently been questioned by Renacci's competitor, Rep. Betty Sutton, are connected to Ben Suarez, the president of the Ohio-based Suarez Corp. Suarez is suspected of having reimbursed his employees for contributions made to Renacci's campaign to get around individual donation ceilings.
While the donations in question were made to Renacci's campaign, Renacci has not been accused of any breach of conduct. He announced the decision to return the funds in an open letter released Friday.
Ohio Treasurer and U.S. Senate hopeful Josh Mandel's finances are also being investigated, as his campaign also received a number of donations from individuals with connections to Suarez.
Sutton, a Democratic incumbent, is facing Renacci in this year's election due to redistricting in Ohio. Sutton had pressured Renacci to come clean about the donations before his decision to return the funds.
In his letter, which was distributed as a news release on Friday, Renacci accused Sutton of "gutter politics" and brought up Sutton's own conduct when she found herself in a similar situation in 2008. In that case, Sutton accepted approximately $7,000 in campaign donations from Rep. Charles Rangel, D, N.Y.
Sutton initially kept the funds while the House Ethics Committee carried out an investigation, and then later donated them to charity when it was found that misconduct had occurred.
Renacci's letter also accused Sutton of having "opted to avoid any meaningful dialogue over the issues plaguing our country - and instead plan to wage a desperate campaign of distractions and distortions to hide from your voting record."
Sutton issued a statement today taking credit for Renacci's decision to return the funds.
"Every day, Ohioans work hard and play by the rules, and they expect their representatives in Washington to do the same," she said. "While some of Renacci's largest contributions are under FBI investigation, Jim Renacci has lied and he has hid the truth about what he knew about these suspect donations, and why he refused to return them. He owes the voters of this district an explanation, and I look forward to hearing all the facts because voters deserve to know the truth about these shady campaign practices."
James Slepian, Renacci's chief of staff and currently the campaign's part-time spokesman, indicated that Renacci decided to return the disputed funds to run a campaign focused on "serious issues."
"Our initial position on this was that the proper course was wait until the inquiry had concluded and find out if any wrongdoing had occurred," Slepian said of the Renacci campaign's decision to return the funds in advance of the federal probe's findings. "We came to the conclusion that the only hope we have of having a campaign and a race in the 16th District was to take away Betty Sutton's last and final excuse to not talk about her record."
Slepian also said that returning the $100,000 will not have a negative impact on Renacci's re-election campaign.
"Fortunately, we have substantially outraised Betty Sutton to date," he said. "In the last quarter we raised over half a million dollars, she raised $290,000, so I think the consistent strength that we've had in our fundraising operation has put us in a position where we can run a successful campaign."
Slepian indicated that Renacci's campaign had no knowledge of the timeline of the federal probe, as merely the donors and not the campaign itself are under investigation.