Split among some members of Ohio Republican Party sparks lawsuit against it
Five members of the Ohio Republican Party’s 66-member state central committee are suing the party, saying there’s millions of dollars of missing money and that Chairman Bob Paduchik won’t explain what happened to it.
Paduchik is pushing back on the group's motivations. The suit comes as the party considers whether it will eventually endorse candidates in May’s contested primary for governor and the crowded race to replace US Senator Rob Portman.
Mark Bainbridge, JoAnn Campbell, Joe Miller, Laura Rosenberger, and Denise Verdi are suing the Ohio GOP, saying his group has documented $3 million in unexplained missing funds going back to former chair Jane Timken, now a US Senate candidate. They also say they have been removed from party subcommittee positions by Paduchik recently "as a result of retaliation for questioning his failed leadership and financial mismanagement".
Bainbridge said he's concerned about $1.7 million that he said "disappeared" in 2017, along with what he said are questionable missing amounts of $437,000 in 2019, $638,000 in 2017 and 2018 and then written off in 2021, and $271,000 this year.
Bainbridge also said there's no record of a CPA firm doing an audit for many years. "And because of that, the records aren't in conformity with general accepted accounting principles," Bainbridge said. "There are no internal controls. The financials are wrecked And that's why these errors and irregularities have happened in the financial statements is because they really don't have anyone who's knowledgeable keeping the books."
Bainbridge said the group wants an audit, for the party to stop contributing to the re-election campaigns of Gov. Mike DeWine and other candidates, and for Paduchik to resign.
“It has nothing to do with the politics in the Republican Party. We are just trying to bring accountability and integrity and good financial reporting and governance to the Ohio Republican Party," Bainbridge said.
Paduchik has been party chair since Timken stepped down in February 2021. Paduchik was former President Trump's senior advisor on his re-election campaign, and had been endorsed by Trump, who had also picked Timken to lead the party after his 2016 win.
Paduchik said in a letter about Bainbridge and the suit to party members to state central committee members that Bainbridge's allegations come from "his stunning failure to understand how political parties are governed and the basic accounting principles parties operate within." Paduchik said all money coming in or leaving the party's coffers is reported either to the Federal Elections Commission or the Ohio Secretary of State.
Paduchik said Bainbridge's actions are "unprecedented" and based on “crazy accusations”.
"Never before have members engaged in the actions of Mark and his followers. They have openly slandered colleagues, conducted opposition research on committee members, threatened members with legal exposure and filed complaints against their colleagues," Paduchik wrote. "This self-described group of “reformers” working directly with the dark money group a Committee for a Better Ohio. It’s clear they are a fifth column element determined to destroy the Ohio Republican Party."
Paduchik said the dark money group is run by John Morrow and Tom Zawistowski. Zawistowski is the longtime head of the Portage County Tea Party, and attempted to become Ohio Republican Party chair in 2013 after chair Bob Bennett stepped down. Zawistowski lost the election to Matt Borges, an ally of then-Gov. John Kasich, who had helped oust chair Kevin DeWine in 2012.
Zawistowski has called on Gov. Mike DeWine to resign at the start of the pandemic. He also wrote a letter published in the Washington Times after the 2020 election, calling for martial law and a new federal vote to be managed by the military.
Paduchik closes his letter about the lawsuit with this line: “Please recognize the lies and the motivations behind them.”