Lawsuit filed against Republican Ohio House Speaker over campaign funds
Three Republican state representatives have filed a lawsuitagainst the speaker of the Ohio House over the administration and use of campaign money.
Republican representatives Derek Merrin (R-Monclova), Ron Ferguson (R-Wintersville) and Phil Plummer (R-Dayton) have filed a suit in the Franklin County Common Pleas Court. Their complaint against Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) says he doesn’t have the authority to manage the Ohio House Republicans’ campaign fund. Rep. Jeff Lare (R-Canal Winchester) is also named in the complaint.
The complaint alleges that Stephens is trying to control the fund and has made unauthorized expenditures. Stephens has said as speaker, he controls that fund.
Stephens downplayed news of the lawsuit, saying it was "frivolous." He said he and the majority of his Republican colleagues have passed some important legislation and a budget.
"And I think that is an extremely good thing for the state of Ohio and I think it is good for our Republican party and we are going to continue to move forward, be positive and not let detractors get in his way," Stephens said.
Stephens said he's not sure any of the "folks who filed the lawsuit have contributed anything to our caucus." He said over half of the caucus has given to the caucus and people are ready to move on. He said the facts will bear out in the end.
Stephens won the speakership earlier this year in a surprise upset over Merrin with the help of all 32 of the House Democrats, even though the Republican caucus had initially agreed to elect Merrin to that post. Merrin got more Republican votes than Stephens and has said all year that he is the leader of the Republican caucus.
A law professor at Case Western Reserve University, Jonathan Entin, said having access to campaign funds is important.
"It matters because whoever controls the campaign money effectively has a large influence over who is going to be the party nominees in various legislative races and could determine who has control over a divided caucus," Entin said.
The Republican Caucus had initially agreed to elect Merrin speaker. He got more Republican votes than Stephens did and says he is the leader of the House GOP caucus. Entin said having control over those caucus funds could be important when it comes to primary races.
"For example, if there are two Republican candidates, one of whom is supportive of the speaker and the other who is supportive of Rep. Merrin, to the extent that the speaker has control over the dispersal of the funds, maybe the speaker might push the money in the direction of the person who might support him rather than Representative Merrin," Entin said.
The dispute over who manages House GOP campaign funds has been part of that struggle among Republicans all year as well, with the threat of a lawsuit brought up soon after Stephens was elected speaker. All legislative seats are on next year’s ballot. And control over that campaign money, especially in districts where candidates backed by Stephens might be facing primary challenges from candidates backed by Merrin, could make a difference.