COLUMBUS, Ohio — U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci failed to disclose nearly $50,000 in political contributions while registered as a Washington lobbyist starting in the late 2000s, according to an Associated Press review of federal records.
The AP review identified five reporting periods from 2008 to 2010 while the Ohio Republican was registered as a lobbyist when he either failed to file the required disclosure form or reported giving no political contributions when he had given.
Renacci, a businessman and former Wadsworth mayor, is Republicans’ favored candidate to win a GOP primary and take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown this fall in one of the year’s most closely watched Senate contests.
Renacci’s campaign said that he never lobbied. They said he was registered as the lobbyist with the consulting firm he helped launch in 2008, Smokerise International Group, as a precautionary measure.
Renacci’s attorney, Laura Mills, said he “never performed any lobbying activities.”
“He requested my office to deactivate him in 2009, as the entity in which he was a member never performed any lobbying and he wanted to be in full compliance of the law prior to entering into Congress,” Mills said.
Mills provided the AP a form not available online that listed Renacci’s lobbyist status as “inactive” as of Aug. 1, 2009. The campaign said only active lobbyists are required to disclose their contributions.
But an AP review found Mills didn’t file the companion form required to deactivate Renacci’s registration until 2011. Renacci’s registration was terminated as of May 2011, about four months after he entered Congress.
And Renacci continued to file and digitally sign lobbyist disclosure reports, other than the two he missed, through mid-2011, as an active lobbyist would.
His campaign refused to specify why he filed the reports if, as it contended, they were not required or to address the inaccurate reporting of his contributions.
Campaign spokesman James Slepian said the campaign’s position was “there would be no requirement for (Renacci) to report them since he never lobbied at any point.”
Under the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, signed by Republican President George W. Bush in 2007, federally registered lobbyists are required to disclose all federal political contributions of more than $200.
Along with that beefed-up transparency, the law increased civil penalties for knowing and willful reporting violations from $50,000 to $200,000.
A senior researcher at the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks lobbyists’ efforts to influence congressional candidates and members, said submitting accurate lobbyist filings provides the public with its “only real source of information about how Washington is operating, and how government officials are being influenced and/or supported.”
“It’s somewhat self-policed, so we rely on the filers to file honest and accurate reports,” researcher Dan Auble said.
Federal Election Commission reports show Renacci gave $26,875 in federal donations to other Republican candidates and party organizations that he didn’t disclose on lobbyist forms and $17,450 to his own campaign.
AP’s review found that Renacci:
— Filed no disclosure report for Jan. 1 to June 30, 2008, his first period as a registered lobbyist;
— Reported “No Contributions” for July 1 to Dec. 31, 2008, when he’d given two $2,300 contributions and a $12,500 contribution to campaign funds supporting Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain’s presidential bid and $7,900 to Ohio Republican Party committees;
— Filed no report for Jan. 1 to June 30, 2009, when he’d given $1,000 to LaTourette for Congress;
— Reported “No Contributions” for July 1 to Dec. 31, 2009, when he’d given $500 to Portman for Senate, $375 to the Stark County GOP and $2,400 to his congressional campaign;
— Reported “No Contributions” for Jan. 1 to June 30, 2010, when he’d given $15,050 to his campaign.
All federal contributions over $200, including to one’s own campaign, are required to be disclosed on the lobbyist disclosure form.