COLUMBUS, Ohio — The state's Elections Commission dismissed a complaint Thursday alleging that Republican Gov. John Kasich's re-election campaign played a role in getting a Libertarian candidate bumped from last year's gubernatorial ballot.
Attorneys for Libertarian Charlie Earl argued that Kasich's campaign and GOP consultant Terry Casey conspired in a successful protest that disqualified Earl from the 2014 governor's race and that Casey's resulting legal bills constitute an unreported in-kind contribution to the campaign. They sought a $720,000 fine against Kasich's team.
The elections panel ruled otherwise. Members voted 5-2 to dismiss the complaint, finding that Earl lacked the evidence to show a coordinated effort.
Filings with the Elections Commission show that the Ohio Republican Party paid Casey $300,000 in legal bills for the challenge. The money went to pay the law firm Zeiger, Tigges & Little for legal advice and representation in the challenge against Earl's nominating petitions.
Casey has consistently said he acted on his own to challenge Earl out of concern that his candidacy was orchestrated by Democrats.
In testimony during a separate lawsuit filed by Ohio Libertarians, Casey acknowledged communicating with Kasich's re-election campaign ahead of the protest to Earl's nominating petitions. But he rejected suggestions that Kasich or his campaign orchestrated the effort.
Earl at one time had the potential to draw votes from Republicans dissatisfied with Kasich. In the end, Kasich won re-election handily.
Attorneys for the John Kasich/Mary Taylor for Ohio campaign stressed to the commission that there was nothing to show that the campaign coordinated with Casey about hiring the law firm or working on the protest. "Here there was no meeting of the minds," said attorney Maria Armstrong, contending the legal bills couldn't be an in-kind contribution.
Mark Brown, one of Earl's attorneys, asserted that emails involving Casey and campaign advisers showed probable cause to believe that Casey had the campaign's consent.
"The Kasich campaign was behind all of this," Brown told the commission, urging them to further review it.
Commission member Kimberly Allison, a Republican, told Brown that she saw records of Casey informing the campaign but nothing to indicate direct involvement in hiring the law firm or other actions related to the legal bills.
Brown told reporters after the hearing that he planned to consult with his client about next steps in the case. "I think there should be more investigation, but by whom, I just can't say," he said.
Armstrong said she believed the outcome was the right decision.