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Board of Elections mystery: Why were Aftab Pureval records blacked out?

September 19,2018 06:24

This story has been updated to reflect that it's a board employee or employees who are being scrutinized. A Hamilton County Board of Elections official blacked out information on checks submitted by the campaign of Aftab Pureval. But why? And is it ...



Sharon Coolidge and Scott Wartman Cincinnati Enquirer
Published 5:31 PM EDT Sep 18, 2018

This story has been updated to reflect that it's a board employee or employees who are being scrutinized. 
A Hamilton County Board of Elections official blacked out information on checks submitted by the campaign of Aftab Pureval. 
But why? And is it illegal?
Those are the questions at the center of a hearing Wednesday that springs from a heated and nationally-watched congressional race in Cincinnati.
The Hamilton County Board of Elections has called an emergency meeting Wednesday to discuss how employees there handled documents related to a "campaign finance investigation" into Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval.
The 11 a.m. meeting notice does not provide details about what prompted the need for an investigation.
Hamilton County Board of Elections chairman and former Hamilton County Democratic chairman Tim Burke confirmed to The Enquirer it's about the actions of the board's deputy director Sally Krisel, who previously served as director.
A message to Krisel wasn't immediately returned Tuesday afternoon. 
Pureval is running for Congress against GOP incumbent Rep. Steve Chabot, but the matter relates to his 2018 Clerk of Courts semi- annual campaign finance report, which was filed in July.
His filings raised questions because he spent $30,000 in six months, nearly all of it from his mother. There were expenses related to out-of-state travel, polling and photography, despite the fact the clerk's race isn't for another two years.
The memo lines on the checks - which detail the purpose of the spending - were redacted, which is unusual. 
Burke said Krisel blacked out the memo lines.
Pureval's campaign staff had asked her whether it was legal to black out the memo line. Krisel said it was legal as long as the reason for the check was described in the campaign finance report, Burke said. Then Krisel went ahead and blacked out the memo line. 
"It is not our practice for the board staff to do that redaction," Burke said. "The campaign should do it. It's their filing. I don't think she knows why she did it."
Attorney Brian Shrive filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission alleging that the payments for the photography were for the federal campaign, the polling was for the federal campaign, the contributions from his mother were an attempt to skirt federal campaign finance laws and the travel was in support of his federal campaign -- not for a legitimate clerk of courts campaign.
Wednesday's hearing is important, Shrive said, because it goes to the "integrity" of the board.
"Sadly, my faith in the integrity and transparency of the Hamilton County Board of Elections is rocked," Shrive said. If a board worker altered public records, "that employee and anyone else who knew about it but did not come forward should be fired and held criminally accountable. The integrity of our elections demands nothing less."
Pureval's campaign has said all of the spending was for the Clerk of Courts campaign.
The Secretary of State's staff said there's no statute prohibiting redacting the memo line, according to an email from Katie Zvolnek, the Secretary of State's director of campaign finance and administrative counsel, to the Board of Elections. 
Aftab Pureval's campaign manager Sarah Topy wouldn't say who made the redactions, but did say Pureval's campaign asked whether redactions could be made. 
"We asked whether redactions are permissible," Topy said. "We asked whether the memo line was party requirement for filing, and we were told it was not. We filed in a way that was appropriate that provided all the necessary information."
A hearing before the Ohio Elections Commission on that matter is set for Thursday. Pureval provided a response to the complaint claiming the redactions were done by board of elections employees.
In that response, Pureval said the memo fields were redacted "pursuant to the practice of the Hamilton County Board of Elections."
More: Aftab Pureval spent $30K from his clerk campaign account this year. Was some for his congressional race?
More: Aftab Pureval's clerk campaign broke spending rules, Ohio election complaint charges
The Hamilton County Board of Elections is made up of two Democrats and two Republicans. 
Follow The Enquirer and reporters Scott Wartman and Sherry Coolidge for updates. You can follow them on Twitter, @Enquirer, @ScottWartman and @SharonCoolidge
  
  
Published 5:31 PM EDT Sep 18, 2018

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