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Aspiring Ohio GOP chair uses own funds for taxes

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A contender for state Republican Party chairman said Thursday that his disagreement with the government over what taxes he owed, not a lack of money, led him to rack up years of back debt but that he's paid off about $150,000.

GOP Executive Director Matthew Borges said he withheld years of tax payments to prevent the money from going toward a 2007 tax lien that he was disputing that related to how income from the sale of his $575,000 home was counted.

Borges said once that disagreement was resolved he was able to pay more than $24,300 in state taxes from personal funds. He said he paid another $124,200 in federal tax liens in full on Thursday.

"We had to make sure that the issue with the home — that was hundreds of thousands of dollars of a discrepancy — was taken care of before I could come up with the money," he said.

He said he feared paying subsequent tax bills would result in those payments being applied to the disputed amount.

"So you have to get those things worked out before you can pay what they agree that you owe," Borges said. "Once that happened, I was able to do that with my personal funds."

Asked why that prevented him from paying the liens he had accrued in 2005 and 2006, before the home sale, he said it was considered "all one debt." He continues to challenge the amount he was told he owes for 2006 but went ahead and paid off liens from 2005.

Before the tax liens became public, Borges had all but wrapped up the chairmanship. He is vying to replace Chairman Bob Bennett, who returned to the party's helm last year after allies of Gov. John Kasich forced out then-Chairman Kevin DeWine.

Kasich joined every Republican statewide elected official as well as U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and U.S. House Speaker John Boehner in signing a letter endorsing Borges for the job.

Attorney General Mike DeWine, a second cousin of Kevin DeWine, and Secretary of State Jon Husted said, however, that they were disappointed not to know of Borges' tax liens before they signed. Husted said Borges pledged to address the debts before the Republican State Central Committee meets Friday to select Bennett's replacement.

Amid the flap, Ashtabula County GOP Chairman Charlie Frye sent an email to party leaders around the state earlier this week pushing an alternative candidate, Lake County Republican Chairman Dale Fellows.

Frye told The Columbus Dispatch that Fellows was willing to run if Borges pulled out. Borges told the newspaper that he didn't intend to do that and that Fellows had expressed his support for Borges as chairman.

Borges will certainly face a challenge from Tom Zawistowski, a businessman and tea party leader from Portage County.

Zawistowski is a leading figure in a conservative backlash against the party that has stemmed from a series of issues.

He and a group of fellow conservatives have raised among their concerns with the party Kasich's support for Medicaid expansion under the federal health care law; Portman's recent decision to support same-sex marriage; and the fact that Borges was convicted in 2004 of misdemeanor misuse of public office, a charge later cleared from his record.

Kasich says he stands by Borges, who helped manage his inauguration. Kasich's spokesman indicated initially that the governor's staff was aware of the liens before they became public, but Kasich said Wednesday he didn't know about that.

Kasich said the liens don't bother him, nor does Borges' expunged conviction.

"People wanted to trash him, and I didn't like that," Kasich said. "Because I think everybody deserves a second chance, period. And I think he's a good man."

Kasich's tax commissioner, Joe Testa, signed documents affirming that Borges had paid all state tax liens except the disputed 2006 figure.

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