Created on Wednesday, 15 January 2014 Written by JULIE CARR SMYTH, AP Statehouse Correspondent
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Records show Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel's failed Senate campaign sold a vehicle totaled in a March wreck shortly after questions arose over the continued use of the vehicle, averting an insurance review that stood to clarify whether it was properly used and insured.
A campaign spokeswoman for the Republican said a decision to withdraw an insurance claim and sell the 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee through an online auction company was made in September. That was days after The Associated Press first reported on the crash and the insurance matter.
"This was a 10-year-old vehicle with approximately 115,000 miles on it," spokeswoman Rebecca Wasserstein said in an email. "The federal campaign committee decided that it made the most sense for the committee to withdraw its insurance claim and just take the proceeds from the sale of the vehicle."
The SUV was purchased by Mandel's campaign for U.S. Senate for $13,800 in March 2012. It was sold at auction by Copart Inc. of Dallas in September for $938 after being totaled.
Mandel was riding in the SUV when it crashed near Toledo on March 5 — months after Mandel had lost his bid for U.S. Senate to Democrat Sherrod Brown.
Federal campaign finance law prohibits candidates from using a vehicle purchased with campaign funds for personal use or to run for a different office. Mandel's state treasurer campaign said it rented the SUV from the federal campaign in an arrangement they said was cleared by attorneys for both campaigns. Campaign finance reports show no rental payments until June 30, after the vehicle had been totaled.
"The campaign followed the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, and Treasurer Mandel is proud to save taxpayers thousands of dollars by not using tax money for travel around the state," Wasserstein said. Mandel's practice of not using state-owned transportation has been criticized for blurring the lines between his official and political activities.
Records show Mandel's Senate campaign paid $825 for auto insurance in April 2012. There is no record of the treasurer campaign reimbursing the Senate campaign for insurance. Both the driver and the listed insurance contact reported on the night of the crash were associated with the treasurer campaign.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol reported the SUV was disabled and towed from the scene after the crash in icy conditions. Mandel's campaign had previously declined to say what happened to the vehicle and where it was stored.
Proceeds of the sale of the SUV were received on Sept. 26, shortly after controversy erupted over the accident. Wasserstein said a pending insurance claim was withdrawn Sept. 3.
No further activity was reported on the matter in campaign finance reports due Dec. 31.
"The campaign committee considers this matter final and closed since September 26," Wasserstein said. "There has been and will be no additional activity related to this matter."
Copart auctions salvage vehicles and their parts.