View Full Version : Lost coins are a hot potato for GOP

06-04-2005, 08:05 AM
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Lost coins are a hot potato for GOP

By Tim Jones Tribune national correspondent
Fri Jun 3, 9:40 AM ET

Money has always been the coin of the political realm, but the unfolding scandal over lost coins in Ohio--old nickels, dimes and gold pieces coveted by collectors and valued into the millions of dollars--is shaking the Republican Party to its grand old roots.

In what is all-too-predictably being labeled "Coingate," state and federal authorities have sicced their investigative dogs on the activities of Thomas Noe, a Toledo coin collector who was chairman of
President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign in northwest Ohio and who, over the years, has been a lawn sprinkler of campaign cash to major Republican candidates in the state.

Noe is in trouble because an estimated $12 million to $13 million in state money from a worker's compensation fund is missing after being invested in rare coin funds that Noe controls.

Authorities say they are pursuing criminal charges, and Noe, the gregarious, 50-year-old bankrolling confidant of Ohio Republicans, has become political poison. His former friends, including the governor, couldn't be running any faster to get away from him and the taint of scandal.

Gov. Bob Taft, U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine (news, bio, voting record) and three other statewide officeholders with gubernatorial ambitions announced this week that they are giving up about $60,000 they had received from Noe.

In Washington, the
Republican National Committee said Thursday it would donate to charities $6,000 that the Bush-Cheney campaign and the RNC received from Noe and his wife, Bernadette. The Bush campaign received more than $100,000 raised by Noe. RNC spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt said remaining contributions "appear to be completely appropriate."

Bush met with Noe last October to thank him and his wife for their fundraising efforts. Bush narrowly won Ohio, whose 19 electoral votes enabled him to secure a second term.

In the meantime, a federal grand jury this week began investigating contributions to the Bush-Cheney campaign that had any connection to Noe.

The perception of money for injured workers going to support politicians is potentially explosive for Ohio Republicans, who control nearly all major statewide offices and who cleared the way for an unusual $55 million state investment in Noe's rare coin venture, starting in 1998.

Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, who is running for the GOP gubernatorial nomination next year, last week called on U.S. Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales to investigate.

Noe "has done a great disservice to the people of Ohio by mismanaging our public resources and abusing our trust," Taft said in a statement with Ohio GOP Chairman Robert Bennett.

Ethics lessons for candidates

With an eye toward next year's election, Bennett said last week he will require any candidate seeking the party's support to have ethics training.

"I think it's a little late, and I don't know that politics and ethics necessarily walk hand-in-hand," quipped Monica Benoit, a state employee who, like many in this industrial city, has been watching the political intrigue spill onto the pages of Toledo's newspaper The Blade, which began reporting on the missing state money early this year.

Ohio is certainly not immune from scandal. Former Rep. James Traficant, a Democrat expelled from the U.S. House in 2002, is serving an 8-year sentence for a bribery conviction. Rep. Wayne Hays, also a Democrat, resigned from the U.S. House after an investigation into his relationship with a stripper.

Coins--old coins that one would usually see only in collectors' shops or museums--give this scandal the patina of distinction. Investigators say 121 coins bought with state money are missing and might have been stolen in Colorado.

Little is known about the coins, except for two--a $3 gold coin minted in 1855 and a $10 gold coin minted in 1845. What is known is that the politically connected Noe benefited from the decision by the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation to invest state money in Noe's coin funds.

"This is such a vibrant example of the culture of corruption in Columbus," said Democratic state Sen. Marc Dann, whose party has not won a statewide race in Ohio in more than a decade.

"The people in charge have become too comfortable with churning government benefits in exchange for campaign contributions," Dann said.

Last week investigators removed thousands of collectible items from Noe's Toledo-area shop, some of which were purchased with state money. Those items included a 1963 Christmas card signed by President John Kennedy; a 1790 water pitcher from Liverpool depicting George Washington; an autographed Mickey Mantle poster; a Marilyn Monroe print and vintage comic books.

Other than telling investigators last week that he expects the shortfall in the investment will be between $12 million and $13 million, Noe has not talked publicly. William Wilkinson, one of Noe's attorneys, said Thursday his client has "not admitted any wrongdoing." Wilkinson said Noe had not been subpoenaed by the grand jury.

Even in politics-weary Ohio, the biggest battleground state in last year's presidential election, the coin scandal is attracting attention. Toledo television stations for the moment have forsaken shootings and fires to first cover the almost daily development in the scandal.

"This just stinks. There's a bunch of people down there who think they're above the law," said Andrew Eklund, who sells hot dogs near the Toledo Police Department headquarters.

Public opinion polls that were conducted before the controversy gained footing suggest Ohio voters are unhappy. Taft, the great-grandson of the former president who was re-elected as governor in a landslide in 2002, received a 35 percent approval rating in a recent Ohio Poll, which is sponsored by the University of Cincinnati.

Bleak view in hard times

"This state has been the poster child for a troubled economy, and there's much more pessimism out there now than there has been in some time," said Eric Rademacher, co-director of the university's Institute for Policy Research, which conducts the poll.

And that is all the more reason for Republicans to fret over next year's statewide elections. The three Republican candidates for governor--Blackwell, state Auditor Betty Montgomery and Atty. Gen. Jim Petro--had received more than $17,000 in contributions from Noe. They said Wednesday they will either return the contributions or place the money into escrow accounts.

Rademacher and other political analysts say it would be premature to forecast the fallout from the scandal. But they note that in the wake of a statewide loan scandal in 1970, when Republicans were in control, Democrats won the governor's office.

06-04-2005, 08:09 AM
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Bush Returning Funds From Coin Dealer

Fri Jun 3, 7:41 PM ET

President Bush is returning $4,000 in campaign contributions from an Ohio coin dealer who is the subject of state and federal investigations, the White House said Friday.

Tom Noe, who is from suburban Toledo, is under investigation for his handling of $55 million the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation gave to him to invest in rare coins. Noe's lawyer has reported that $10 million to $12 million is missing.

"I think that there are some serious allegations that have been raised against this individual," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said in Texas while Bush spent time at his ranch.

"They have raised concerns with people in Ohio. They have raised concerns with the White House. And the president felt it was the right thing to return those contributions that came directly from him," McClellan said.

Aaron McLear, a spokesman for the
Republican National Committee, said Thursday that the $2,000 donated by Noe to the RNC will be given to charity. McLear added that Bush has no immediate plans to return more than $100,000 Noe raised for the Bush-Cheney campaign last year.

"Those are from other individuals," McClellan said. "In the past, I think, the campaign — if you'll go back and look — has returned contributions from individuals that maybe have been convicted of crimes, and so forth."

Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, three other statewide officeholders, several House lawmakers and Sen. Mike DeWine (news, bio, voting record) also said they were giving up campaign contributions from Noe totaling nearly $60,000. Many of the officials designated charities or a workers' compensation fund to receive the money.

Meanwhile, a former governor's aide has told federal authorities that he gave $2,000 to Bush's re-election campaign at the urging of Noe and was later reimbursed by the coin dealer, a newspaper reported Friday.

H. Douglas Talbott appeared this week before a federal grand jury in Toledo that is looking into whether Noe, who headed the Bush-Cheney campaign in northwest Ohio, skirted campaign finance laws by giving others money to donate, according to a report published in The Plain Dealer in Cleveland.

Noe also contributed $10,000 to a fund supporting California Gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger's legislative priorities. "Allegations about Mr. Noe became public a year after we accepted his contribution," Marty Wilson, executive director of the fund, said Friday, and Schwarzenegger has no plans to return the donation.