COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio Democrats asked the Internal Revenue Service on Wednesday to audit a nonprofit group tied to Republican governor hopeful John Kasich, alleging it was improperly used for political purposes.
Kasich, the former congressman and presidential candidate, is hoping to unseat Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland in the Nov. 2 election.
In a complaint sent Wednesday and provided to The Associated Press, the Ohio Democratic Party alleges that New Century Project Issues Forum spent most of its money from 2006 to 2008 on salaries to three key Kasich campaign aides.
The group, a so-called 501(c)4 organization, was set up "exclusively for the promotion of social welfare," according to its incorporation papers. And to maintain its tax-exempt status, it must keep partisan politics secondary.
In a letter to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, Democrats said the nonprofit was one of three similarly-named groups that paid salaries or consulting fees to key Kasich aides. The money flowed almost continuously from the time Kasich launched his failed presidential bid in 1999 to when he launched his governor campaign in 2009, the complaint alleges.
The nonprofit "did little more than bankroll former Congressman John Kasich's campaign staff" between the two campaigns, the Democrats allege. They say that conducting political activities through the forum allowed Kasich to avoid disclosure of financial contributions and prevented the public from scrutinizing his campaign activities.
But Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the complaint amounts to a "smear campaign."
"Ohio Citizen Action - the state's top campaign finance watchdog - looked at the structure and operations of New Century nearly a year ago and agreed there was nothing to any of this," Nichols said. "Unable to say anything nice about their own candidate Ted Strickland, Democrats instead continue to join him in his smear campaign against John."
IRS spokeswoman Jodie Reynolds said the agency could not comment.
According to the complaint, the New Century Project Issues Forum was formed in 2005 and received nearly all its money from the tax-exempt New Century Project, a 527 issue advocacy committee of which Kasich was chair, and from Kasich's presidential committee.
According to filings, Issues Forum spent $118,422 of its total 2006 revenue of $130,794 on salaries for aides Benjamin Kanzeg and Donald Thibaut and more than half its revenue on salaries in 2007 and 2008, Democrats said. Kanzeg, Thibaut and Tod Bowman also were paid combined salaries of $526,000 from 2002 to 2005 by the New Century Project, the letter states. The three were also paid between 2001 and 2005 through Kasich's congressional leadership PAC, the New Century Project Political Action Committee.
All three are now helping the Kasich for Ohio governor campaign.