SHEFFIELD TWP. — County Engineer Ken Carney has long been known as a fundraising powerhouse with a campaign war chest large enough to fend off even a well-funded challenger, but that reputation might have been exaggerated.
In Carney’s most recent campaign finance report, filed in January, he lists Carney for Engineer as having $78,072 on hand at the end of 2006, but the bulk of that is $67,000 in loans Carney made to the committee. That leaves him with about $11,000 in money that he’s raised from other sources in the bank.
Carney routinely has lent his committee money over the years, according to campaign finance reports dating back to 2000, the years that are the subject of a county Board of Elections audit that has been forwarded to the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office for review.
The elections board’s campaign finance examiners have been unable to determine whether Carney opened a $68,067 investment account in 2001 with his own money or funds belonging to the committee.
He closed the account, which listed Carney as the sole owner, in 2005 and transferred the remaining $40,969 to another account in his committee’s name. A campaign finance report filed in 2006 was the first time the elections board heard of the investment account, according to information being sent to the secretary of state.
Kelly Neer, the state’s assistant campaign finance administrator, said investing campaign money is perfectly legal so long as the committee and not the candidate personally, is the one profiting or losing money. Even if Carney failed to properly disclose that he had the account open in his own name, it might have been an honest mistake, Neer said.
“Just because it was in his personal name doesn’t set off an alarm bell — yet,” Neer said.
County Democratic Party Chairman Tom Smith said Carney might be guilty of a technical violation for bad bookkeeping, but he doesn’t believe it’s more serious.
Carney did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday, but a day earlier he denied any wrongdoing and characterized the problems revealed by the audit as “minor.”
In 2004, Carney’s big bank account didn’t deter independent Thomas Hesmond from challenging Carney — the last time his name appeared on the ballot. Hesmond, who spent the bulk of his career working for a private engineering firm, was defeated by a margin of almost two to one despite significant backing from Republicans. According to Hesmond’s 2004 campaign finance reports he spent about $45,000 in his bid to oust Carney.
In that race, Carney spent more than $57,000 to win re-election, according to amended reports he filed to address concerns raised by the audit. Even after winning the race, the most recent report said, Carney had $58,173 available, but most of that came from $49,000 in loans he’d made to the campaign.