CINCINNATI (WKRC) - There’s a rift in the Ohio Republican Party (ORP) -- a fracture fueled by ideology with a tug-of-war between traditional members and the far-right over the direction of the party.
During a Dec. 3 meeting of the Ohio Republican Party State Central Committee in Columbus, frustration about direction of the party boiled over with repeated outbursts from the crowd.
“You are losing votes!” one man yelled.
Another man screamed out, “No more DeWine! We're done! Trump won!”
In the midst of this highly contentious environment, high-ranking Republicans themselves are now claiming publicly that they’ve discovered millions of dollars missing in ORP’s financial books.
Mark Bainbridge, one of 66 members of the Central Committee and a retired partner with the major international accounting firm Ernst & Young, is leading a group of high-ranking Republicans now questioning leadership about millions that he claims vanished from the books.
Rising from his chair many times, Bainbridge made it clear why he is leading the questions about missing cash.
“I believe I am the only CPA on the state central committee,” Bainbridge declared, reminding leadership of his role as he repeatedly claims that $3 million is missing from ORP’s financial records over the past four years without a reasonable explanation as to where the money went.
When Bainbridge and his questions were dismissed, he made it equally clear what he believes is happening:
“There is a cover-up going on,” Bainbridge alleged.
ORP BALANCE SHEETS WITH ARROWS POINTING TO REDUCTIONS:
While ORP leaders say there is no missing money or cover-up, Local 12 Investigates found some of the unexplained reductions that Bainbridge points to in ORP’s own balance sheets.
In 2017, the balance sheet clearly notes a reduction of $1.7 million in retained earnings that was written off. Nearly $437,000 was removed from the sheet in 2019.
These are two of the four areas where Bainbridge says he found what he claims is a total of $3 million that’s unaccounted for in ORP’s own books.
Duane Pohlman: "Three million dollars -- What happened to this money?"
Mark Bainbridge: "I have no idea, and no one will give us an explanation. That's what we want to know.”
For more than a year and a half, Bainbridge says he’s tried to get answers from ORP leadership, meeting with them and sending emails and letters. Just like at the meetings, Bainbridge says he and his claims have been dismissed.
“They won't explain it,” Bainbridge explained, adding, “I've been asking that question ever since I got on the board."
In November, Bainbridge and four other members of the Central Committee filed a lawsuit against their own party and its leaders, claiming, “missing Funds, totaling over $3 million may have been improperly misappropriated, misreported and/or otherwise improperly expended”
Laura Rosenberger is one of the five high-ranking Republicans who is listed as a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Pohlman: "You're worried?"
Laura Rosenberger: "Right. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here. It's serious."
Rosenberger claims she was kicked off the Central Committee for asking too many questions and for demanding that an audit be conducted to figure out what happened to the missing money.
“I believe that it is a cover-up,” Rosenberger said.
In their lawsuit, Bainbridge, Rosenberger and the other plaintiffs lay out the detail of the missing $3 million, including the $1.7 milllion in 2017 and $437,000 that vanished in 2019. In addition, they state $271,000 and $638,000 vanished in 2021.
During public meetings of the Central Committee, ORP’s treasurer, Dave Johnson, proclaimed loudly, “There is no missing money,” as ORP Chairman Bob Paduchik dismissed the claims.
While Paduchik publicly avoids any detailed explanations of the $3 million in alleged missing money, he did write a memo to the Central Committee last August stating $654,310.76 that Bainbridge claims to be missing was the result of “data entry errors.”
ORP EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR'S MEMO:
In a memo last May, ORP Executive Director Justin Bis explained to the Fiscal Review Committee that reimbursements -- most of them from then-Ohio Congressman Steve Stivers' campaign -- were entered in the wrong column in QuickBooks.
BRIGHTSIDE SUMMARY AND REPORT:
This isn’t the first time that ORP’s financial records have had issues. A report issued in 2017 by Rightside Compliance, an outside consultant commissioned by former ORP Chair Jane Timken, was a closely guarded secret for years until we obtained a copy.
In it, the report notes, “a vast range of missing and lost records (and) information” concluding in its summary of findings, “had this audit been conducted by the Federal Election Commission many of the issues identified would have been escalated to an enforcement case with assessment of fines.”
We reached out to the Federal Election Commission to ask whether it had been given the Rightside report, the lawsuit or whether any complaints had been made about ORP finances and were told, “The FEC can’t comment on any investigations.”
While most of the issues have been handled privately, the missing money claims are now boiling over in full view of the public.
At the December meeting, Paduchik tried to shut down questions and the controversy.
“Sir, you're out of order,” Paduchik declared at one point when Bainbridge demanded answers.
At another point, Johnson dismissed Bainbridge and his claims completely.
“I don't think you know what you're talking about,” Johnson quipped, which drew laughter from the audience.
During yet another round of questioning in the same public meeting, Paduchik addressed Bainbridge’s concerns, telling him, “I'll discuss this later.”
Bainbridge quickly responded, “You don't answer my phone calls.”
During a break in the public debate inside, we found Paduchik in the hallway and asked for an interview to explain his position. He walked away.
So, we requested the interview through ORP Communications Director Tricia McLaughlin who told us, “I think we can make it happen.”
It didn’t happen, and after four months of repeated requests to finally have an interview with the chairman, we finally got an answer: an email response from McLaughlin with two words: “No thanks.”
After all the questions and claims from Bainbridge and the others, Paduchik announced he will be conducting a full financial review.
When pressed by members of the committee about whether that review will include an audit of the finances, Paduchik did not answer directly.
“I don't have it in front of me,” he explained, drawing gasps and laughter from the crowd.
Bainbridge calls the financial issues “a mess.” And he says the issues are now going far beyond the books, creating a controversy that continues to grow, making it increasingly difficult for ORP leaders to control.
After repeated outbursts from the crowd gathered at the ORPSCC’s December meeting, Paduchik announced he was removing the public from the room.
“This meeting is closed to the public,” Paduchik said.
As the crowd continued to yell out and remain in the back of the room, Paduchik got more to the point:
“Folks, you need to leave!" he declared over the speakers.
While many members of the public took the cues and made their way to the doors, many others did not, refusing to leave the room. When it was clear the chaos would continue, Paduchik ended the meeting early.
Bainbridge insists Paduchik still needs to answer the questions about the alleged missing cash.
Pohlman: "What do you think about him not talking about this?”
Bainbridge: “I think it's a tragedy. “