Fundraiser admits to illegal activity in Bush campaign

A top Republican fund-raiser who is the leading figure in an Ohio political scandal pleaded guilty on Wednesday to illegally funneling money as a matter of course to President George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign.

In an appearance in federal court, rare coin dealer Tom Noe admitted to three counts of violating campaign finance laws.

He wrote checks to two dozen Republican supporters so they could attend a $2,000-a-plate Bush fund-raising dinner held in the state capital of Columbus on October 30, 2003.

Noe’s scheme netted $45,400 for the Bush campaign and he became a top fund-raiser for the party in Ohio, raising more than $100,000 for Bush and other Republicans. Bush beat Democrat John Kerry in Ohio by 118,000 votes, a victory that was pivotal to his reelection.

“I came here today in order to accept responsibility,” Noe, 51, told the judge.

Prosecutors recommended Noe receive between 24 and 30 months in prison. U.S. District Judge David Katz may not impose a sentence until after Noe’s separate trial on state charges of stealing millions from a rare coin investment for Ohio’s worker compensation fund.

The Republican National Committee, in a statement, said it would “continue to fully cooperate with the investigation” and said: “We’ll make appropriate transfers as directed by the court.”

Previously, the committee acted on behalf of the defunct Bush campaign to make a charitable contribution of $6,000, which represented Noe’s and Noe’s wife’s contributions to the president’s and Republican Party’s 2004 campaign, a spokesman said. Individual contributions to a candidate cannot exceed $2,000.

The state scandal involving Noe relates to a $50 million investment in rare coins Noe was permitted to make on behalf of Ohio’s worker’s compensation bureau. He has pleaded not guilty to 53 charges of mishandling and stealing from the fund, and goes on trial on August 29.

Ohio’s Republican Gov. Bob Taft, who is nearing the end of his second, and final, term with record-low public approval ratings, admitted last year to receiving illegal gifts, and was ordered to pay a fine. Those gifts included golf outings paid for by Noe and others.

Democrats eager to make gains in November’s congressional elections have charged Republicans, who hold majorities in both houses of Congress, with creating a climate of public corruption.

U.S. Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio is among several Republican officeholders being investigated for ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in January to fraud and is cooperating in an investigation into a conspiracy to bribe members of Congress in return for legislative favors.

Twelve of Ohio’s 18 U.S. representatives are Republicans and Ney and U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine face strong challengers in November.

“When you take a negative mood, an economy that’s not doing as well as the national economy, scandal and corruption, an extremely unpopular incumbent Republican governor — mix all those things together and they give the Democrats some hope that this year they can begin to take back some aspects of state government,” political analyst Herb Asher of Ohio State University said.

“It’s definitely a challenging environment that we’re operating in right now,” Ohio Republican Party spokesman John McClelland said. “This is nothing new. It’s time the Democrats realized this election is about more than Tom Noe and Bob Taft.”