Campaign finance filings show an outside law firm that cleared one of Ohio's most powerful state lawmakers of a sexual harassment allegation in April gave to the politician's campaign while the probe was ongoing.
Records show that Taft Stettinius & Hollister's PAC contributed $1,000 to Republican Rep. Bill Seitz in March, according to documents. The donation adds to questions surrounding the investigation.
Seitz was investigated for sexual harassment after a female House employee complained on January 30 about remarks he made at a staffer’s going-away party. Seitz, 63, reportedly disparaged a current and former female House member, drawing complaints that he worsened the already-hostile work environment at the Statehouse.
Seitz called the complaint "meritless" and politically-motivated, although he apologized for his comments.
Attorney General Mike DeWine, also a Republican, hired the firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister to conduct an independent review of the complaint. Seitz had worked at the same firm for 36 years, leaving in 2014.
Checks & Balances, a pro-sustainability watchdog group that differs with Seitz on state energy policy, filed a grievance against Taft with the Ohio Supreme Court's disciplinary office. The complaint alleges that Seitz's past employment there represented a conflict for the firm.
DeWine's office says the firm, which was retained for up to $12,000 to conduct the probe, cleared an internal conflict check.
In a statement on Wednesday, the firm said, "Our general policy is to refrain from commenting about filed requests or pending matters. Therefore, we are unable to comment at this time."
Seitz said he had no role in the firm's hiring and that he knew neither of the two investigators who looked into the case. On Tuesday, he said Taft's contribution to his campaign fund violated no relevant legal ethics rules and represented just a fraction of his overall contributions.
"Campaign contributions are not disqualifying under the relevant rules," Seitz said. "Ask some good lawyers."
DeWine, the Republican nominee for governor, also has received donations from the Taft, Stettinius & Hollister Better Government Fund over the years, records show. The most recent was a $10,000 donation in December.
Three partners at the firm — Fred Ungerman, Charles "Rocky" Saxbe and Steven Weeks — have given DeWine's campaign a combined $1,550 since January.
The investigation into Seitz's remarks — which made light of a sexual harassment scandal that led to the resignation of a former Senate colleague last year — cleared Seitz of any wrongdoing.
Among factors cited in the inquiry: The off-site event fell outside the House's authority; Seitz had said he did not intend his remarks as harmful; and the woman who complained didn't actually attend the party, but read about it online.