Democratic attorney general candidate Steven Dettelbach was confronted with an elections complaint Friday alleging that his campaign's raffle offering supporters a chance to meet former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is illegal.
The complaint by Cincinnati citizen activist Mark Miller alleged that Dettelbach was paying for an illegal "scheme of chance."
"Under election law, campaigns are only allowed to pay for legitimate expenses," said Brian Shrive, Miller's attorney. "And running an illegal raffle is not a legitimate expense."
Dettelbach, who is running against Republican State Auditor Dave Yost this fall, says the contest was lawful.
"This is a frivolous, ridiculous political attack," said campaign spokeswoman Liz Doherty. "It's been filed by a publicity seeking law firm that gives money to Dave Yost and that is abusing our legal system to score political points."
According to the complaint, Dettelbach's campaign paid ActBlue, based in Somerville, Massachusetts, to operate the contest. It offered chances for a spot at Friday's fundraiser with Holder at Cincinnati's Queen City Club for as little as a $5 donation. Tickets run $250 to $2,500.
The complaint alleges neither ActBlue nor Dettelbach's campaign are registered as the type of authorized charitable organization that may legally operate a raffle under Ohio law. Among authorized entities are churches and other religious organizations, fraternal organizations and veterans' groups.
Phil Richter, executive director of the Ohio Elections Commission, told the Cincinnati Enquirer this week that the raffle risked potential criminal violations. He said he normally advises candidates to check with their county prosecutor before launching one.
The prosecutor in Cincinnati, Republican Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, told the newspaper the Holder opportunity was "probably illegal." He said he would have urged against it had Dettelbach's campaign contacted him.
ActBlue did not return an email Friday. The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics says on its website that it is a so-called Carey committee, or hybrid political action committee and super PAC.
Holder visited Ohio on Thursday and Friday in his role as chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. The committee, backed by former President Barack Obama, is investing millions of dollars in state-level elections in 11 states. Its heaviest focus is on Ohio.
Holder's trip included public appearances and fundraisers for Dettelbach, gubernatorial nominee Richard Cordray and other Democratic statewide candidates. Cordray was director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under Obama.
Holder's organization sees this year's election cycle as critical to the congressional redistricting process. Winners will help draw congressional maps for the decade starting in 2021.