The Ohio Republican Party “pay to profit” campaign contribution scandal is heating up, with intensified calls for a federal grand jury to investigate.

Yesterday, the Cleveland Plain Dealer published a major investigative report disclosing the charges of two prominent Republican lawyers. Jack Morrison and Ray Weber claim their law firms lost virtually all state legal business because they refused to contribute to the campaign of Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro.

Petro is the only remaining challenger to Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell in the Republican Party gubernatorial election slated for May 2.

As WND reported earlier this month, Columbus attorney Kevin O’Brien signed an affidavit alleging Amy Gravengaard, a fund-raiser for Petro’s gubernatorial campaign, had suggested O’Brien make campaign contributions to Petro if he was interested in being appointed a special counsel.

In Ohio, special counsel appointments are lucrative and coveted positions. Special counsel appointed to recover state debts, including past taxes, have earned millions.

In a complicated “pay to profit” scheme, the Ohio Republican Party has been charged with handing out state contracts on a “no-bid basis” to individuals and firms who made campaign contributions either to particular candidates or to the state Republican Party apparatus on behalf of candidates.

Cleveland attorney Kenneth F. Seminatore told WND the new charges made by attorneys Morrison and Weber tie together with O’Brien’s affidavit. A federal grand jury investigation should be convened immediately to look into the scandal, Seminatore declared.

The personal involvement of Petro in the “pay to profit” activity appears to corroborate earlier allegations made under oath about Gravengaard. This should be sufficient for the Public Integrity Section of the Justice Department to convene immediately a special federal grand jury, Seminatore said.

Seminatore was the Cleveland attorney who represented Democrat Tim Hagan, who ran against Republican Robert Taft for governor in 2002. Hagan had charged that Taft was able to raise $12 million in campaign contributions, a ratio of 10 to 1 over what Hagan had raised, because of “pay to profit” pressure applied by the Republican Party in the 2002 race.

On Dec. 23, Hagan dropped his suit without explanation. Seminatore told WND at that time he was following Hagan’s instructions.

“I have no explanation for my client’s instructions, but it certainly wasn’t the merits of the case,” Seminstore said. “We had the evidence, and I was ready to advance in a case I felt certain we would win.”

Last week, the Plain Dealer reported Ohio Auditor Betty Montgomery had decided to drop out of the Republican primary for governor and to run for her previous job as Ohio attorney general. This left Petro and Blackwell as the only two contenders in the Republican gubernatorial race.

Saturday, Blackwell’s website published an independent Ohio Republican Party survey showing him with a commanding 10 point lead over Petro, 40 to 30 percent, with 29 percent undecided, despite Petro’s $1.6 million television commercial blitz in December and January.

The McLaughlin & Associates research said Blackwell is in a position to extend his lead. The poll’s executive summary concluded:

As voters get to know more about both candidates, Ken Blackwell would strengthen his candidacy. Blackwell receives majority support (53 percent – 35 percent) among voters who have an opinion of both candidates. Among voters who have a favorable opinion of both candidates, Blackwell has a commanding lead (59 percent – 29 percent).

With the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal rocking the Republican Party nationally, the “pay to profit” scandal takes on an additional dimension. The only major Ohio Republican the scandal seems not likely to touch is Blackwell.

“If I could have nailed Blackwell, I would have,” Seminatore told WND. “Believe me, I looked hard, but Blackwell is clean.”

If Ken Blackwell emerges as the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Ohio, national pundits believe he will be in a position to carry a reform banner forward for the Republican Party, not just in Ohio, but nationally as well.

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