The May primary might be several months away, but Marysville City Councilman Dan Fogt already faces scrutiny in his bid to unseat fellow Republican Dorothy Pelanda in the 86th Ohio House District.
Fogt is schedule to appear before the Ohio Elections Commission on Thursday, Feb. 20, to answer allegations that he made a "false statement either knowing it to be false or with reckless disregard of its truth or falsity and in an attempt to influence the results of the election."
The problem stems from business cards Fogt ordered for his campaign.
"I made the mistake of not putting the word 'for' state representative on the business cards that I had printed. The complaint says that not including the word 'for' makes it look like I am currently serving as state representative," Fogt said.
Fogt said all of his other campaign materials are worded correctly. As soon as he received the complaint Feb. 6, he stopped distributing the cards.
"I called my opponent. I apologized for my mistake and I told her that I stopped passing out these incorrect cards," he said.
Pelanda said she was aware of the issue but did not file the complaint.
Fogt said he was not trying to trick voters into believing he was already serving in the Ohio House of Representatives. He said his major problem with the complaint is that it calls his character into question.
"Item 8 in the complaint is referring to the mistake and says, 'This statement is a lie.' I admit my mistake, but I do not like being called a liar," he said. "This is not Washington, D.C. This is Marysville and Marion, Ohio. We should be able to pick up the telephone and say, 'Hey, Dan, there is a mistake on your business card.' "
Fogt will go before a probable cause panel of the elections commission. The panel could either find no probable cause exists and dismiss the case or schedule a hearing before the full commission at a later date.
Phil Richter, the commission's executive director and staff attorney, said the body would have to find a violation of the statute through clear and convincing evidence. It could then send the case to the county prosecutor for possible criminal charges. The second option would be to just let a violation stand with no further action.
Fogt said he does not know who initiated the complaint.
"It is a sad day when politicians use complaints like this to win elections instead of talking about the real issues," he said.
Fogt said one of those issues is House Bill 5, which inspired him to run for state office.
Pelanda voted for HB 5, which was designed to simplify Ohio's municipal income-tax system. However, many city officials, including those in Marysville, have said they believe the legislation will dip into cities' revenue.
"It will cost Marysville $400,000 per year, and the city of Marion will lose even more," Fogt said. "We talked till we were blue in the face to try to get Dorothy to oppose HB 5 and she wouldn't listen to us."
"This bill is about reducing government interference, streamlining the process for the benefit of every businessman who works in multiple jurisdictions and who has to pay and file tax returns in multiple counties," Pelanda said.
Pelanda said the assertion that Marysville will lose so much revenue is false.
"For that statement to be true, virtually every entity, every business that pays taxes in the city of Marysville will have to report a loss. That would include Honda of America, and I do not believe that statement is true," she said. "There is a moratorium for five years while the committee studies the net effect on various municipalities and what the effect will be on the changes HB 5 will bring."
Fogt's said his reaction to the bill stems from his conservative political views.
"I'm conservative on monetary issues as well as Second Amendment rights, freedom of religion and freedom of speech. I'm not going to sway from that," he said. "I will listen to people and the citizens and make the best decision possible. I will be a conservative vote."
Pelanda said compromise is a key element to serving as a state lawmaker.
"A person who believes that they should stick to a certain point with no compromise will not serve constituents well," she said.
"I think I am uniquely qualified to represent them at the state level based on my 31 years as a lawyer. My experience as a lawyer has honed my ability to think on both sides of an issue, to argue with conviction and clarity and to understand the necessity and the art of negotiation and compromise," Pelanda said.
Fogt's background includes 14 years on Marysville City Council. He retired from ScottsMiracle-Gro after 22 years in the factory. He previously spent 17 years in agribusiness selling fertilizer to farmers.