As Ohio’s Secretary of State, Frank LaRose is responsible for overseeing state election laws. But as he seeks the Republican nomination for a US Senate seat in 2024, LaRose has not complied with a federal law requiring US House and Senate candidates to submit information about their income and assets. And this has heightened a mystery about a $250,000 loan LaRose, who characterizes himself as an everyman of modest means, made to his campaign in September.
The 1978 US Ethics in Government Act requires candidates to file financial disclosure forms within 30 days of making their candidacy official. LaRose entered the competitive Senate race on July 17, giving him until August 16 to comply. On August 9, LaRose was granted a 90-day extension, requiring he submit the filing “no later than November 14, 2023.”
As of November 30—106 days from his initial deadline—LaRose has still not submitted the legally required financial information to the US Senate.
“Frank LaRose has made it clear that he doesn’t believe the rules apply to him,” says Reeves Oyster, spokesperson for the Ohio Democratic Party.
LaRose is running what he calls a “thousandaire” campaign against two wealthy challengers: Bernie Moreno, a luxury car dealer, and state senator Matt Dolan, a scion of the family that owns the Cleveland Guardians. The victor of the state’s Republican primary in March will take on incumbent Democrat Senator Sherrod Brown in November 2024 in a face-off that could determine whether Democrats maintain their narrow majority in the upper chamber of Congress. The Ohio race is one of just two in the nation in which an incumbent Democratic Senator is vying to hang onto their spot in a red state.
Both Moreno and Dolan filed their federal financial disclosure forms in mid-August, as required. Their filings don’t list the exact value of their assets but report them in ranges. Moreno’s form shows a $92,000 income for his role as chair of a title company, plus dozens of investments into mutual funds, real estate properties, and corporate securities. He owns 65 percent of a personal driver company valued between $5 million and $25 million. He also earned more than $5 million by selling shares of the title company. Together, this helps to explain how he was able to lend his campaign $3 million.
Dolan’s financial disclosure form shows more than $175,000 in earned income, plus several mutual funds, bank deposits, and securities in the $500,000 to $1 million and $1 million to $5 million ranges. Dolan doesn’t appear to have liabilities other than a line of credit between $5 million and $25 million with Morgan Stanley. He has loaned his campaign $7 million.
While LaRose has not yet filed his federal financial disclosure report, he has submitted separate, less-detailed state financial disclosure reports since 2010, first as a state senator and more recently as Ohio’s secretary of state. Those forms are not as thorough as the ones required of federal candidates. For instance, they don’t require individuals to list spousal income or the amounts of assets in most cases. But a review of those filings suggest LaRose and his wife—who works as a public relations advisor to her husband’s campaign, according to her LinkedIn profile—live a middle-class or upper-middle-class lifestyle.
LaRose’s most recent filing as Ohio secretary of state discloses no commercial or rental properties in Ohio and a short list of income sources. Beyond his $124,000 state-paid salary, which is public record, a 2022 financial disclosure form shows LaRose received a disability payment from the Department of Veterans Affairs, a payment from the US Army, interest from a savings bank, an annuity distribution, dividends from an advisory firm, and a couple tax refund payments, all in unknown amounts.
In 2022, LaRose listed a limited investment portfolio of unknown value that included five education savings funds, two mutual funds, two annuities, one common stock, one retirement fund, and one deferred compensation plan.
LaRose’s current finances don’t appear to have improved substantially from when he served as a state senator, when his primary sources of income were $67,100 from the state, plus between $25,000 and $50,000 for consulting work he did for a local food bank, his 2018 state financial disclosure form shows.
Filings also show that LaRose amassed debts at American Honda Financial Services, Capital One Automotive Finance, Lowe’s Consumer Credit, American Express, Capital One Visa, and Bank of America Visa every year from 2018 to 2022. The state financial disclosure forms do not list debt amounts; they only require the filer list creditors to whom they owed more than $1,000 at any point that year.
These financial disclosures raise questions about how he loaned his campaign a sum of $250,000 on September 30, according to Federal Election Commission records.
“I would assert, not as an academic expert, but just as an American, that it’s unusual for someone in the middle class to have $250,000 lying around,” says Kathleen Clark, a law professor with expertise in government ethics at Washington University in St. Louis. “Highly unusual.”
LaRose himself says he’s not rich. Over the summer, while futilely attempting to sink a ballot measure enshrining abortion rights in Ohio’s constitution, LaRose called on Moreno and Dolan to each donate $1 million to bolster a separate ballot measure meant to make it harder for the pro-choice amendment to pass.
“I’m not personally wealthy,” LaRose said at the time, “but in the past seven months, I’ve given everything I can of my time and effort.”
A more thorough federal financial disclosure report could clear up these incongruities, but LaRose’s campaign did not return requests for comment from Mother Jones about when LaRose intends to file the late form or the source of the $250,000 he loaned his campaign.
LaRose would not be the first congressional candidate to miss financial disclosure deadlines or be accused of noncompliance.
A March Politico investigation found dozens of House candidates over the last two election cycles either failed to ever file financial disclosure forms or filed late without extension requests. In several instances, Politico reported, candidates didn’t file the forms until advancing from primaries. Among the congressional candidates who have failed to meet financial disclosure requirements is embattled Rep. George Santos.
When the New York Republican finally submitted his financial disclosure forms more than a year past the deadline and merely two months before the November 2022 election, he listed several assets putting his net worth as high as $11 million. Two years before, when he first ran for Congress, his financial disclosure form had listed just one form of compensation in excess of $5,000.
If not for the discrepancies between his 2020 and 2022 financial disclosures, the House ethics committee and federal prosecutors may not have investigated the entirety of his personal and campaign finances, ultimately concluding in a 56-page ethics report and 23-count indictment, respectively, that Santos defrauded donors and used campaign funds for his private benefit.
The forms are also intended to allow voters and watchdogs to see which entities or special interests a candidate is profiting from before they are elected to an office from which they can bend policy in favor of those groups.
The forms are a “crucial accountability mechanism,” says Robert Maguire, research director at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “The public has the right to know what kinds of things can be influencing the votes of public servants who at the end of the day, are serving their constituents, not their own personal finances.”
But the tool only works when candidates and elected officials comply with the law.
Indeed, the financial disclosure forms of Senator Bob Menendez—who faces a three-count indictment on charges that he accepted bribes, such as gold bars, in exchange for political influence—don’t list the receipt of “any cash or gold bars” in the calendar year that the New Jersey Democrat and his wife were allegedly gifted them by people who stood to gain from Menendez’s legislative work, prosecutors say. (Menendez denies wrongdoing.)
“The worst case scenario is filing a false disclosure,” says Clark. “After that, the next worst scenario is not filing a disclosure in a timely way that gives journalists and the public enough time to digest.”
One major flaw of the 1978 Ethics in Government Act, experts say, is that it is not robust enough. Knowingly filing a falsified report or purposely never filing one can lead to a $50,000 civil penalty and criminal prosecution by the Department of Justice, but none of the experts I reached out to could recall an instance in which such a high fine has been levied. Financial disclosure filings have, however, been cited in the indictments of both Santos and Menendez, and Santos has been charged with “knowingly and willingly falsifying a financial disclosure statement.”
More common is a $200 late filing fee, a negligible expense for most House and Senate candidates.
“The rules,” says Maguire, “are certainly inadequate.”