YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — For the first time since a story broke late last week, former Youngstown Mayor Chuck Sammarone spoke to WKBN about a huge cash contribution he made to the campaign of then-independent mayoral candidate DeMaine Kitchen.
According to finance records filed last week, Sammarone, who is now the president of city council, gave Kitchen $4,000. Sammarone called that an act of “stupidity,” adding that he had “no excuses” and there was nothing more to be said. Kitchen, who served as Sammarone’s chief of staff, has not returned calls seeking comment.
State law limits cash contributions to just $100 per election cycle. The Ohio Elections Commission has not received a formal complaint about Sammarone’s contribution.
Mahoning County’s Board of Elections sent a certified letter to Kitchen dated Friday, giving the one-time candidate three weeks to return the money to Sammarone. If he fails to do so, the matter could be turned over to the Ohio Elections Commission for a review.
“If it makes the determination that there is a violation, it has the ability to impose some sort of sanction, whether it be referred back to a prosecutor, the imposition of a fine amount or the fact that the commission can find there is good cause present,” said Ohio Elections Commission staff attorney Philip Richter.
Because of the incident, Mahoning County Democratic Party Chair Dave Betras is now pressing state lawmakers to come up with legislation making it a crime to either give or receive cash contributions of more than $100, saying the donations undermine the public’s trust in both elections and local government.
“We have a history of people in Mahoning County getting in trouble, passing cash back and forth,” Betras said.