Russ Pry, chairman of the Summit County Democratic Party, doesn't get a stipend for meals, a lease for his car, or even a salary. Jim Trakas, chairman of the Cuyahoga County Republicans, gets a flat $30,000 a year.
Alex Arshinkoff has a much better deal. According to the Summit County GOP's finance reports, Arshinkoff earns $3,070 a month. He also earns $10,000 a year for serving on the Board of Elections, which comes with the job. All of it comes in addition to his earnings as a lobbyist.
There's more: The party pays for his monthly $649 Audi lease, travel expenses, and as many as three meals a day, from the Diamond Grille in Akron to Morton's of Chicago in Cleveland.
Details of the lavish expenditures were released only after a fight. County Democrats noticed in 2001 that the Republicans were listing huge lump sums in their reports under such elastic titles as "payroll, rent, expenses, misc. items." And while state law allows a party to establish separate operating funds for such items and not itemize them, the GOP hadn't done that, says Andy Padrutt, the Democrat's executive director. From 1998 to 2000, Republican "miscellaneous" expenses totaled $1.1 million.
After the Democrats started raising hell, Republicans released itemized numbers for the first eight months of 2001, then quickly established the separate fund. But Democrats are now pushing for the Ohio Elections Commission to force the GOP to retroactively account for its mysterious $1.1 million.
It's hard to blame them for their curiosity. In the eight months alone, the party spent a staggering $15,369 on food, $8,232 on travel, and $2,438 on gas and vehicle maintenance. Democrats are salivating over what they might find with three years' worth of expenses. "What are they spending this money on? And why are they afraid to disclose it?" Padrutt asks. "They've been kicking and screaming to avoid doing it. And if I were a party loyalist, I'd want to know."
Chris Bleuenstein recently resigned from his GOP party positions, partly over concerns about the expenditures. "There's no way I can prove this, but all the talk about [Arshinkoff] using the party funds for himself, when all of us are making contributions . . ." Bleuenstein says. "To me, it's just mismanagement."
Trakas, who isn't familiar with the Summit County books, says there are probably good reasons for the spending. "For years, he was making virtually nothing," he says. "He's certainly not profiting off politics."
Still, Padrutt notes, "We don't have the money to spend on our chairman's meals. We need the money to get candidates elected."