05/21/2012 03:44 pm ET Updated May 22, 2012

Ohio Senate Race: Mandel Contributions Being Investigated

FBI agents are investigating several contributions made to Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel's (R) campaign for the U.S. Senate.

The New Republic reports that FBI agents are looking into contributions made to Mandel and U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci (R) from employees of a firm owned by Benjamin Suarez, a Canton, Oh., Republican. The contributions drew scrutiny after an August 2011 report by the Toledo Blade pointing out that 17 of the firm's employees made large donations to one or both of the politicians, many of them giving the maximum $5,000 allowed by law. The report suggested the possibility that Suarez was reimbursing employees in violation of federal campaign finance law.

The New Republic reports:

Last year, The Toledo Blade noticed that many large contributions were being made to Renacci by Suarez's non-executive employees. Seventeen employees, plus six spouses, had given to Renacci, Mandel, or both, with most giving at the maximum allowable level, for a total of $100,000 for each candidate. (Company founder Benjamin Suarez had himself given the maximum to both candidates.) This sort of pattern raises red flags: Federal law bars employers from reimbursing employees for giving to a certain candidate-a method employers could use to evade limits on their own giving.

The investigation was confirmed by several of the contributors in The New Republic report, along with a statement from a Mandel campaign spokesman today to the Blade.

"The campaign is aware of the investigation and is fully cooperating," Mandel campaign spokesman Travis Considine told the Blade. "Neither the campaign nor anyone associated with it is a target of the investigation."

Mandel is locked in a competitive Senate battle with U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D), while Rennaci is competing for reelection against U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton (D). Rennaci and Sutton were placed in the same district's by Ohio's Republican-dominated redistricting board.

Brown's campaign was quick to pounce on the latest news.

"Josh Mandel has repeatedly demonstrated he's nothing more than a politician who can't be trusted, and it comes as no surprise that his campaign is now part of an investigation over what is charitably called one hundred thousand dollars in questionable contributions from individuals who do not appear to have the means to make contributions of this size," Brown campaign spokeswoman Sadie Weiner said in a statement. "Whether it's ignoring his job, hiring unqualified political cronies in the Treasurer's office, or breaking campaign finance laws, Josh Mandel's too busy looking out for himself to be on the side of Ohio's middle class."