Since taking office in 2011, the Governor and his allies have gone to great lengths to replace Kevin DeWine as head of the Ohio Republican Party (ORP) with a Kasich ally. In April, they got their wish, seating Bill Bennett as Chair and Matt Borges as the party’s executive director.

To what lengths did they go? Robocalls on behalf of Kasich-friendly committee candidates paid for by the Kasich campaign. Accusations of threats, intimidation, and offers of jobs or influence to get DeWine-friendly candidates not to run for the state’s Central Committee, a body that ultimately chooses the party’s leader.

Now, the FBI is involved.

Why Bother?

So why go to all the trouble? We’ve already outlined the bad blood between Team Kasich and Team DeWine. The short version: DeWine is tight with Jon Husted, the current Secretary of State who aspires to run for Governor at the top of Ohio’s GOP ticket one day.

But it goes beyond rivalries. Money is at stake—Big Money.

John Kasich runs a distant third in ORP campaign cash

Based on campaign finance data available from the Ohio Secretary of State, in the two years leading up to the 2010 elections, the Ohio Republican party spent over $18 million in support of their effort to retake seats up and down the ballot that November.

And when you look at how the party—led at the time by Kevin DeWine—spent that $18 million, you being to see why John Kasich has expended so much effort, potentially getting his own staff and friends in legal trouble, in order to get rid of DeWine and replace him with someone friendlier to his cause. Here is how much the ORP spent on the five candidates for statewide office in 2009 and 2010:

  • Husted for Ohio – $2.3 million
  • Mike DeWine for Ohio – $1.5 million
  • Kasich for Ohio – $754,000
  • Yost for Auditor – $410,000
  • Citizens for Josh Mandel – $378,000

Kasich–the guy at the top of the ticket–ranked a distant third among candidates for statewide office when it came to ORP campaign cash. Top spot went to DeWine’s buddy, Jon Husted, running for the lesser seat of Secretary of State; DeWine’s cousin, Mike, was runner-up.

That’s bound to piss someone off, especially someone with John Kasich’s monumental ego.

Where does the money go?

The party pays for a lot of things on a candidate’s behalf. For Kasich, they paid for yard signs, mailings and made direct contributions to his campaign. For Husted, in addition to those categories, the party funded his staff payroll, health insurance, rent and utilities, legal expenses, surveys and TV advertising. This makes sense if DeWine and Husted were working together to plot a Husted race for Governor. Unfortunately, Kasich showed up and screwed the whole thing up, but that didn’t stop the flow of ORP money to the Husted cause.

Wresting control of the party away from DeWine has another financial purpose. In total, ORP made $859,000 in direct contributions to the Husted campaign. Kasich? He got $225,000.

A backdoor way to get around campaign finance limits

Here’s why this matters: individuals are limited in how much they can give to political campaigns. In Ohio, the limit in 2012 is $23,087.40. When a candidate maxes out with a rich donor, that donor can simply start to give to another entity with higher limits—such as the Ohio Republican Party—who, in turn, conveniently “contributes” money back to candidates. It’s a back door way to get more money out of donors, but requires collusion collaboration with the party to ensure the money flows to the benefit of the candidate who developed the relationship with the donor in the first place.

The Dayton Daily News detailed yesterday exactly how this happens. Once a donor hits the legal limit for how much he or she can contribute to a candidate, they can start giving to the party, which in turn, often conveniently “contributes” money in similar amounts to the candidate.

(Great system we’ve got, right?)

With DeWine at the helm, Kasich wouldn’t be able to orchestrate this little ballet. So that had to change. We expect, now that Bennett and Borges are at the helm, we’ll see the amount of the state party is contributing to the Governor’s campaign growing significantly compared to what it was under DeWine.

And thus concludes part 1 of our continuing series looking into why Team Kasich would risk an FBI investigation to take over ORP.