Ohio GOP Fundraiser Admits Illegally Funneling Money to Bush's Campaign

A prominent GOP fundraiser at the center of an Ohio political scandal changed his plea to guilty Wednesday on federal charges that he illegally funneled donations to President Bush's re-election campaign.

Tom Noe, a rare-coin dealer, still is charged in an ill-fated $50 million coin investment that he managed for the state workers' compensation fund. The investment scandal has been a major embarrassment for Ohio's ruling Republicans and given Democrats a better shot at winning state offices this year, including the governor's office that has been under GOP control since 1991.

Once a powerful political figure who also raised money for a slew of Ohio Republicans, Noe admitted arranging a contribution scheme to fulfill his promise to generate $50,000 for a Bush fundraiser. He had asked on May 10 that he be allowed to change his not guilty plea.

He said Wednesday that he decided to plead guilty to "spare my family and many dear friends" the ordeal of a trial.

He was charged with exceeding federal campaign contribution limits, using others to make the contributions, and causing the Bush campaign to submit a false campaign-finance statement.

Federal prosecutors said in October the case was the largest campaign money-laundering scheme prosecuted under the 2002 campaign finance reform law, which set limits on donations.

Prosecutors said Noe gave $45,400 directly or indirectly to 24 friends and associates, who made the campaign contributions in their own names, allowing him to skirt the $2,000 limit on individual contributions.

Noe wrote several checks just under the cap to avoid suspicion, according to prosecutors. All of the checks were written in the eight days leading up to a fundraiser in October 2003 at a downtown Columbus hotel.

A year later, Bush's victory in Ohio gave him the White House. Authorities say his campaign committee was unaware of the alleged contribution scheme.

Investigators say Noe persuaded his friends and associates to fill out contribution cards and forms falsely certifying they were making the contributions themselves. The result was that Bush's campaign committee unknowingly submitted a false campaign report to the Federal Election Commission, the indictment said.

Among the people who donated money that came from Noe were several Toledo area officeholders and a former mayor. A lawyer for three said they were not in danger of being charged because they cooperated with investigators.

Investigators have not been able to find out if Noe used money from the state coin fund for campaign contributions.