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Dem. PAC Releases illegal ad without candidate knowing

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — REAL News Michiana has confirmed a Democrat run PAC in St. Joseph County has run another illegal advertisement. This time, the ad is in support of an Independent candidate. RNM confirmed the candidate had no clue the advertisement was being put out on his behalf.

“The first time I had heard of the St. Joseph County Victory Committee was when this ad first came out.” St. Joseph County Commissioner Candidate, Kevin Conery (I), told RNM. “They did not ask me if I supported it or not.”

The ad, which was sent to voters in the mail late last week, did not contain the proper disclosure of having an candidate’s approval or not. It also improperly states the PAC name as the SJC Victory Committee, when the name of the PAC is simply “Victory Committee.”

The ad, which is a clever way of helping to push Democrat votes away from Conery and pull more Republican votes into his camp, is also full of inaccuracies, specifically the reason behind the GOP not allowing Conery to run as a Republican.

GOP rules maintain a candidate cannot run on the party’s ticket if they have not voted in two Republican primaries in an 8 year period without permission from the GOP Chair. In fact, at the time he was hoping to run in the Republican primary, he had voted Democrat in 4 of the last 6 primaries. While Conery did vote in the 2022 Republican primary, that election had not yet taken place when the decision about his candidacy was made.

The GOP Chair at the time, Zach Potts, who passed away in August, did not allow Conery to run on the Republican ticket due to his voting history. The last time Potts made an exception was with Derek Dieter’s commissioner bid. Dieter has been a complete disaster and attempted to start a race riot when he didn’t get his way during the redistricting process.

Conery is open about his voting history and tells RNM he is a true Independent who frequently votes across party lines.

PREVIOUS PAC CRIME

This ad comes only days after Victory Committee was fined by the Marshall County Election Board for doing the same exact thing on an advertisement in a State Representative race between District 7 incumbent Jake Tehska (R) and challenger Ross Deal (D).

The Marshall County Election Board found the PAC, which is run by the former Executive Director of the St. Joseph County Democrat Party, did in fact break election laws last Wednesday. The board had the discretion to seek criminal charges against the people running “Victory Committee,” but decided to levy a $250 civil fine instead.

The board unanimously found the PAC guilty for failing to provide the proper name about who paid for an advertisement and for failing to give an “approved by” or “not approved by” statement on a Facebook ad that advocated for District 7 State House Rep. Candidate, Ross Deal (D) and against incumbent Jake Teshka (R).

The “Victory Committee” listed several names on those advertisements. One being the “Indiana Victory Committee” and another being the “St. Joseph County Victory Committee.” The only registered PAC with the St. Joseph County Clerk is “Victory Committee,” which was not listed on the advertisement.

According to page transparency data on Facebook, the ad ran from September 26th-October 2nd. The PAC took the original post down after being contacted by RNM for comment on the issue.

According to Indiana Code 3-9-3-2.5, “A communication described in subsection (b) must contain a disclaimer that appears and is presented in a clear and conspicuous manner to give the reader or observer adequate notice of the identity of persons who paid for and, when required, who authorized the communication. A disclaimer does not comply with this section if the disclaimer is difficult to read or if the placement of the disclaimer is easily overlooked.”

And, according to Indiana Code 3-14-1-3 “An individual, an organization, or a committee that circulates or publishes material in an election without the statement required under IC 3-9-3-2.5 commits a Class A misdemeanor.”

WHO RUNS IT?

According to PAC filing documents with the St. Joseph County Clerk’s Office, the PAC is run by two men. One is Josh Levesque out of Indianapolis. Another is Ethan Horvath, the former Executive Director of the St. Joseph County Democrat Party.

According to the St. Joseph County Democrat Party, Horvath left the area in 2015 to work on the campaign of a Democrat Mayoral candidate in Bloomington. The next year, he became the campaign manager in a failed State Senate race.

STATE INVESTIGATION

The Indiana Election Division is also separately investigating the PAC for potential election crimes.

That investigation follows a complaint by a local citizen which was filed on October 8th.

“I am writing to file a complaint and request a formal inquiry into a political action committee (PAC) registered with the Clerk of the Circuit Court in Saint Joseph County as ‘Victory Committee.’” The complaint reads. “On or about September 26, 2022, ‘Victory Committee’ began running ads targeting the campaign of State Representative Jake Teshka on social media. These ads both advocated against Rep. Teshka and urged voters to choose his opponent, Ross Deal. As the committee is not registered with the Indiana Election Commission per IC 3-9-1-4 but is making expenditures to influence the outcome of a state legislative race, I believe the committee is in violation of state law. Furthermore, the disclaimer on the social media ads claims that the expenditure was made by ‘St. Joseph County Victory Committee.’ No committee by that name can be found registered with either the state or the Saint Joseph County Circuit Court.”

Despite the investigation, “Victory Committee” has continued to run ads in the State House race.

SJC DEMOCRAT PARTY AFFILIATION

Even though the Indiana Election Division launched their investigation on October 11th, the St. Joseph Democrat Party held a fundraiser with the PAC on Friday, October 14th. The event was a paid trivia night at the South Bend Firefighters Hall where several Democrat candidates attended, including County Commissioner Candidate Don Westerhausen.

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