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COLUMBUS - With its intrigue of missing rare coins bought with state funds and campaign cash flowing to Ohio Republican leaders, some are predicting that "Coingate" will be a bigger scandal than the one that led to a near-Democratic sweep of statewide offices in 1970.
But the question now is whether Democrats will capitalize on the growing Republican scandal surrounding the state's $10 million to $12 million loss in rare-coin investments controlled by Tom Noe, a prominent Toledo-area GOP fund-raiser and coin dealer.
"The people in the state of Ohio are going to want to elect people in 2006 who they can trust will not use their positions to help their contributors," said state Sen. Marc Dann, a Democrat from suburban Youngstown. "The folks in charge now have shown their willingness to help their contributors at the expense of the state."
Federal and state authorities Thursday said they are pursuing criminal and civil charges against Mr. Noe for allegedly misappropriating millions from the state's rare-coin investment.
It's unclear whether Mr. Noe used some of the state's money to make contributions to Republican candidates, including President Bush's re-election campaign, said Ron O'Brien, Franklin County prosecutor.
The U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI are investigating whether Mr. Noe violated campaign-finance laws. That probe has focused on an October, 2003, fund-raiser in Columbus that generated $1.4 million for the Bush campaign.
The Bush-Cheney campaign lists Mr. Noe as a "pioneer" for raising from $100,000 to $250,000 for the President's re-election campaign.
Ohio ended up being the most crucial swing-state win for Mr. Bush in last year's election, with Democrat John Kerry conceding the race on the day after the election only after it became clear that Ohio's electoral votes would go to Mr. Bush.
Political observers have said the GOP's control of state government, and GOP fund-raising in the state, was crucial to Mr. Bush's win.
Ohio Democrats haven't won a governor's race since 1986.
Republicans have swept all statewide executive posts in the past three elections. The GOP controls both chambers of the General Assembly, six of the seven state Supreme Court seats, both U.S. Senate seats, and a majority of congressional districts.
Mr. Noe and his wife, Bernadette, have contributed more than $200,000 to politicians, political parties, and political action committees over the last 15 years. Their giving increased greatly in 1998, the year Mr. Noe's coin fund received the first of two $25 million payments from the bureau to invest in rare coins.
Since 1990, Mr. Noe has contributed $12,350 to Gov. Bob Taft, $4,350 to state Auditor Betty Montgomery, and $2,500 to Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. Attorney General Jim Petro has said he received $6,100 in contributions from Mr. Noe since 1994.