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Shontel Brown

Cuyahoga County Council Member Shontel Brown is running in a special primary election for Ohio's 11th U.S. Congressional District seat. (Photo: Shontel Brown for Congress/Twitter)

Nina Turner Primary Opponent Shontel Brown Facing Felony Ethics Probe

"This is certainly a shocking revelation and it raises very serious ethical and legal questions," says Kara Turrentine, Turner's deputy campaign manager.

Brett Wilkins

Progressives on Tuesday reacted with a total lack of surprise to a report that Shontel Brown—the Cuyahoga County, Ohio councilmember running against former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner in next week's special primary election for Ohio's 11th Congressional District seat—has been referred to state ethics officials following accusations of felony corruption.

Newsweek reports the office of the Ohio Auditor reviewed allegations published in April by The Intercept that Brown, who is also the county Democratic Party chair, "had voted to award millions worth of contracts to companies connected to her romantic partner and campaign donors." 

According to Newsweek:

The Intercept reported in April that Brown, who had pledged to recuse herself "as necessary" from contracts involving her partner, Mark Perkins, had used her position as Cuyahoga County commissioner to help steer $17 million in contracts to [Cleveland-based general contractor] Perk. Perk was founded with Perkins' uncle but is now owned by the Cifani family, who have long-established business ties to the Perkins family and who have supported Brown's campaigns for office. The Intercept noted that in February 2017, weeks after approval of one of those contracts for $7 million, Perk hosted a fundraiser for Brown's reelection campaign.

A June 2 email from the auditor's Special Investigations Unit said that "the recommendation by the Special Audit Task Force was to refer this matter to the Ohio Ethics Commission for its review and consideration."

Newsweek continues:

Under Ohio law, public officials are prohibited from knowingly authorizing or using their authority or influence "to secure authorization of any public contract in which the public official, a member of the public official's family, or any of the public official's business associates has an interest."

Violation of the statute is a felony, and penalties can include prison time.

Kara Turrentine, Turner's deputy campaign manager, told the Washington Examiner that "this is certainly a shocking revelation and it raises very serious ethical and legal questions."

Turner supporters were not surprised by the revelation. The progressive advocacy group RootsAction tweeted that "Shontel Brown has gotten strong support from corporate lobbyists and outside groups like [DMFI PAC], a pro-Israel super PAC whose biggest donor is an oil and gas executive, and Third Way, who is currently encouraging states to cut unemployment benefits."

Third Way's honorary co-chairs include conservative Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

"Oh look," tweeted Bad Faith podcast host Briahna Joy Gray, "another corrupt corporate candidate."

In addition to benefiting from campaign contributions from billionaires, business lobbyists, supporters of former President Donald Trump, and outside groups, Brown enjoys strong backing from the Democratic Party establishment. She has been endorsed by prominent centrists including Hillary Clinton and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), who played a pivotal role in President Joe Biden's triumph over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the 2020 Democratic primary. Turner served as national co-chair of Sanders' 2020 campaign, and was president of the Sanders-linked Our Revolution PAC.

As Common Dreams reported last week, Sanders is set to headline a get-out-the-vote rally for Turner along with Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, and Cornel West on Saturday, three days before Ohioans head to the polls to vote in the special election that will likely decide who will occupy the House seat left open by former Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), who now leads the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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