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Most candidates not returning political donations made by disgraced Clark Co. sheriff

Last Updated 3 weeks by Amnon J. Jobi | Amnon Front Page

(INDIANA CAPITAL CHRONICLE) — Multiple Republican campaigns and committees that received political donations from disgraced former Clark County Sheriff Jamey Noel said they have no plans to return or donate those dollars elsewhere — while numerous others are keeping mum, distancing themselves from Noel altogether.

Noel, a prominent Hoosier Republican himself, currently faces more than two dozen felony charges for allegedly misusing money from the fire and EMS departments which he oversaw.

Of the more than $100,000 he’s contributed to GOP candidates and campaigns since 2008, per state and federal campaign finance records, investigators now allege at least $33,000 made in Noel’s name actually came from public funds he misappropriated between 2020 and 2023.

The donations — made through WinRed, a Republican fundraising platform — were earmarked to campaigns for former President Donald Trump, the Indiana State Republican Committee, Congresswoman Erin Houchin, and others.

The former sheriff is accused of using credit cards from New Chapel EMS and the Utica Township Volunteer Firefighters Association to fund his and his family’s lifestyle — spending millions of taxpayer dollars on cars, planes, vacations, cigars, clothing, and other luxury purchases.

Separate from the criminal filings, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita is also seeking to force Noel, as well as his wife Misty and their daughter, Kasey, to pay back more than $4 million.

Noel is currently awaiting trial, scheduled for November, in the Scott County Jail. Though he completed a 60-day sentence in June for contempt of court, his bond amount was increased to $1.5 million a day after new charges — some related to the WinRed donations — were levied against him.

Investigation reveals thousands to WinRed

Details about Noel’s WinRed contributions came to light last month, when six new charges were filed against him — five for theft and one for money laundering – amid an ongoing investigation.

Dollars donated via WinRed can be earmarked for particular candidates and campaigns, at both the federal and state levels, across all 50 states. It’s a similar platform to the Democratic Party’s ActBlue.

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Federal Election Commission (FEC) records, in conjunction with the new court filings, show Noel made approximately $20,518.72 in donations between 2020 and 2023.

Investigators allege the donations were charged to the Utica Township Volunteer Fire Fighters Association’s American Express Card linked to a Fifth Third Bank Account.

Additionally, Noel is accused of using public funds to contribute another $8,902.56 through Apple Pay, PayPal and Venmo donations. When contributing, Noel used his name as the contributor — not the firefighter’s association, according to court documents.

The contributions made via WinRed allegedly totaled $33,121.28 — about a third of all political contributions on record by Noel.

WinRed did not respond to the Capital Chronicle’s multiple requests for comment.

It’s not yet clear what might happen to the donations made with misappropriated taxpayer dollars.

The Trump campaign — which received at least $7,000 from Noel through WinRed — also did not respond to numerous requests for comment.

Kelly Loeffler, a former U.S. senator from Georgia whose campaign was in receipt of $1,250 from Noel in 2020, additionally did not reply to questions about the donations.

Holcomb unwilling to redirect donations, for now

Among Hoosier politicos, Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb has received the lion share of campaign donations made by Noel over the last two decades. State and federal records tally at least $33,622 to Holcomb across his campaigns for both U.S. Senate and governor. None of those dollars came from WinRed, however.

Holcomb has repeatedly maintained he never knowingly accepted political donations or non-nominal travel, gifts or otherwise from Noel — which could have been paid for with stolen taxpayer dollars. He said allegations against his close friend and associate are “so surprising.”

The governor told the Capital Chronicle that his “understanding” was that Noel’s donations, specifically, were “all above board.”

“This is not the first time that this scenario has unfolded,” Holcomb said, largely referring to campaign contributions he formerly received from online charter school scandal donors. “We’ll watch this legal process play out, but to my knowledge, all the contributions that he gave me and everyone else were of from legal means.”

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The scheme came to light in 2020, revealing that nearly $70 million in taxpayer funds from the Pike Township Educational Foundation went to campaigns and committees for various Hoosier Republicans.

Elected Indiana Republicans received more than $100,000 in contributions from companies and individuals tied to the scandal. Holcomb accepted more than $10,000 in campaign cash. He later donated the contributions to a local education nonprofit.

“The campaign donations that I received from (Noel) — and I have received a lot of other donations, and none of which are in this situation, keeping things in proper perspective — but the individual donations that I received from that individual, I understand came from him, they came from his account,” the governor said, adding that, “if needed,” the donations “could” be returned.

“But typically, you end up spending what you received during a campaign,” Holcomb continued. “What we’ve learned recently, what the accusations are — I’m just referring to my previous comments, and they remain the core of my beliefs, and that’s that I’m stunned, I’m shocked and surprised, and never once was one unethical word uttered to me.”

The governor said “the legal process will have to play out” before any contributions could be returned. For now, the accusations against Noel are “unfounded.”

“We’ll watch this legal process play out, but to my knowledge, all the contributions that he gave me and everyone else were of from legal means,” Holcomb concluded.

Other Indiana politicos respond

Among Noel’s other contributions was a $2,900 earmark, via WinRed, to current GOP congresswoman Erin Houchin.

Her staff told the Capital Chronicle that contribution was donated to the Washington County Community Foundation in December 2023. It’s the only example of redirected Noel donations identified by the Capital Chronicle.

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Campaign finance records further show Republican U.S. Sen Todd Young received $1,800 from Noel between 2012 and 2016.

A spokesperson for Young emphasized that Noel last contributed to Young eight years ago, and as such, “we have no plans to return those funds.

Other recipients of Noel donations — including former vice president and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, and his brother, U.S. Rep. Greg Pence — did not respond to requests for comment about those contributions.

Jennifer McCormick, the Democratic candidate for governor, has said she will likely bring up the Noel scandal while campaigning.

A spokesperson for the Indiana Republican State Committee — which has accepted multiple donations from Noel since 2011, and at least $3,100 via WinRed between 2020 and 2022, according to FEC records — maintained that the party “unequivocally condemn(s) the alleged actions of Jamey Noel.” There’s no indication that any of Noel’s contributions could be returned or donated elsewhere, though.

“We have not accepted a donation from Jamey Noel in years,” said Griffin Reid, communications director for the Indiana Republican Party. ” If true (Noel’s) actions are despicable and unacceptable.”

“The Indiana Democratic Party is currently in complete disarray, plagued by internal conflicts over multiple statewide tickets,” Reid continued. “In contrast, the Indiana Republican Party stands united with a strong ticket, fully prepared to secure victory in November.”

Mike Braun, the Republican nominee for Indiana governor, additionally admonished Noel. His U.S. Senate campaign accepted one $1,000 donation from Noel in 2018.

“There is no question that Jamey Noel is a bad actor, and equally as disparate is the fact that Democrats think a one-time donation six years ago is relevant,” said Josh Kelley, a senior advisor to Braun. “While Mike Braun is visiting all 92 counties discussing his Freedom and Opportunity Agenda, the Democrats are stuck in the past, and that is one of many reasons why they are the two worst Democrat candidates to ever appear on the same ballot in our state’s history.”