Politico reported recently that Republican Ohio Senate candidate State Treasurer Josh Mandel received a campaign contribution from Nazi reenactor and former Republican House candidate Rich Iott on September 5, 2011 [Politico, October 21, 2011]. After calls—and generous amounts of time—to return the money, Mandel’s spokesman dismissed the matter as “a manufactured non-issue” and implied that the campaign would be keeping the money [Toledo Blade, November 2, 2011]. In response, the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) today criticized Mandel for his overt display of insensitivity to American Jews and WWII veterans and—after leaving plenty of time for Mr. Mandel to act responsibly on his own—demanded that he return the money. NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris said:
As a Jewish elected official, Josh Mandel has a unique responsibility to make it clear that Rich Iott’s past behavior is unacceptable and repugnant. The National Jewish Democratic Council purposefully waited for two months since Mandel’s disturbing receipt of Iott’s campaign contribution—and weeks since mainstream media reports—to give Mandel plenty of time to act responsibly and return the money. But, from his spokesman’s remarks yesterday, it appears that the Mandel campaign does not understand how offensive it is for a person seeking elected office to be associated with someone who wore the Nazi uniform as a hobby.
The time is long overdue for Mandel to return the money, or better yet, donate it to a Holocaust memorial. If Mandel continues to keep Iott’s money then he, like House Speaker John Boehner—who stumped for Iott and received a contribution from him recently as well—will continue to give Iott a pass for his disturbing involvement in Nazi reenactments. Failure on this basic test of political courage cannot be an option for any elected official.
But thus far, Mandel has not only failed; he has demonstrated that he chooses to ally politically with a Nazi reenactor instead of respecting the sensibilities of American Jews and WWII veterans. As long as he keeps the money, questions will continue to be raised about Mandel’s ability to represent Jewish Ohioans at the federal level, above and beyond the vast distance between him and Jewish Ohioans on the issues.
As a member of The Forward’s “10 to Watch in 2010” roundup of rising Jewish politicians [The Forward, February 17, 2010], Mandel is uniquely empowered to take a stand against Iott’s offensive past behavior. But he has failed. In the 3rd Quarter of 2011, Mandel raised $1.5 million [National Journal, October 17, 2011]. Giving back Iott’s contribution will not break his campaign’s coffers.
During the 2010 election, Iott’s involvement with Nazi reenactments surfaced and sparked condemnations from a broad spectrum of individuals and groups [The Atlantic, October 8, 2010]. However, key Republicans—including then-aspiring House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)—assisted his campaign [TPM, October 27, 2010]. On November 1, 2011, Washington Jewish Week reported Iott was also a max-out donor to Boehner’s political action committee. [Washington Jewish Week, November 1, 2011]
Mandel’s failure to return the money and repudiate a disgraced Nazi reenactor will demonstrate that he is simply not ready for federal office. This incident is just the latest reminder to Jewish Ohioans of the ever-increasing ideological distance that separates Boehner, Mandel, and other Ohio Republicans from their community.