By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
ERLANGER - The owner and an employee of Providence, a Covington insurance company that tried to cash in on the Sept. 11 attacks with high-interest loans to victims' relatives, have contributed money to the campaign of Boone County Republican congressional candidate Geoff Davis.
Providence owner Bill Shehan Jr. of Boone County also contributed $2,000 to Mr. Davis through his 5- and 4- year-old daughters.
Parents using contributions from children to skirt campaign contribution limits can be a violation of federal election laws. The money was returned to the Shehan family Thursday after questions were raised about the contributions, said Marc Wilson, a GOP consultant advising the Davis campaign.
Mr. Shehan, who also operates a Boone County pool building company, and Providence employee Tim Alexander, who also works at a Boone County insurance company, contributed $2,000 and $1,250 respectively to Mr. Davis' campaign, according to a campaign finance report Mr. Davis filed this week with the Federal Election Commission.
Providence made national news in the fall of 2001 after the company made an ill-fated attempt to make money off the families of Sept. 11's airline crash victims.
The company - which has a Cincinnati mailing address but is located in Covington's RiverCenter towers - charges for providing temporary financing to people injured in anything from slip-and-fall accidents to natural disasters. If the victims are dead, the company deals with survivors. It also steers people to lawyers.
Providence eventually pulled its offer after law firms named in a flier sent to victims objected to the pitch and said they were unaware the company was using the names of their firms. Among those protesting was noted Cincinnati lawyer Stan Chesley, who denied any connection to Providence.
The campaign of U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas, the two-term Boone County Democrat Mr. Davis is trying to unseat, first came across the Providence-related contributions while reviewing Mr. Davis' campaign finance report earlier this week.
"It's like going to Ken Lay and the other Enron executives and asking for a contribution," said Ben Davis, Mr. Lucas' campaign manager.
Mr. Wilson defended taking the contributions and said the Lucas campaign is "resorting to baseless, dirty, Democratic smear tactics ... because they are desperate to win re-election."
"Ken Lucas refuses to debate Geoff Davis on the issues in Northern Kentucky," he said.
Mr. Wilson said Mr. Lucas should examine his own campaign finance reports that include contributions from:
Home builder Bill Erpenbeck, who is under federal investigation for bank fraud and could face federal charges and prison time. Mr. Erpenbeck once used his Crestview Hills home - which is now in foreclosure - to host a political fund-raiser for Mr. Lucas.
Gov. Paul Patton, who has admitted an extramarital affair with a woman who has accused him of abusing his power in dealing with her western Kentucky nursing home.
Arthur Andersen, the national accounting and consulting firm implicated in the Enron scandal.
"Ken Lucas has accepted $11,250 from Arthur Andersen, but we're not trying to blame him for the downfall of Enron," Mr. Wilson said.
Bob Doyle, Mr. Lucas' Washington-based campaign consultant and fundraiser, said the money contributed by Mr. Erpenbeck was returned, Mr. Lucas has publicly denounced Mr. Patton and that once news about Arthur Andersen's role in the fall of Enron was made public, no more campaign contributions from the company were accepted.
"The core difference is the Davis campaign solicited money from these (Providence) characters after their unethical, immoral conduct of trying to exploit the victims of 9-11 was public knowledge," Mr. Doyle said. Ben Davis said it appears that Mr. Shehan may have violated federal election law by making campaign contributions through his children.
It is not against federal election law for minors under 18 to contribute to a political candidate. But federal law spells out "the decision to contribute is made knowingly and voluntarily" and that the funds must be "owned or controlled exclusively by the minor child," such as in a savings account or in a trust.
Neither Mr. Shehan nor Mr. Alexander would return phone calls to comment. A woman who answered the phone at Providence on Thursday said they were in a meeting and unavailable to comment.
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