Friday, April 18, 2003

Missing cash

Don't bet against Boehner


John Boehner is bulletproof in Butler County.

Anyone who thinks the embezzlement of $400,000 in campaign funds by his treasurer will put a dent in his political body armor should take some advice:

Stay away from the casinos. Betting against Boehner is a sucker's bet, like taking a bump on 20 at the blackjack table.

The last time he ran for re-election to Congress in November, Boehner won with 71 percent of the vote. That's the biggest landslide victory this side of Saddam's last unanimous-or-else "election" in Iraq.

Having the FBI investigate thefts from a campaign fund might be enough to knock off some congressman who teeters on the knife-edge that divides R-voters from D-voters.

Color it Republican

Not Boehner. His district is overwhelmingly Republican and as blue-chip conservative as the exclusive Wetherington country club where his home sits just a long putt from the fairway.

Boehner is a bit of a throwback. He's a guy's guy who still enjoys a smoke and a drink and a round of golf in an oh-so politically correct world.

Compared to other congressmen from our region, Rob Portman and Steve Chabot, Boehner is just as conservative politically, but less buttoned down and conservative personally. If you want access to the White House, see Portman. If you want passion on pure conservative causes, call Chabot.

If you want to have a good time with the guys and swap a few jokes, pick Boehner. He knows the issues. He also knows how to relax.

"Russell was a trusted member of our team," he explained Thursday. He was talking about Russell E. Roberts, the campaign treasurer who Boehner said had admitted he pilfered $400,000 from the Friends of John Boehner cash jar.

"About all I know is he had a severe gambling problem," Boehner said.

I wondered how anyone could not miss $400,000. "It was very clever and very disappointing," he said.

Overboard on the boats

Friends said Roberts offered no clues that he was living extravagantly - no fancy cars or big spending. He just had a bad habit like so many who have had their pockets vacuumed at "the boats."

But the loss of nearly a half-million will not cause much more than a hiccup for Boehner's political career. Donors have been "very supportive," he said.

"There's a lot of embarrassment, more than anything else," said one top donor who asked not to be identified. "There's a lot of egg on his face."

He said the bottom line for Boehner is:

Will the same donors who were ripped off give again? The answer appears to be yes. "It's not as if John did anything wrong," the donor said.

And will the embezzlement turn into a pothole that could throw off his wheel alignment to become speaker of the House? It's a job that draws partisan backstabbing the way chum attracts sharks.

"I don't see any impact at all if the opportunity ever presents itself," Boehner said.

"We've obviously put in procedures to make sure this never happens again," he said. "There are dozens of examples of this happening in Washington."

If Boehner had a tough opponent around the next curve, it might be serious. But in Butler County, it's only a speed bump.

E-mail, or call 768-8301.

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