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Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) is waiting for word from the Federal Election Commission on whether he can use federal funds in his Senate account to refund $85,000 in illegal contributions received by his gubernatorial campaign committee in 1990 and 1994.

The money in question came from Larry Rogers, the founder of now-defunct PIE Mutual Insurance, once Ohio’s largest medical-malpractice insurance company.

Last year, Rogers pleaded guilty to insurance fraud and conspiracy to make $1.5 million in illegal campaign contributions to nearly three dozen federal candidates, including Voinovich. He is currently serving 40 months in prison for his crimes.

While Voinovich previously returned the $15,500 in improper donations that Rogers made to his 1998 Senate campaign, giving the money to a PIE Liquidation Fund held by the Ohio Department of Insurance, returning the $85,000 in gubernatorial contributions has been a stickier matter, mainly because his defunct gubernatorial campaign is penniless.

Voinovich aides initially told the Columbus Dispatch that the $85,000 would not be refunded because the campaign committee no longer exists, but quickly reversed their position and said the money would be returned if the Senator is allowed to use his Senate campaign funds to do so.

In a recent letter to the FEC, Voinovich’s campaign treasurer William Curlis asked whether the “funds of a federal principal campaign committee [may] be used to refund campaign contributions received by a state campaign committee when the state campaign contributions have subsequently been found to be improper and when the state campaign committee no longer exists and has no assets with which to refund such contributions?”

Voinovich’s latest FEC report showed he had more than $3.4 million in cash on hand at the end of June.

Voinovich, who chairs the Ethics Committee, is not the only sitting lawmaker who received funds from Rogers. A search of FEC records shows that between 1995 and 1997, Rogers also gave money to Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) and Reps. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) and Bob Ney (R-Ohio), as well as the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

The Columbus Dispatch reported last year that Rogers said he had given political donations to candidates sympathetic to issues such as insurance regulation and civil lawsuit limits.

A decision from the FEC on the matter is expected to take several weeks, if not months.

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