Cheryl posing


In 2016, an unlikely candidate defeated the incumbent Franklin County Treasurer, Ed Leonard in the primary. As an incumbent with the backing of the Democratic Party, Leonard ran a reserved campaign for what he thought would be an easy win. His opponent had a lack of resources and participated in none of the meddlesome activities associated with running a hopeful political campaign: no door-knocking, fundraising, speeches, or media interviews were conducted. 

The candidate, Cheryl Brooks Sullivan, had little hope herself. She had a background considered less than impeccable in the theater of politics, declaring bankruptcy three times and having multiple arrests from crack possession and cashing bad checks. The Democratic Party thought little of a candidate running for treasurer who seemingly couldn’t even take care of her own personal finances, but those spots on her record were from decades prior and seemed to only support her campaign, if you could call it that, attesting to her character as a class-mobile underdog. "Public trial by fire. It's OK friends, I'm fit for the fight,” she wrote in a Facebook post. 

If the election results proved anything, it was that a lack of smoking, gambling, and petty vices will turn a politician out on the street, just as it did Leonard. To everyone’s surprise, voters delivered her a victory that, even after the election, nobody expected (Democratic Party bureaucrats recommended and assumed she’d step down, but she didn’t). Franklin County Treasurer Cheryl Brooks Sullivan is the first African American woman to serve as treasurer and the first to serve in any Franklin County office

But our dubious hero has been treasurer for well over half a decade now, and the primary election story has faded away as the tedious mundane tasks of running the county’s investment portfolio weighs down Brooks Sullivan’s reputation. She’s since earned a new reputation as the best friend to the Israel Bonds lobby, a label that, with the current state of the world, amounts to far more than a petty vice.

Israel Bond Increases

In her tenure as treasurer, Brooks Sullivan has helped expand email billing options and started designing a program to avoid tax foreclosures for struggling homeowners. But she’s also led a massive increase in the investment of a contentious investment: Israel Bonds.

The term “Israel Bonds” refers to the Development Corporation of Israel, a US company that manages the sale of debt securities for the state of Israel. Twelve percent of Israel’s debt is held by Israel Bonds, a company that was formed in the aftermath of the Nakba of 1948 and has been used to fuel Israel’s military aggression in the region. This money goes to the state of Israel and is therefore hard to track, but during wartime it signals stability even during turmoil— S&P Global Ratings downgraded Israel’s credit outlook from stable to negative due to the threat of a wider global conflict. Israel Bonds evades the kind of oversight and transparency normally required with entities representing foreign states. They’re able to do this because they’re not classified as a “Foreign Agent” under Foreign Agent Registration Act, a (mis-)designation that many consider to be illegal.

In the years between 2012-2017, Franklin County’s holdings of Israel Bond stayed at or below $9 million. After Brooks Sullivan was elected, however, these numbers started to increase. In January 2018, investments reached 12.5 million and by February, 20 million. In March, Palestinians peacefully marched on the fences of Gaza attempting to peacefully protest the occupation, blockade, and escalation of expanding illegal Israeli settlements. Israel responded to the “Great March of Return” by killing over two hundred civilians, including men, women, children, journalists, bystanders, and injured 29,000

Franklin County’s total holdings in Israel Bonds went from roughly $9 million to $33 million, the highest in the state. 

After Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7 that resulted in the killing of over 700 civilians, Israel responded with a bombing campaign and ground invasion that resulted in the killing of over 30,000 Palestinians and the displacement of two million in Gaza, a densely populated strip with a total population of 2.3 million, 70 percent of whom were already refugees displaced by Israel in previous wars. Since October 7, Treasurer Brooks Sullivan has purchased $10.5 million in Israel Bonds. 

In emails obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request, emails show that the treasurer knew the implications of purchasing the bonds after Israel’s campaign against civilians in Gaza. In early December, 2023, Israel expanded their ground offensive and bombing campaign on civilians in southern Gaza. By December 7, only two months after the October 7 attack, Israel had killed more than 17,000 civilians in Gaza. On December 8, Kathe Turiel, Israel Bonds representative for Central & Southern Ohio & Kentucky, asked Treasurer Brooks Sullivan if she was still comfortable going forward with an article for Columbus Jewish News publicizing her recent $8 million Israel Bond purchase.

“We spoke at your event last week about an article we would like to have published in the Columbus Jewish News about the eight million dollar investment,” Turiel said in an email to Sullivan. “After this past week’s events I want to confirm that you still felt comfortable having an article published.” Sullivan responded four minutes later, “As always in continued solidarity please consider this my confirmation. Thank you for your inclusion and your leadership.” In that article, which is not credited to any journalist, they characterized Brooks Sullivan as “a proud supporter of Israel and Israel bonds.”

Cozy Friendship with Israel Lobbyists

With Democratic Party politicians, it’s easy to trace lobbying influence through campaign donations. In the case of Israel, that lobbying largely takes place through the American Israel Public (AIPAC), a body that invests in and endorses candidates from both sides of the isle, including far-right Republicans. Their contributions and lobbying efforts of AIPAC in the 2024 cycle alone has totaled over $10 million. With Treasurer Brooks Sullivan, no AIPAC money is openly reported. Emails and social media posts instead expose a strong personal relationship between the treasurer and Israel Bonds representatives.  

The Israel lobby in Columbus, specifically for Israel Bonds, hosts or partakes in events throughout the year, bringing together local leaders and supporters of Israel. One steady guest at these events is the Franklin County Treasurer. In August 2020, Brooks Sullivan happily accepted an invitation to a virtual event featuring the far-right Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. “I will most certainly be in attendance and I am grateful and honored by the invitation,” she wrote to Kathe Turiel, Israel Bonds’ registered representative for Central and Southern Ohio and Kentucky. In his speech, Netanyahu praised the launch of Israel Bonds in 1950 and celebrated the investors in Israel’s economy. 

In June of 2018, Brooks Sullivan posted photos from an event at the Columbus Metropolitan Club with the caption tagging Kathe Turiel then “how time flies.” After Amnesty International called for an arms embargo against Israel for their killing of dozens of protesters in Gaza during the Great March of Return, photos of Brooks Sullivan with people including Turiel were posted with comments from Turiel saying “love this,” followed by, “if possible are we able to make a plan to get together this summer?” Treasurer Brooks Sullivan responded “abso-frigging-lutely.” Treasurer Brooks Sullivan’s Facebook is filled with personal conversations with Kathe Turiel, a representative of a company purchasing government bonds for a foreign state. From compliments about looks and friendship to discussing plans and backyard gardens, the two share a personal connection.

While the treasurer has been praised for updating property taxes to be accessible online, at the same time the county illegally provides no online documentation of how county funds are spent. An Ohio law requires every county to report investment balances to the Ohio Treasurer, but Franklin County’s non-compliance however could be due to the fact that not even the treasurer’s office knows how county funds are being spent. According to emails, Israel Bond’s Turiel was asked to send an account of the current holdings of Israel Bonds to the treasurer’s office. “Per your request, below is a list of maturity rates, bonds held and interest [rates]”, she replied with a list of bond holdings. Emails show that the county does no legwork to purchase or renew Israel Bonds, they’re instead adamantly sought after by Turiel. The next Israel Bond renewal deadline is April 1 for $1 million.  

After digging through emails and social media posts, it’s apparent that the Treasurer’s office is embarrassingly unorganized, closed off to the public, and irregularly close with Israel Bonds lobbyists. I’ve reached out to the Treasurer's office multiple times with no response. Since the US is slowly opposing Israel’s deadly campaign against Gaza—Columbus City Council passed a ceasefire resolution on Monday, the White House has called for a temporary ceasefire, the UN has also, and the ICJ has found reasonable grounds to charge Israel with genocide—Franklin County Cheryl Brooks Sullivan is becoming politically alienated with her friend, Kathe Turiel and the more than $33 million in Israel Bonds holdings. 

The underdog success story of Brooks Sullivan has developed to a darker stage. After she won the election, she told Columbus Monthly that “I believe in providence.” She told herself, “There's no other reason you won this thing except that this is part of God's plan.” But with the millions of Palestinians displaced and tens of thousands killed in Gaza, Treasurer Brooks Sullivan has to come to terms with her actions and legacy. “There are many scapegoats for our sins,” Mark Twain wrote, “but the most popular is Providence.”