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Monday, August 19, 2013

Political Contributions Muddy Latest News Out of Ohio Ethics Commission

Posted By on Mon, Aug 19, 2013 at 11:59 AM

First off, a bit of a groan re: this Columbus Dispatch lede:

The Ohio Ethics Commission delivered a double-barreled shot yesterday to those questioning possible conflicts of interest involving Gov. John Kasich’s secretive job-creation efforts.

The issue here is that the "double-barreled shot" language is WAY more illustrative and damning than needed. To wit, the Ohio Ethics Commission cleared Kasich of some complaints hurled by gubernatorial challenger Ed FitzGerald. OK, so that establishes much of the proceeding back-and-forth as politicking, Ohio-style. But there are certainly a handful of dots that tell a complementary story, many of which are easily connected and in plain sight.

The gist of FitzGerald's complaints-in-question revolves around Kasich receiving compensatory pay from Worthington Industries while that very company and its subsidiaries were garnering more than $500,000 in state tax credits. Kasich, who sat on Worthington Industries' board from 2001 to 2010, has not denied involvement in assisting the company in receiving those credits. The money he received is "deferred compensation" from his time on the board - specifically from 2005 to 2008 - and there's "nothing" Kasich could have done to avoid getting this money (which is just some humorous phrasing from his lawyer, D. Michael Grodhaus).

FitzGerald wrote the commission that Kasich's relationship ipso facto "raises significant questions as to whether state ethics laws have been broken." That bit is more of a challenger's formality from the FitzG camp, but it's a nice lead-in to the real conversation.

Charges of cronyism among Kasich's pals at JobsOhio - the state's former Department of Development, now privatized - were also leveled by FitzGerald. Companies operated and overseen by JobsOhio board members have benefited from state tax credits, FitzGerald says. The Ohio Ethics Commission quickly and dutifully fell in line with the the legislated shield that exempts JobsOhio from scrutiny and ethics laws. Because of the legal obstacles set in place by Kasich and the Statehouse in 2011, the commission is unable to dig into these varied complaints in the first place, leading Chairman Merom Brachman to dismiss them out of hand.

Oh, and Brachman himself? The chairman of the Ohio Ethics Commission? He's a known contributor to State Rep. Mike Duffey's campaign - the very same Duffey who sponsored the bill that established JobsOhio in early 2011 and erected the shields that Brachman would go on to reference in August 2013.

Brachman and his wife have also given thousands of dollars to Kasich's campaign in recent years, which is, you know, just a tangential bit o' context here.

Here's a nugget from an earlier Dispatch dispatch, which outlines FitzG's line of thinking:

FitzGerald cited a story this week in the Dayton Daily News showing that six of the nine members of the JobsOhio board picked by Kasich have direct financial ties to companies receiving public money. The Kasich administration says all JobsOhio incentives must be approved by the Ohio Tax Credit Authority — which has three members picked by Kasich and one each by GOP legislative leaders — so there is no conflict.

While the Ohio Ethics Commission digs its heels into the Columbus dirt and casts its gaze elsewhere, this whole mess is sure to translate to campaign fodder down the line. And that's just terrific, given how factual campaign mudslinging can be.

The conclusion after this latest bout is a reminder that JobsOhio ranks among the least transparent government agencies from here to DC. That's a problem worth examining, regardless of party.

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