The Ohio Ethics Commission’s dismissal last week of complaints involving Republican Gov. John Kasich and his privatized economic development office left unanswered ethical questions, the top Democrat in the Ohio House said Monday.
House Democratic Leader Tracy Maxwell Heard said Ohioans deserved a full ethics investigation into whether compensation Kasich received from Worthington Industries was tied to state tax credits awarded to the firm’s subsidiaries.
The Associated Press reported that subsidiaries of the central Ohio steel processor received $619,000 in job-creation tax credits in 2012 and 2013. As a director of the firm, Kasich collected $611,000 through fiscal 2011, and he continued to report deferred compensation through 2012.
Kasich appoints the board of JobsOhio, which recommended the tax deals. His appointees also dominate the Ohio Tax Credit Authority that approved the tax incentives.
“Despite the OEC chairman’s statements last Thursday, a very serious ethical question remains unanswered,” Heard said at a news conference. “Ohioans have a right to know if there was any quid pro quo involving payments to Gov. Kasich and public tax credits to Worthington Industries.”
Heard said a bill coming this week would limit the outside financial compensation the governor can receive.
Ethics Commission Chairman Merom Brachman said at last week’s meeting that he had determined Kasich made a clean break from the firm, where the governor served as a board member during most of a decade-long stint in the private sector.
Brachman said Kasich’s paperwork was in order and deferred compensation he’d received from Worthington Industries after taking office violated no rules. He cited an ethics opinion issued to then-Gov. Ted Strickland’s lottery director clearing her doing business with a former employer who would pay her deferred compensation while she worked for the state.
Kasich’s spokesman said the governor severed all ties with the firm after winning the governorship in 2010 but he was owed three years of deferred compensation under an agreement struck in 2008.
The ethics commission tossed a request by Kasich’s 2014 challenger Ed FitzGerald that sought review of potential conflicts of interest by JobsOhio board members appointed by Kasich, as well as of any potential ethical breach involving Worthington Industries, a firm that helped underwrite his political rise.
The panel also rejected a public records request by Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern seeking copies of JobsOhio board members’ financial disclosure forms. Brachman hinted at “political theater” by Democrats well aware that JobsOhio enabling legislation blocked those documents from public release.
Heard called it “deeply troubling” that Brachman and his wife are generous campaign donors to Kasich.
Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols dismissed Heard’s suggestions that Brachman, a veteran of the commission who was first appointed by Democrat John Gilligan, would turn a blind eye to a legitimate ethics complaint. Ethics Commission Executive Director Paul Nick concurred with Brachman’s position that issues raised by Democrats were largely out of the panel’s legal reach.
“When will the bizarre conspiracy theories and personal attacks end?” Nichols said. “It’s pitiful.”