Watchdog Group Warns of Abuses Unless JobsOhio is Reformed
COLUMBUS - Gov. John Kasich is finalizing plans today to funnel public money to private groups that support Senate Bill 5. And a new analysis shows these groups and their affiliates have donated nearly a half-million dollars to pro-SB 5 candidates and causes.
The government watchdog group, ProgressOhio, held a news conference today to question Kasich's plan and warn that widespread abuses could occur unless major reforms are made to JobsOhio -- the governor's new non-profit jobs agency.
"JobsOhio is starting to look like a slush fund to pay off supporters,'' ProgressOhio Executive Director Brian Rothenberg said at a Columbus news conference. "Explain to me why this is not a new pay-to-play scheme."
Rothenberg called for better oversight and transparency said he is troubled that JobsOhio is exempt from many of the state's ethics and open government laws.
"When public money is spent, public oversight is necessary,'' he said. "How else will we determine if this new system to create jobs is better than its predecessor?"
Rothenberg said he began a close examination of JobsOhio after Kasich's surprise announcement that it will rely on Third Frontier money - in addition to hundreds of millions in liquor profits.
He especially took issue with Kasich's companion announcement that he has set aside a $24 million pool of Third Frontier funds for distribution to local chambers of commerce and other private, regional economic development agencies. The announcement came after most of the agencies or their partners endorsed SB5, a Kasich-backed law to limit the collective bargaining rights of police, firefighters, teachers and other public employees.
"Did any of these chamber groups give any money - directly or indirectly - to the campaign to preserve Senate Bill 5," Rothenberg asked. "If they gave money to the campaign and got money from the state, that looks like a back door way for Kasich to stick the taxpayers with the cost of preserving his extreme new law.''
While Kasich projected that JobsOhio will eliminate 211 state jobs, he failed to mention that the regional agencies - which are private - could use the infusion of state money to expand their staffs.
The leader of a northeast Ohio economic development agency plans to use some of his state money to hire new employees, according to a report in the Youngstown Business Journal.
The expenditure of public money for the regional agencies is expected to win support from the Third Frontier Commission during its meeting today. The Governor appoints Commission members.
Kasich, pro-SB5 lawmakers and Republican Party campaign committees have accepted $432,865.33 between June 2007 and July 2011 from Third Frontier grant recipients and their partner organizations that endorsed SB5, according to a campaign finance analysis by ProgressOhio.
Specifically, supporters of SB5 and Republican committees received contributions from board members of Team NEO, Dayton Development Coalition, Cincinnati USA Partnership, Greater Cleveland Partnership and the businesses associated with board members who were CEOs or presidents.
Board members of the Greater Cleveland Partnership topped the list of donors, giving $372,040.92 to pro-SB5 lawmakers and Republican committees. Of that, $144,685 came from KeyCorp.
Team NEO - which is in line to share part of $24 million in Third Frontier money - has close ties to the Partnership and receives significant financial support from it.
Over the last several weeks, four of the six local chambers or their sister organizations have endorsed SB5 including: Dayton-area Chamber of Commerce, Cincinnati USA Partnership; Columbus 20/20, which is the Columbus chamber; and Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP). The Toledo Regional Growth Partnership and the Appalachian Business Council have not yet taken a position on the ballot issue to overturn SB 5.
The Dayton chamber is a member of the Dayton Development Coalition and the two groups have overlapping members.