COLUMBUS - ProgressOhio today called on the Ohio General Assembly to halt an earmark tucked away in HB 487, the Mid-Biennium Review (MBR). The earmark shifts redistricting tax funds away from public oversight while covering redistricting costs for majority party legislators and shutting out minority legislators.
Buried in the omnibus budget revision bill was the transfer of $350,000 from the Legislative Task Force on redistricting to the Ohio Attorney General's office. This contradicts and overrides a previous agreement signed by both parties in the General Assembly on how task force funds should be expended by individual caucuses.
"The party in power already used redistricting to hurt their opposition at the ballot box. Now this earmark is being used to hit them in the pocketbook," said Brian Rothenberg, Executive Director, ProgressOhio.
- Violation of Signed Agreements - Both caucuses signed an agreement on how task force funds should be expended by the individual caucuses and by the majority and minority party caucuses jointly. The majority party has blatantly side-stepped that process by choosing to use a mysterious "outside counsel" process and transferring money directly to the AG to pay their own bills.
- Invalid Contracts - Last fall, House and Senate majority caucuses entered possibly invalid contracts with two individuals to draw gerrymandered maps for the congressional and state legislative districts.
- RNC Attorney Improperly Engaged - The majority party also allegedly hired Mark Braden, former attorney for the Republican National Committee, and self-proclaimed "father of soft money" to advise in the gerrymandering process.
- The Speaker and Senate President did not obtain permission from both co-chairs of the Legislative Task Force on Redistricting to hire Braden.
- The Apportionment Board did not vote to hire Braden to advise on the state legislative redistricting process.
- No formal hiring action appears to have taken place by any of the parties with authority to do so in order to legitimately hire Braden to help gerrymander our state.
- Moving Money to Pay Half Million in Legal Fees - The majority caucus's legal fees are potentially over a half million dollars. The exact number is unknown because the attorney general's office hasn't provided the records to the House Minority Caucus. It is known that $160,000 was appropriated in HB 153 last summer to the AG's office, allegedly for the purpose of paying Mark Braden. Another $350,000 was transferred from the Legislative Task Force on Redistricting to the AG's office a couple of weeks ago in HB 487.
- Avoiding Bipartisan Process - The majority caucuses are clearly trying to avoid their obligation to follow a bipartisan statutory process. They are politicizing the outside counsel process and side-stepping their own signed agreements to move money around and manipulate the public.
- Big Bucks in Gerrymandering - Devious methods of paying their attorneys aside, the Majority caucuses also paid over $200,000 to two contractors, Heather Mann and Ray DiRossi, to draw maps that gerrymandered our state in a deeply partisan fashion.
- Show maps? Revive the Timken puppet shape? The "very special to us all" quote from Boehner's henchman? Thanks to them, the outcomes of most legislative races are virtually set in stone already, 5 months before Election Day.
- Big Bonuses for No Work - Part of the massive payment to these contractors was two $30,000 in "litigation bonuses" that majority party legislators agreed to pay DiRossi and Mann if any redistricting lawsuit was filed, regardless of whether it necessitated any additional work for them. As it turned out, a lawsuit was filed in Clermont County over the gerrymandered congressional map resulting from their work. It was filed on October 17th and on October 19th DiRossi and Mann invoiced the state for their $30,000 bonuses. The Speaker approved the bonuses on October 20th. The lawsuit, which appears to have required no additional work for DiRossi and Mann, was shelved and soon dismissed after a new map created by the majority caucuses was adopted.
- Back in Positions of Public Trust - Where are those two Majority caucus contractors now?
- Heather Mann went back to work on the state payroll in the weeks following the Clermony County lawsuit. She is currently back in her state job as Deputy Legal Counsel to the speaker. ORC 2921.42 prohibits a person from having an unlawful interest in a public contract. Did she have any influence in the drafting of her contract as a redistricting consultant?
- Ray Dirossi, is on the Transportation Review Advisory Committee and will soon be voting on the major new programs that ODOT will work on. So, the man who famously said about the state legislative map, "we have made significant improvements... hopefully saving millions over the coming years" - that's millions of dollars in advertising and staffing costs that majority parties will save because they reduced the number of competitive districts - is in a position entrusted with making major decisions affecting the public. He will help decide how Ohio spends billions of dollars on road projects and possibly whether the turnpike gets privatized.
Rothenberg said he is calling on the House Speaker and Senate President to revisit the bipartisan process of using public funds for legal redistricting costs.
"Since these are public funds the appropriation needs to be above the taint of majority abuse. The only check is bipartisan sign off," Rothenberg said. "They've politicized and misapplied the outside counsel process. They've misused public funds by doling out big bonuses for no work. They may have violated a criminal statute prohibiting state employees from working out sweetheart public contracts for themselves. They've violated their own word by ignoring agreements they themselves signed. They've spent or appropriated approximately $800,000 and are dragging their feet on producing records to reveal the exact dollar figure spent violating the constitutional protections against political gerrymandering. This level of abuse perfectly shows exactly how broken the system of redistricting is in Ohio."