Panel: No jurisdiction on conflicts of interest

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

COLUMBUS — A state ethics panel indicated Thursday it has no jurisdiction over alleged conflicts of interests with Gov. John Kasich’s private nonprofit economic development corporation as it appeared ready to dismiss complaints filed by Democrats.

Chairman Merom Brachman said the Ohio Ethics Commission has jurisdiction over financial disclosure filings by elected officials.

The law that created JobsOhio in 2011 shortly after Mr. Kasich took office exempted the private entity from many ethics and open records laws.

Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, Mr. Kasich’s expected Democratic opponent next year, and the Ohio Democratic Party have questioned potential conflicts of interest among JobsOhio board members whose own corporations have benefited from economic incentive packages.

They’ve also questioned Mr. Kasich’s ties to Worthington Industries Inc. Two of its subsidiaries received approval for job-creation tax credits that could be worth more than $600,000, even as the governor receives deferred compensation payments from his prior role as a member of the parent corporation’s board.

The deferred payments were negotiated as part of Mr. Kasich’s compensation before he was elected governor.

“That matter of the disclosure is not before the commission,” Mr. Brachman said. “That information goes into the public file. There is no relevance whatsoever to what I saw with Mr. FitzGerald.”

Mr. Kasich said decisions on tax credits are approved by the Ohio Tax Credit Authority, a publicly accountable government agency, and not by the nonprofit JobsOhio.

“It should be pretty clear this is politics,” he told reporters. “I’m used to it. It’s mudslinging. … The fact of the matter is, whether it’s a friend or whether it’s a foe, if they’re going to create jobs and the incentives that are necessary to encourage them are within the bounds of reason and reflect a proper return on investment, we want to do it.”

Ethics panel members did not say whether they voted to dismiss the complaints, but the commission and Paul Nick, its executive director made it clear they don’t have jurisdiction.

“The way the legislation’s written, they’ve had their hands tied,” Mr. FitzGerald said campaigning in Toledo. “It should be their business. When you have this situation where the governor is getting compensation from companies that are getting state assistance, that shows you how much their actual oversight authority has been reduced in the last couple of years.”

Mr. Brachman’s tenure on the ethics commission began with his appointment by Democratic Gov. John Gilligan roughly 40 years ago. But campaign finance records show Mr. Brachman contributed to Mr. Kasich’s congressional campaigns in the 1990s and that family members have contributed to Mr. Kasich’s gubernatorial campaigns.