In 2011, when the Ohio House was debating JobsOhio legislation, Democrats raised holy hell over the fact that the Ohio State Auditor might not have the authority to review the finances of Governor Kasich’s semi-private development group. ODP Chairman Chris Redfern and David Pepper, Yost’s 2010 opponent in the auditor’s race, sounded the alarm while the bill was still in committee. Republicans adamantly disagreed.
Auditor Dave Yost quickly addressed Democrats’ concerns in a letter to Robert Mecklenborg, Chairman of the House State Government and Elections Committee, calling Redfern’s statement “untrue as a matter of law”. According to Yost, “To put it simply, the Auditor of State’s authority follows public money wherever it flows – including to private entities.”
In the letter, Yost quoted Ohio Revised Code 117.10, the same section of Ohio law we reported on last week, that says “the auditor of state also may audit the accounts of private institutions, associations, boards, and corporations receiving public money.”
Mecklenborg used Yost’s letter during House hearings as proof that the Ohio State Auditor would be able to review the finances of JobsOhio, holding it up and taunting Democrats who doubted his claims.
But Yost and Mecklenborg weren’t the only Republicans insisting that the Auditor of State maintained this authority.
In hearings on January 25, 2011, then-Development Director, and mastermind behind JobsOhio, Mark Kvamme gave testimony in front of the House in which he proclaimed “the Auditor of State will have authority to audit all public funds of [JobsOhio].”
The next day, then-Republican Party Chairman Kevin DeWine issued a statement attacking Redfern and Pepper for questioning Yost’s authority to audit JobsOhio. ”Either the former Democratic candidate for state auditor doesn’t know the basic functions of the office,” said DeWine, “or the Democrats are intentionally misleading the public about this important legislation. Either way, they’re wrong on the facts, and they should issue an immediate retraction and apology”
After passing the legislation, House Speaker Batchelder told Hannah that ”he believes many of the transparency concerns raised by Democrats were either misleading or misunderstood. He said the state auditor has the ability to audit JobsOhio.” (Emphasis added)
This wasn’t the first time Batchelder admitted that the Auditor of State has the power to review the financial records of non-public organizations. In a 2000 case, then-Ninth District Court of Appeals Judge Batchelder ruled that ORC 117.10 does apply to private entities:
In sum, this court holds that the State Auditor has the statutory authority to issue subpoenas to private, third-party entities indirectly receiving money from a public agency if a relevant link between the two can be established. Otherwise, an underhanded public official could easily establish a web of conduits and launder public money without apprehension. In the interests of good government and maintaining the public trust, the State Auditor must be able to follow the money trail.
In 2011, Republicans across the state came together and all agreed: JobsOhio COULD be audited by the Ohio State Auditor. But now that it’s time to actually do the audit, some Republicans are changing their tune.
Last week Batchelder made the surprising (and incorrect) claim that the auditor ”doesn’t have that authority to go into a private corporation and audit it” – a complete 180 from his earlier statement: “the state auditor has the ability to audit JobsOhio.” Senate President Keith Faber has taken the same stance.
Two years ago, Republicans accused Democrats of “intentionally misleading the public” on JobsOhio and of not knowing “the basic functions of the office” of state auditor. They demanded an apology for even questioning the auditor’s power in this area. Today, Republicans – with the exception of Yost – are anxiously trying to convince us the Democrats were actually right all along. (For the sake of consistency, the Ohio Republican Party and Bill Batchelder should issue an immediate retraction of their old statements and an apology to Redfern and Pepper.)
Clearly something stinks here. Kasich and his crew are desperately trying to keep the inner workings of JobsOhio a secret. And everyone should be asking “WHY!?”
JobsOhio is receiving billions of our dollars in grants and redirected liquor profits and we deserve to know what they are doing with it.
(ht to the Dispatch for first pointing out Batch’s ruling in 2000)