Citing the Buckeye State’s D grade from the State Integrity Investigation, Democratic legislators in Ohio have called for a bipartisan task force to review current ethics laws and consider new legislation to strengthen accountability and transparency.
“We have a responsibility to the people of Ohio and it is simply unacceptable for us to fail to ensure government is working for Ohioan’s best interest at all times, not for special interest or influences,” said Rep. Jay Goyal (D-Mansfield), in a press conference held Tuesday.
In a letter to legislative leaders, the House Democrats noted “great concern over the recent ethics report from the State Integrity Investigation.” Among the 14 categories on the state scorecard, they pointed out, Ohio only received two grades higher than a C-.
The state failed three categories: legislative accountability, lobbying disclosure and redistricting. Ohio also received D- grades for executive accountability and judicial accountability, D+ grades for pension fund management and insurance commissions and C- grades for public access to information, political financing, procurement and ethics enforcement.
Rep. Ted Celeste (D-Grandview Heights) said the grades are not something to be proud of, especially since the state received F’s in a few individual categories. “We should do everything we can to improve our efforts here,” he said.
In addition to its call for new legislation, the letter also asked for reconsideration of some earlier proposals. Celeste said House Democrats have previously put forth legislation that would address some of the gaps in Ohio’s ethics laws, but those bills have not received serious consideration. Celeste and his colleagues are calling for hearings on those measures, which include proposed new regulations on independent expenditures by corporations and unions and creation of a public financing system for judicial elections. Those hearings would be held when the legislature returns from spring recess.
Another bill would require that records of public-private partnerships, a growing trend in Ohio, be made available to the public. Rep. Matt Lundy (D-Elyria), who sponsored the bill, said these entities — like JobsOhio, a semi-private agency focused on economic development — spend state dollars but are not currently subject to the state’s open record laws
“It’s hard to keep track of where the money is going,” Lundy said. “If you can’t follow the dollars, you can’t keep track of accountability.”
The fate of the Democrats’ recommendations seems uncertain at best. A spokesman for the Republican House speaker, William Batchelder, told the Columbus Dispatch that the speaker takes transparency and accountability seriously, but questioned the “flawed methodology” of the State Integrity Investigation. The GOP controls both the state House and Senate, as well as the governor’s office.
Bill Buzenberg, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, said he stands by the State Integrity Investigation’s methodology and reporting.