Dettelbach ETHICS Plan to Clean Up Columbus

Ethics, Transparency, and Higher penalties Involving Corruption and Special interests

In Columbus and Washington, D.C., our political system is broken. Time and again, politicians help their big donors—like ECOT—game the system, while they ignore the problems working Ohioans face.

As a federal prosecutor, Steve Dettelbach spent decades fighting public corruption and official misconduct. Steve secured bribery convictions against Democrats and Republicans alike, and sent crooked officials to jail. He has worked with law enforcement to prosecute politicians who took bribes, as well as the corporate executives and others that bribed them to get special treatment.

On day one of Steve’s term as Attorney General, he will begin working to implement a series of tough, new ethics and anti-corruption reforms designed to clean up a culture in the Statehouse where the powerful and well-connected get special treatment at the expense of working Ohioans.

Importantly, the specific reforms Steve is announcing today are just the beginning. Steve will add to this plan as the campaign progresses, and he continues to hear from law enforcement, local prosecutors, and Ohio workers and businesses. He will also commence a top-to-bottom review of Ohio’s ethics, transparency, and anti-corruption laws. He will take good ideas from anyone, no matter their politics or party.

 

Steve on the Need to for More Accountability in Columbus

 “I have spent decades fighting against corruption as a federal prosecutor, and I have never seen a more broken system than we have in our own Statehouse right now. Connected donors like ECOT get away with tens of millions, while the people who are supposed to stop them take their money and look the other way. I am running for Attorney General to toughen, modernize and open up the political system. My plan will give law enforcement, prosecutors and the public the tools they need to crack down on corruption and expose politicians who hide conflicts of interest in order to create different rules for their special interest backers. We’ve got to clean up Columbus, and the steps I’m announcing today are just the start.”

   

The ETHICS Plan

As Attorney General, Steve will work with anyone who wants to help him shine more light on politicians and enact new reforms to stop officeholders from tipping the scales to favor their donors and other powerful interests. His plan will level the playing field for all Ohioans by making it harder for politicians to stack the deck. And for those corrupt politicians that even more sunshine won’t stop, Steve’s plan will increase penalties to help make sure government officials who take bribes go to prison.

The ETHICS plan:

  1. Crack down on corrupt politicians by increasing penalties for bribery and conflicts of interest
  2. Empower the Ohio Ethics Commission to stop senior officials from engaging in conflicts of interests, like Dave Yost did with ECOT
  3. Improve financial disclosure forms to expose conflicts of interest
  4. Strengthen protections for witnesses who report waste, fraud and corruption
  5. Implement a gift ban in the office of Attorney General
  6. Commence a day one, top-to-bottom review of Ohio’s anti-corruption, transparency, and ethics laws
  7. Take politics out of redistricting through his plan, Keep it open. Keep it honest

 

Crack Down on Corrupt Politicians by Increasing Penalties for Bribery & Conflicts of Interest

There is no such thing as a small bribe. That’s why Steve’s ETHICS plan will make it clear to anyone considering taking a bribe or other improper payment that they will risk going to jail if they do.

As a prosecutor for more than 20 years, Steve put corrupt politicians—from both parties—behind bars. Even before he was named U.S. Attorney for Northern Ohio, Steve worked in the office’s Organized Crime and Corruption Strike Force. Steve personally went after politicians who broke the law and the dishonest people and businesses that bribed them. In one blockbuster case, Steve and the FBI secured criminal convictions against a sitting mayor who traded public contracts for monthly envelopes of cash, a Democratic city council member and a businessman who bribed officials across two states.

Ohio’s bribery and conflict of interest laws are not as strong as those in many other states, and not as strong as they should be. Steve’s plan will toughen penalties for government officials who break the rules and those that pay them off, so that politicians and corrupt businesses alike know that if they abuse the public trust and take or give bribes, they will risk going to prison.

 

Empower the Ohio Ethics Commission to Stop Senior Officials from Engaging in Conflicts of Interest, like Dave Yost did with ECOT

Ohio’s elected and senior leaders shouldn’t be allowed to control investigations of special interests by day and deposit their checks at night. Just as lower-level employees need supervision, senior elected officials must have independent oversight to kick them off a case when they have a conflict of interest.

Steve’s plan will empower the bipartisan Ohio Ethics Commission to order recusal of statewide elected officials from specific official actions when there is a clear conflict of interest—like there was when Dave Yost was investigating the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) and its associates were writing him checks.

ECOT is the charter school that has been accused of overbilling the state of Ohio for tens of millions of dollars. Between 2010 and 2014, Yost took nearly $30,000 from entities and donors associated with the charter school. He gave ECOT three awards for bookkeeping and spoke at three of the school’s graduations. Yost’s cozy relationship with ECOT led more than one Ohio official to call for his recusal from all ECOT related matters. He has refused and never even returned ECOT’s cash.

Yost’s actions in late 2014 illustrate why a recusal was necessary and why Ohio needs someone to “watch the watchers.” In a matter of days, Yost:

  • Allowed his office to let ECOT negotiate how auditors would respond to an insider tip that ECOT was “cooking its attendance books;” [12/2/2014, ODE Exhibit 1200]
  • Deposited three checks from ECOT affiliates into his inauguration slush fund [12/12/2014, SOS Reports]
  • Personally signed an audit for ECOT’s 2013-2014 school year, despite knowing about an insider tip that ECOT was potentially engaged in fraud [12/16/2014, ECOT Audit]
  • Permitted his auditors to ignore internal office procedures and allow ECOT to escape the fraud investigation without producing attendance logs [1/22/2015, Video Deposition]

Ohioans should never have to question whether government watchdogs are watching out for their donors or the public interest. Yost didn’t recognize that basic conflict—because it was his own. That’s why Steve’s plan will give the Ethics Commission the power to intervene.

 

Improve Financial Disclosure Forms to Expose Conflicts of Interest

As a former member of the bipartisan Ohio Ethics Commission, Steve has a unique view of Ohio’s ethics law, and ideas on how to improve it. Steve’s plan will reveal conflicts of interest by making politicians better report the gifts they receive and make those reports available online to all Ohioans.

Under current law, politicians, do not have to report: 1) the value of the gifts they receive; or 2) anything about the business associations of the person giving the gift. Without this critical context, financial disclosure forms lack the information citizens and law enforcement need to identify conflicts of interest and hold their public officials accountable.

Steve’s plan will require public officials to disclose the value of the gifts they get, and whether the giver has any business interests with relevant state or local government. The plan will also require the Ohio Ethics Commission to continue to modernize and provide it with the resources to put officials’ financial disclosure forms online where the public can easily access them, like the Ohio Legislative Ethics Committee has done.

The ETHICS plan will strengthen penalties by making it a felony when politicians willfully file a false disclosure or willfully fail to file at all.

 

Strengthen Protections for Witnesses who Report Waste, Fraud and Corruption

Witness testimony and reports from insiders are critical to stopping government fraud and corruption. Twenty-nine states and the federal government have false claims statutes that protect whistleblowers and create incentives for employees of private companies to report misuse of public funds. But Ohio is not one of them. Steve’s plan will protect witnesses who report waste, fraud, and abuse in Ohio by modernizing our whistleblower protections and laws.

Under Ohio law, witnesses at private companies who report misuse of public funds not only have no incentive to report, but are not even protected from retaliation by the fraudster. If Ohio had stronger witness protections, they could well have protected insiders at ECOT, who years ago sought to report wrongdoing. Ohio should be doing more to protect witnesses who come forward and expose misuse of taxpayer money.

As Attorney General, Steve will work with legislators from both parties to put a false claims statute in place that fills the gaps in Ohio law, protects employees of private companies who report abuse of public money, and provides an appropriate incentive for them to come forward so that the fraudster cannot easily either threaten or pay them for their silence.

 

Implement a Gift Ban in the Office of the Attorney General

As Attorney General, Steve will impose a gift ban on all employees in the Office of the Attorney General, including himself. With common-sense exceptions only for family and personal friends who are not doing business with the state or seeking to do business with the office, and token gifts less than $20, this ban will assure the people of Ohio that the AG’s office makes decisions based on merit and nothing else.

By taking this stand and talking about it publicly, Steve will put pressure on elected officials throughout Ohio to follow his lead, as he did when he proposed and helped draft the state gift ban order after the Coingate scandal.

 

Commence a Top-to-Bottom Review of Ohio Corruption, Transparency, & Ethics Laws

Steve knows the steps in this plan, and others he will release in this campaign, are just the start. That is why on day one of Steve’s term as Attorney General, he will commence a top-to-bottom review of Ohio’s anti-corruption, transparency, and ethics laws run by a bipartisan commission of independent outsiders with expertise in law enforcement, public corruption, and ethics.

Steve will charge this commission with providing him recommendations within 60 days about how Ohio laws can be strengthened, tightened, and modernized. Once recommendations for reform are received, Steve will work with Ohioans from both parties to get them enacted, and he will fight against any special interests that stand in the way of progress.

 

Take Politics Out of Redistricting –  Keep It Open. Keep It Honest.

One reason Ohio’s political system is broken is that politicians were allowed to draw their state and Congressional lines in secret in 2011. Under the cloak of darkness, politicians and party bosses chose their own voters, instead of voters choosing them.

Dave Yost was in the shadows enabling the redistricting scheme. As Auditor, he played a major role in carving up Ohio, participating in meetings structured to avoid open government laws and visiting a secret Columbus hotel room called the “bunker” to meet personally with partisan mapmakers and check in on progress. The secret gerrymandering of Ohio was the political equivalent of a crime, and Dave Yost still has ink all over his hands as a key perpetrator.

While Ohio has taken important steps to improve state and federal redistricting since 2011, more must be done. Alongside Rep. Kathleen Clyde, Steve has introduced a detailed plan to shine light on redistricting, Keep It Open. Keep It Honest. Steve and Kathleen’s plan closes loopholes that politicians like Dave Yost and Jon Husted used to rig Ohio’s maps and gives the public the tools they need to ensure politicians and party bosses will never be able to go into a “bunker,” or use the cover of darkness to rig Ohio’s districts again. Steve knows that reform is needed for one simple reason—the job that politicians always care about most is their own

Steve supports passing Issue 1, and believes more must be done to make sure these lines are drawn in the open as well. By requiring more transparency and taking politics out of the process, Ohio leaders will be more accountable to their voters.