The Democratic candidate for attorney general says Ohio state government is broken, ethically speaking, and he's proposing reforms to fix it.
In announcing his ethics plan, former U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach also is taking a big swipe at his Republican opponent, state Auditor Dave Yost, over Yost's handling of an online charter-school fiasco.
Dettelbach called Yost "exhibit A" in Ohio's ethics challenges. He said Yost's involvement with with a failed online charter school was "a variation of pay to play. It's pay to look the other way."
He was referring to problems with the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, a school whose operator, Bill Lager, doled out $2.1 million in campaign contributions over two decades — the great majority of it to Republican groups and candidates. At the same time, Lager's material wealth increased dramatically.
ECOT, which had about 12,000 students, was forced to close earlier this year when it couldn't repay all of the $80 million the state said it had over-billed taxpayers.
Yost helped bring about ECOT's demise with his support for 2015 legislation making charter schools more accountable, and since then he's been a key advocate for ensuring that online charters provide the student instruction for which they charge taxpayers.
But in releasing his ethics plan, Dettelbach is highlighting Yost's actions just before he supported greater accountability.
In December 2014, Yost let ECOT negotiate how the auditor's office would respond to an insider tip that the school was "cooking its books," Dettelbach said. The Democrat's charge is backed up by sworn testimony from ECOT superintendent.
On Dec. 12, 2014, Yost received three campaign contributions totaling $7,500, part of almost $24,000 Yost received from ECOT-related entities over the years. Two days later, Yost signed off on his agency's audit of ECOT's books for the 2013-2014 school year, which showed no major problems. Yost later spoke at ECOT's graduation and gave the school an award for bookkeeping.
Asked for comment, Yost's campaign manager, Kevin Servick in an email said, "The last time DC Dettelbach lobbed baseless allegations he admitted he had no proof. Steve Dettelbach doesn’t know the law, and doesn’t care about the facts. Any honest reviewer will see that the now-closed ECOT received more scrutiny from Dave Yost than any other charter school in Ohio. Unfortunately for Ohioans, Steve Dettelbach has already proven he is not an honest reviewer and will hurl lies to score political points."
As examples of other ethical lapses in the Republican-led state government, Dettelbach cited millions in no-bid IT contracts and $2 million in TV commercials featuring Treasurer Josh Mandel that didn't receive Controlling Board permission and for which the treasurer's office furnished no documentation of the decisions leading up to the campaign.
"One party rule is an invitation for a government that is too cozy and too greedy," Dettelbach said.
To clean up state government, Dettelbach would:
• Increase penalties for bribes and conflicts of interest.
• Give the Ohio Ethics Commission the power to order state officials to recuse themselves from decisions in which they have a clear conflict of interest.
• Require elected officials to report the value of gifts they receive and disclose whether the giver has business with the state.
• Create protections for employees of private companies who report the misuse of public funds and make them eligible to receive a portion of any such funds that are recovered.
• Prohibit gifts to employees of the attorney general's office.
• Conduct an independent, comprehensive review of Ohio law as it relates to official corruption, transparency and government ethics.
Saying he has overseen his share of corruption cases, Dettelbach said the situation in Ohio stands out.
"I have truly never seen a more broken system than I see in our Statehouse right now," he said.