House Dems seek changes to JobsOhio oversight

JULIE CARR SMYTH AP Statehouse Correspondent Published:

COLUMBUS (AP) -- Ohio House Democrats proposed reporting and oversight changes to Gov. John Kasich's private nonprofit job-creation office on Thursday that they said would make it more publicly accountable.

The so-called JobsOhio Accountability Act targets an operation that has faced a steady stream of challenges since it was created by Kasich in 2011, including a legal challenge to its constitutionality, questions over access to public documents and a subpoena for private financial records from Ohio Auditor Dave Yost.

"The continued secrecy by JobsOhio and the governor only draws greater concern and raises more questions," said state Rep. Matt Lundy of Elyria, among the act's sponsors.

The legislation would subject JobsOhio to more rigorous state ethics and public records requirements -- including the reporting of travel and meals, allow full public audits by Yost's office and investigations by the state watchdog, and require JobsOhio to launch a website tracking its finances.

Spokeswoman Laura Jones said state law already provides for significant reporting by JobsOhio, including through a state-run listing of grants, personal ethic statements and fiscal updates.

She said anyone who reads state law and JobsOhio's contract with the Ohio Development Services Agency "will recognize that JobsOhio is already subject to a high degree of accountability and disclosure requirements, making it more transparent than most, if not all, other non-profit entities in the state."

But Democrats say JobsOhio should be even more transparent, because its operations are funded through proceeds for Ohio's state liquor profits.

"There was no 'water into wine' moment where Gov. Kasich blessed these state funds and made them private," said state Rep. John Carney of Columbus. "As an entity that would not exist but for public funding, they should be subject to a full and public audit."

JobsOhio turned over its private books under protest in March in response to a subpoena by Yost. Chief Investment Officer John Minor Jr. did so begrudgingly, insisting Ohio law shielded the records from disclosure.

The Republican-led Legislature intentionally created certain disclosure exemptions for JobsOhio to make the agency more nimble, and Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said Democrats' ideas would be taking the state backward as Kasich's economic strategy is working.

"Sliding back into the same failed government-centric attempts that contributed to the loss of 400,000 jobs under the previous administration is the wrong answer," he said in an email. "Ohio businesses have created more than 140,000 private sector jobs since January of 2011 because, among other reasons, job creators seeking to grow in Ohio have responded positively to JobsOhio's private-sector approach."

Democratic State Rep. Connie Pillich, of suburban Cincinnati, said that privacy has made JobsOhio vulnerable to corruption and that allowing Ohio's inspector general to investigate it as he can other state agencies would "help to weed out any possible waste, fraud and abuse."

"Ohioans deserve to know their hard-earned money is being used properly and to benefit them, rather than political favorites," she said.

Required tax filings show JobsOhio has received $6.9 million from donors whose identities have not been disclosed, Democrats said.

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