In the increasingly odd race for Ohio auditor, two local Republicans are making headlines around the state. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters sent a nasty letter to the Tea Party's auditor candidate while County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. defended the Democratic candidate from a GOP attack.
Although the race hasn't received much attention in Greater Cincinnati, it's gotten more scrutiny in Columbus and Cleveland. One of the latest items generating buzz is a video made by Republican candidate David Yost attacking the integrity of Democratic candidate David Pepper.
Pepper, of course, is a Cincinnati native who is a Hamilton County commissioner and son of retired Procter & Gamble CEO John Pepper.
Yost's campaign has created an anti-Pepper web site, called Truth About David Pepper. A video on the site begins with a photograph of a smiling President Obama with a narrator intoning, “Tired of typical politicians who say one thing but do another?” It then cuts to an unflattering photo of Pepper and adds, “Meet David Pepper.”
The video then features an audio clip of Pepper stating how he's voted to reduce taxes and cut spending while a county commissioner. It then mentions votes he took on Cincinnati City Council to raise the hotel tax and impose a so-called “jock tax” on professional athletes when their teams come to town to play away games.
Also, the video mentions how Pepper and Commissioner Todd Portune voted to increase the sales tax, only to have the action overturned by a voter referendum.
Later, the video talks about how Pepper is soft on public safety, stating he “laid off cops, closed jails and let criminals run free in the streets.”
What the video doesn't mention, however, is the sale-tax hike was requested by Leis — the tough-as-nails Republican sheriff — and mostly would've paid to build and operate a new jail.
In an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer about the commercial, Leis said there was no choice but to close the jail and lay off workers, and doesn't blame Pepper. “The voters had two chances to solve the problem, and they turned it down both times," Leis told the newspaper.
At the same time that Yost's campaign is alleging Pepper is soft on crime, it's using an ex-Deters employee convicted of a criminal offense as a spokesman.
The spokesman, Matt Borges, was one of two staffers who agreed to a deal with a special prosecutor heading a political corruption probe. Borges pleaded guilty to improper use of a public office, stemming from Deters' time as Ohio treasurer. The charge is a first-degree misdemeanor and Borges was fined $1,000.
Deters was elected treasurer in 1998, but left that position when his office was investigated for allegedly accepting secret campaign contributions, a scandal that hurt Deters’ reputation statewide and led him to return to Cincinnati and run as a write-in candidate for old job as county prosecutor in fall 2004.
The probe involving Deters began when an imprisoned former securities broker admitted he knowingly concealed a $50,000 contribution to the Deters campaign through the Hamilton County Republican Party, and said he reimbursed other people for contributions they made.
Deters lashed out at Seth Morgan, a Tea Partier who unsuccessfully ran in the May GOP primary against Yost, when Morgan began publicizing Borges' past.
Deters issued a press release that stated, “I am extremely disappointed at the letter sent to Dave Yost by a member of Seth Morgan’s campaign staff, it was a cheap shot from a young man who doesn’t have the facts. This is actually a sophomoric, bumbled, and inaccurate political smear that tells me Seth Morgan is probably not ready to seek statewide office. Holding such an office requires good judgment and careful consideration of serious issues. The Morgan letter is about as far from that level of professionalism as it gets.”
Borges' conviction eventually was expunged and his criminal record sealed by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Eileen A. Gallagher. She is perhaps best-known for throwing out a case against an alleged rapist when a prosecutor was 45 minutes late to a hearing.
Earlier this year Morgan, a state representative from Huber Heights, had sought the Republican endorsement to run for auditor. He and other Tea Partiers were angered when GOP leaders asked Yost to drop his race for Ohio attorney general and instead run for state auditor.
Pepper's “right about cracking down on fraud, but you don't go about it by having meetings and issuing press releases. You do it by electing an auditor who is a prosecutor and who knows how to detect and tackle fraud,” Borges told The Dispatch.
Conservative blogs have defended Yost's usage of Borges.
Writing on his Right Ohio blog, Matt Naugle states: “The truth is, the people who give to the Treasurer’s office race are usually bankers and brokers who want to handle state money. Just like the only people who give to Attorney General’s race are lawyers who want special counsel contracts … and it is a very fine line between donors supporting good government and hoping to get access to apply for state work …”
Naugle adds, “In short, politics is the only business in which someone can give you many thousands of dollars and is supposed to expect nothing in return.”