The Ohio Democratic Party is asking both state and federal prosecutors to look into allegations that a major coal company is coercing its employees to donate to political causes against their will.
The ODP on Monday sent letters to U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Steven Dettelbach and Acting Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty asking them to launch a criminal investigation into Ohio-based Murray Energy Corporation.
The letters allege that Murray Energy “may have engaged in a pattern of illegal activity, extorting millions in financial contributions from employees and vendors for Republican candidates running for public office.”
Murray Energy fired back in a Monday statement, saying the allegations “are simply an attempt to silence Murray Energy and its owners from supporting their coal mining employees and families by speaking out against President Barack Obama’s well known and documented War on Coal.”
The allegations stem from an Oct. 4 investigation by left-leaning magazine The New Republic.
The article is based on the accounts of two anonymous former Murray managers and a review of letters and memos to Murray employees. It suggests that employees are pressured into making donations to Republican candidates and contributing to the company’s Political Action Committee.
“There’s a lot of coercion,” one of the sources told the magazine. “I just want to work, but you feel this constant pressure that, if you don’t contribute, your job’s at stake.”
ODP Chairman Chris Redfern told reporters during a conference call that party research found that Ohio political candidates — including all current statewide officeholders — had received almost $750,000 from Murray Energy, its subsidiaries and employees.
Neither Dettelbach or McGinty returned CityBeat calls for comment on any pending investigations.
Murray Energy in its statement called The New Republic biased and radically liberal. The company’s characterization in the article is incorrect and untruthful, according to the statement.
Murray had previously come under fire when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney held a campaign event at one of its mines. Some workers claim they were pulled out of the mine early when it closed for the event and forced to attend without pay.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is calling on Republican Gov. John Kasich to veto a bill that would prevent State Auditor Dave Yost, a Republican, from fully auditing JobsOhio, following months of controversy surrounding the private nonprofit entity.
"I further encourage the Governor to return to negotiations with Auditor Yost, with the explicit goal of establishing an open and transparent process by which the people of Ohio can be sure JobsOhio is spending our tax dollars efficiently, and that the program is doing what it is supposed to be doing: creating Ohio jobs," FitzGerald said in a statement. "The people’s money is the people’s business, and this bill, which slams shut the door on accountability, is simply unacceptable."
Yost claims he can audit JobsOhio's liquor profits, which add up to $100 million a year, and private funds, such as donations.
But the bill effectively defines JobsOhio's liquor profits as private funds that can't be audited by the state
auditor. Under the proposal, Yost could only audit liquor profits and excise taxes that JobsOhio owes to the state, with all other funds effectively deemed private.
JobsOhio was established by Kasich and Republican legislators in 2011 to replace the Ohio Department of Development. The agency's liquor profits come from a lease deal with the
state to run Ohio's liquor operations.
Yost argues the liquor profits are intrinsically public money because the money would be in public hands if JobsOhio wasn't handling operations.
But other Republicans, led by Kasich, say
opening JobsOhio to full audits would slow down the agency, hindering its
ability to quickly react to economic changes and tides. Kasich has often said the private nature of JobsOhio allows it to move at the "speed of business," which he claims fosters stronger economic development in Ohio.
Democrats have pushed back against the notion, saying JobsOhio's private nature only makes it more difficult to hold the state government accountable. With the latest bill, Democrats, who have now taken to dubbing the agency "RobsOhio," say their concerns are being vindicated.
But the bill could have far-reaching effects beyond JobsOhio that would effectively disallow the state auditor to audit privately funded accounts in any institution that receives public funding.
Despite Yost's pleas to involve him in the process, the auditing bill was passed through the Ohio House and Senate in just two days without his input.
Democrats were quick to criticize the bill, asking what JobsOhio has to hide.
Kasich is expected to sign the bill to make it law.
JobsOhio isn't the only privatization scheme pushed by Kasich. He also sold the Lake Erie Correctional Institution, a northeastern Ohio prison, to the Corrections Corporation of America. So far, inmate reports and inspections have largely found deplorable conditions at the Lake Erie facility ("From the Inside," issue of May 29).
Gov. John Kasich says he wants to slow down Attorney General Mike DeWine’s facial recognition program and work with the Ohio legislature to review if changes are necessary.
“I am concerned about the level of government knowledge about everything about us. I have concerns about the NSA. I have concerns about not using the FISA court. I have concerns about an overzealous group of people that are violating their own rules that have been established,” Kasich told reporters today. “When it comes to this issue, there’s value in it, but I want to slow down and get this right.”
The governor’s comments linked the facial recognition program to federal surveillance programs like the NSA and FISA, which have come under scrutiny in the past few months after leaks unveiled broader snooping and data collection of Americans’ private communications than previously expected.
Kasich said he understands the tools provided by the facial recognition program could be valuable to law enforcement and security, but he added that he wants to ensure people’s rights are being protected.
“When people say I have nothing to hide, that in and of itself, as Peggy Noonan says, begins to erode the First Amendment,” he said. “You begin worrying about what you say because somebody’s watching you.”
The facial recognition program allows police officers and civilian employees to use a photo to search databases for names and contact information. Previously, law enforcement officials needed a name or address to search such databases.
Shortly after the plan was announced, the American Civil Liberties Union asked DeWine to shut down the program until proper protocols were put in place to protect Ohioans’ rights to privacy.
The program was in place for more than two months and used for 2,677 searches before it was unveiled to the public. In that time span, the program wasn’t reviewed by an outside group.
On Thursday, DeWine appointed a group of judges, law enforcement and prosecutors to review the program’s protocols. The panel has 60 days to come up with recommendations.
Some Democratic lawmakers want answers from Republican Gov. John Kasich.
A group of Democratic state representatives has put forth a bill that would require Kasich — and every governor after him — to come before the Ohio House of Representatives 10 times per year for 45-minute question and answer sessions where the governor would have to take at least five questions from each side of the aisle.
Rep. Mike Foley, D-Cleveland, is the bill’s sponsor. He did not return CityBeat’s call for comment as of Wednesday afternoon.
Cincinnati Democratic Rep. Denise Driehaus is one of the bill’s co-sponsors. She said Foley had the idea while visiting Canada, where their parliament has a similar procedure.
“I think it’s a great idea where the governor interacts with the legislature and we have the opportunity to question him and really engage on some of the issues and get his opinion on things,” Driehaus says.
She said the Legislature doesn’t currently have a whole lot of opportunity to interact with the governor, except for the State of the State address, but even then they can’t really engage Ohio’s chief executive.
The Ohio Democratic Party has recently filed suit against Kasich for what it says is a failure to comply with open records laws for redacting parts of his public schedules when responding to a public records request.
The ODP has called Kasich opaque and secretive for failing to respond or only partially responding to records requests.
However, Driehaus said the bill isn’t meant to apply only to Kasich, but would apply to every governor after him. She said she didn’t think it was in reaction to her party’s spat with the governor.
“This is much broader and much more forward thinking than that,” Driehaus says.
While fact checking an interview, CityBeat discovered it will be possible to circumvent the parking plan’s cap on meter rate increases through a multilayer process that involves approval from a special committee, the city manager and the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority. The process adds a potential loophole to one of the city manager’s main defenses against fears of skyrocketing rates, but Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, says raising the cap requires overcoming an extensive series of hurdles: unanimous approval from a board with four members appointed by the Port Authority and one selected by the city manager, affirmation from the city manager and a final nod from the Port Authority. Olberding says the process is necessary in case anything changes during the 30-year time span of the parking deal, which CityBeat covered in detail here.
Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley launched DontSellCincinnati.org to prevent the city manager’s parking plan, which semi-privatizes the city’s parking assets. The website claims the plan gives for-profit investment companies power over enforcement, guarantees 3-percent rate increases every year and blows through all the money raised in two years. The plan does task a private company with enforcement, but it will be handled by Xerox, not a financial firm, and must follow standards set in the company’s agreement with the Port Authority. While the plan does allow 3-percent rate increases each year, Olberding says the Port Authority will have the power to refuse an increase — meaning it’s not a guarantee.
Arnol Elam, the Franklin City Schools superintendent who sent an angry letter to Gov. John Kasich over his budget plan, is no longer being investigated for misusing county resources after he paid $539 in restitution. CityBeat covered Elam’s letter, which told parents and staff about regressive funding in Kasich’s school funding proposal, and other parts of the governor’s budget in an in-depth cover story.
To the surprise of no one, Ohio’s oil lobby is still against Kasich’s tax plan, which raises a 4 percent severance tax on oil and wet gas from high-producing fracking wells and a 1 percent tax on dry gas.
Local faith leaders from a diversity of religious backgrounds held a press conference yesterday to endorse the Freedom to Marry and Religious Freedom Amendment, an amendment from FreedomOhio that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state. Pastor Mike Underhill of the Nexus United Church of Christ (UCC) in Butler County, Rabbi Miriam Terlinchamp of Temple Sholom, Pamela Taylor of Muslims for Progressive Values and Mike Moroski, who recently lost his job as assistant principal at Purcell Marian High School for standing up for LGBT rights all attended the event. CityBeat covered the amendment and its potential hurdles for getting on the 2013 ballot here.
Vanessa White, a member of the Cincinnati Public Schools board, is running for City Council. White is finishing her first four-year term at the board after winning the seat handily in 2009. She has said she wants to stop the streetcar project, but she wants to increase collaboration between the city and schools and create jobs for younger people.
The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ (BMV) policy on providing driver’s licenses to the children of illegal immigrants remains unclear. Since CityBeat broke the story on the BMV policy, the agency has shifted from internally pushing against driver’s licenses for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients to officially “reviewing guidance from the federal government as it applies to Ohio law.” DACA is an executive order from President Barack Obama that allows the children of illegal immigrants to qualify for permits that enable them to remain in the United States without fear of prosecution.
A survey from the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments found locals are generally satisfied with roads, housing and issues that affect them everyday. The survey included 2,500 people and questions about energy efficiency, infrastructure, public health, schools and other issues.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine revealed 7,000 Ohioans have received more than $280 million in consumer relief as part of the National Mortgage Settlement announced one year ago. The $25 billion settlement between the federal government and major banks punishes reckless financial institutions and provides relief to homeowners in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.
Ohio received a $3 million federal grant to continue improving the state’s health care payments and delivery programs.
Cincinnati home sales reached a six-year high after a 27-percent jump in January.
CityBeat’s Hannah “McAttack” McCartney interviewed yours truly for the first post of her Q&A-based blog, Cinfolk.
Crows have a sense of fairness, a new study found.
Opponents of Ohio's new restrictive election law have gotten it postponed until next year at the earliest, with a potential repeal of House Bill 194 in November ending it before it begins.
It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day. On this day, it’s worth re-watching his I Have a Dream speech.
Local governments are hopeful they won’t see big budget cuts in Gov. John Kasich’s 2014-2015 budget.
Townships, municipalities and counties were economically hit by big
cuts in the last budget. The local government cuts added up to $1
billion on a state level, and Hamilton County shared $105 million — more
than 10 percent — of the cuts, according to Cuts Hurt Ohio. Education saw $1.8 billion in cuts statewide, with Hamilton County taking $117 million of those cuts.
Gov. Kasich announced that his state of the state address will take place in Lima, Ohio. Kasich’s speech last year was labeled “bizarre” by outlets like The Hill. During the speech, Kasich imitated a person with severe Parkinson's disorder and called Californians “wackadoodles.”
Union Terminal is falling apart. Cincinnati Museum Center executives say they need nearly $180 million for repairs. The damages are largely due to how the building was constructed. Its design lets moisture get behind bricks, which then causes supporting steel beams to rust.
The judge in the Miami University rape flier case gave a deposition Jan. 15. The document outlines Judge Robert Lyons’ reasoning for letting the rape flier case go: “What I remember about him is that there was certainly concern about his, say, his mental health and there were grounds stated on the record for the necessity of sealing the record. It had to do with his — probably as I recall, more so mental well-being than anything else.”
Former governor Ted Strickland is tired of raising campaign money, but that didn’t stop him from joining City Council candidate Greg Landsman Friday. Landsman was Strickland’s field director for his congressional campaign, and when Strickland was governor, Landsman was director of the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
Rumor has it the Carew Tower will be going residential, but the owners are denying it all. The denial letter, which assured current tenants they won’t be kicked out, makes reference to a “softness in the general downtown office market.”
The Greater Cincinnati Foundation made $1.3 million in grants. The grants will help a variety of businesses and groups. A $225,000 grant will go to Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator, which helps local businesses owned by minorities.
Garbage collection will be delayed by a day this week due to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Will the first neanderthal in 30,000 years be given birth by a human mother? A Harvard geneticist says he’s close to making it possible.
The tone was negative once again in the final public hearing for the city manager’s plan to lease the city’s parking system. Of the two dozen speakers, only four were positive. Tabitha Woodruff, who is with the Ohio Public Interest Research Group, voiced mixed feelings about the plan: “As we feared it provides a short-term solution to a long-term budget problem, raises hours and rates on citizens, and has the potential to incur high transaction costs. … We’re encouraged, however, by the selection of a public entity, the Port Authority and by numerous proposed provisions of the lease intended to insure the city maintains control of details like rates and hours.” CityBeat wrote about the plan in detail here.
If City Council does not agree to lease Cincinnati’s parking system, the city manager’s office says the city will be forced to lay off 344 employees,
including 80 firefighter and 189 police positions, and eliminate Human
Services Funding, but critics argue there are better alternatives.
Mayoral candidate John Cranley says casino and parking revenue and cuts
to non-essential programs could help clear the deficit without the plan.
Gov. John Kasich’s job approval rating has risen above 50 percent for the first time, and he’s beating all the potential Democratic gubernatorial candidates in theoretical match-ups, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. CityBeat covered the governor’s budget plan, which will set the state’s policy blueprint for the next two years, here.
The Ohio House will vote on Kasich’s Ohio Turnpike plan today, which leverages the Turnpike for a statewide infrastructure program.
With the approval of Metro’s operating budget, City Council and Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) have ended their dispute
over streetcar funding. Council members had been approving monthly
budgets as they worked things out with SORTA, which manages the region’s
bus system. SORTA filed a lawsuit disputing the limits of the transit fund, but it dropped the suit
after the city said it will not use the money for maintenance of streets, sidewalks
and streetlights. (Correction: This previously said the city will “only use the money for streets, sidewalks and streetlights” when the opposite is true.)
The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) says the state’s schools are making improvement, but they still “have room to grow.”
In the latest state report cards, Ohio schools improved in 14 of 26
categories and met the state’s performance goal on 21 out of 26, with
particularly strong gains in math and science, but ODE says, “The
performance of Ohio’s economically disadvantaged students and minorities
remains unacceptably low.”
The state auditor has a problem with how Ohio’s schools report data through what he calls a “just-trust-me” system.
The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a 40-year agreement with the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) that will lease the county-owned Memorial Hall and provide renovations to the 105-year-old building. County officials have long said the building, which is used to host concerts, shows and speaking events, is in dire need of upgrades, particularly overhauls to its roof, windows, facade work, floors, air conditioning and bathrooms — all of which will now be financed by 3CDC with the help of tax credits.
The commissioners also approved a two-year policy agenda, which generally outlines their plans for county finances and taxes, infrastructure and economic development.
The Over-the-Rhine Eco Garden could be forced to relocate if the city approves CitiRama’s development proposal. The move would be fully funded by the city’s Department of Community Development, with startup and relocation costs paid for.
Ohio’s concealed weapon carry permits reached record highs in 2012 with more than 76,000 permits issued.
Fewer Ohioans are starting their own businesses, and the state’s level of self-employment is one of the lowest in the nation, according to a report from Dayton Daily News.
With Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino set to open March 4, gambling addiction could be one of the downsides to the casino’s glitz and job creation, but extra funds for the state’s treatment programs and special training for casino employees could help combat the problem.
A medical marijuana amendment could be on Ohio’s 2013 ballot, but anti-drug groups are already speaking out against it.
Think the 114-year-old Japanese woman has reached an impressive age? Guffaw. Popular Science lists six much older animals.
Despite Gov. John Kasich’s claims to the contrary, the only miracle in Ohio’s economy might be how bad the state is doing compared to the rest of the nation.
The proof: Ohio’s economy was among just two states in the
nation that actually worsened during September through November compared to August through October, according
to the research department at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
Beyond Ohio’s borders, Alaska also worsened, two states remained stable and the rest of the nation moved in a generally positive direction.
In other words, while 46 states’ economies moved in a generally positive direction, Ohio actually got worse.
The measures come from the State Coincident Index issued by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia every month. The index combines several economic indicators to gauge the condition of each state’s economy. The research department then gauges whether the index improved or worsened after the latest month’s data is taken into account.
With the gubernatorial election now less than one year away, the sorry state of Ohio’s economy could prove a bad sign for Gov. Kasich’s re-election.
Kasich, a Republican, came into office as Ohio’s economy began dashing out of the Great Recession stronger than most of the nation — a trend Kasich took to calling the “Ohio miracle.”
Ed FitzGerald, Kasich’s likely Democratic challenger, has criticized the claim in the past few months as Ohio’s economy showed more signs of worsening despite Kasich’s promises that his policies would keep the state in the right direction.
One of those policies was privatizing Ohio’s development agency and effectively turning it into JobsOhio. In less than three years, the agency has been riddled in multiple scandals following accusations from Democrats that the JobsOhio board hosts various conflicts of interests and lacks transparency when recommending who should get state tax credits.
Kasich also pushed and approved an across-the-board income tax cut earlier in 2013 through the two-year state budget. But because the income tax cut came with a sales tax hike, left-leaning think tank Policy Matters Ohio found Kasich’s tax cut heavily favors the wealthy, which calls into question whether the tax cut will actually help Ohio’s middle class or economy.
For FitzGerald and other Democrats, the challenge is advocating a progressive agenda that stands in contrast to Kasich’s policies. Although they have plenty of criticisms, it remains unclear what Democrats could do if — as looks almost certain — Republicans continue to hold Ohio’s legislative chambers.
Then there’s the question of whether state policies matter much, if at all. Economists generally agree that state officials tend to dramatize the economic impact of their policies when much bigger factors are at play, particularly as globalization reshapes the national and global economies.
For now, one thing is clear: Kasich’s policies haven’t been enough to turn around Ohio’s sinking economy throughout the past three months.