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Ohio Rep Merrin Unveils Ethics Reform Package as Blystone settles and Householder goes to trial

The backdrop of recent events couldn’t be more illustrative of the need for ethics reform in Ohio. On January 5, Ohio gubernatorial candidate Joe Blystone agreed to empty his campaign coffers of the remaining $180,000 and not to run for office again for 5 years to settle campaign finance complaints from his ex-campaign manager and the Secretary of State. On January 23, Larry Householder finally went to trial on corruption charges 30 months after his arrest.

Ethics reform package first in decades

On January 18, State Representative Derek Merrin (R-Monclova Township), unveiled proposed legislation called the “Ohio Ethics and Financial Disclosure Reform Act” by saying “As scandals have taken place and multiple ethics issues have risen to the surface, Ohio ethics and financial disclosure statutes have been stagnant.”  In fact, it’s been decades since ethics reform has been addressed in Ohio.

Reform would have been Merrin’s first bill as speaker

Merrin said that this would have been his first bill had he been elected House Speaker.  Merrin lost the Ohio speakership to moderate Republican State Representative Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) earlier this month despite the Republican Caucus‘ previous selection of Merrin in November. Stephens collaborated with the Democrats to gather enough votes to garner a win.

Merrin added, “If you don’t have trust and integrity and people don’t have confidence in their government, it’s hard to do other things. So we wanted to try to make this our first step to show our commitment and how serious we are to ethics reform.”

State Representative Phil Plummer (R-Dayton), who ran against Merrin and Stephens for speaker in the closed-door caucus vote, joined him in support of the reform package saying, “We are the integrity caucus. This is very important for us to speak up and be a unit. We are on the eve of a very important criminal trial, which is embarrassing to my side of the aisle. The Republican side of the aisle is involved in this trial. The Republican side of the aisle now is going to fix these problems.”

Proposal includes 5 major reforms

If passed, a bill based on this proposal would:

  • Require all lobbying income to be reported and sourced directly to the clients they represent mirroring current federal law.
  • Require nominees for the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to disclose any income, previous business relationships or ties to entities regulated by the PUCO by the time they are submitted to the governor for an appointment.
  • Prohibit elected officials from getting paid to serve on corporate boards unless the seat was held prior to taking office and the official has ownership in the corporation.
  • Require the financial disclosure statements submitted by all candidates and elected officials to be posted online in an easily searchable format. Financial disclosure statements by lawmakers are currently posted online by the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee. This provision would make it easier for citizens to access financial disclosure information from more than 10,000 state local and school officials which is currently available only by request through the Ohio Ethics Commission.
  • Make clear that the Ohio Ethics Commission and the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee could ask Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation for help investigating allegations of misconduct.

Support from across the aisle?

Common Cause Ohio issued a list of recommendations for reform ahead of the Householder trial which appear to indicate a general consensus on the need for reforms and some alignment on the specific areas for reform. The list includes:

  • Requiring greater campaign finance disclosure to “shine a light on dark money.”
  • Giving the public access to records at Ohio’s bill-writing agency.
  • Requiring Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) members and the panel that nominates them to be conflict free.
  • Establishing greater transparency in lobbying.

As always, the devil is in the details.

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Third Base Politics is an Ohio-centric conservative blog that has been featured at Hot Air, National Review, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and others.


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