Tuesday, December 06, 2011

House passes TARTA-related campaign finance bill

Ohio House Bill 326, which imposes a criminal penalty on public officials who knowingly use public funds for political purposes, was passed today by a vote of 90-2. It now goes to the Ohio Senate.

Rep. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) and our own Rep. Mike Ashford (D-Toledo) are the two who voted against the measure.

The bill, sponsored by Reps. Jeff McClain (R-Upper Sandusky) and Brian Hill (R-Zanesville), makes a violation of the campaign law a first-degree misdemeanor, similar to other campaign finance law violations. As it currently stands, the Ohio Revised Code makes it illegal to use tax dollars for political purposes but does not include a criminal penalty for doing so.

The bill was offered after an audit of the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority (TARTA) revealed illegally spent public funds.

The Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority (TARTA) illegally lent Citizens for TARTA $66,885 in public money to pay for levy campaign costs, according to the audit released today by Auditor of State Dave Yost.

“Taxpayers expect their dollars to pay for public services, not to influence a political campaign,” Auditor Yost said. “The taxpayers’ money must be repaid by Citizens for TARTA.”

Citizens for TARTA is a political action committee that formed to help gather resources to fund TARTA levy campaigns. In 2007, Citizens for TARTA borrowed $13,885, without interest, from TARTA. Another $53,000 was borrowed in January 2008.

According to the Ohio Revised Code, Section 9.03, “no governing body of a political subdivision shall use public funds to support or oppose the passage of a levy or bond issue.”

The violation of the Ohio Revised Code prompted the issuing of findings for recovery in the total amount of $66,885 against Citizens for TARTA, in favor of TARTA. Under Ohio law, in the event the payment from Citizens for TARTA is not received, TARTA’s Director, James Gee, is held jointly and severally liable for the findings for recovery.

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