It seems that the PERS office is in full damage control mode from a public relations standpoint. They’ve now publicly declared “Ohio Public Employees Retirement System Chief Executive Chris DeRose said today that advice offered via e-mail by a campaign operative for Republican candidate John Kasich to a pension executive was neither solicited nor followed.”
But the statement by PERS’ Chief Executive doesn’t in there. It then states, “[Kasich’s campaign spokeman’s e-mail] offered suggestions on explaining the losses to reporters.”
Kasich’s campaign contacted ex-Taft aides working within the highest levels of the state pension funds and pushed them with talking points on Lehman Brothers. Why? Why if, as the campaign has publicly asserted, Kasich had no knowledge or involvement with Lehman Brothers’ involvement with the state pensions, did the campaign feel the need to push talking points? Even more troubling, how did they know (on an issue they publicly claimed Kasich had zero knowledge about) enough to tell their supporters within the State what to say?
This wasn’t just a campaign contacting a state agency for information. They were trying to get a state agency to spin a news story to affect a political election. And there’s serious questions that the agency was all too willing to go along.
A review of a June 7th Memo from PERS lays out the timeline of the agencies interactions with a Democratic political consulting group, New Partners Consulting, the Ohio Democratic Party, Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy’s office, Steve Stivers’ campaign, the Kasich campaign, and various media outlets.
Three distinct patterns emerge as to how PERS responded to public records requests by the various parties according to this memo:
1. If the requestor appeared to be a Democrat or aligned with a Democratic organization, the agency stonewalled by citing privilege that other pension funds did not assert with similar request, denied receiving the requests altogether (yet somehow knows what date the request was sent?), or have even yet to respond. In some instances, the responses were clearly false and had to be corrected. In others, they read narrow hyper technical definitions into the request in order to deny providing any documents at all.
2. If the request was from the media, the agency’s response was provided to the Governor’s official office (not his campaign) and the Kasich campaign as well even though neither office requested such documents.
3. Not only did the agency freely give the Kasich campaign public records the Kasich campaign never even had to bother to ask the agency for, but it appears that the Kasich campaign had no problem getting what documents it actually requested, either.
In fact, the only thing the PERS memo shows that the Kasich campaign spokesman Scott Milburn wasn’t given was when Milburn asked the agency to provide the campaign with the status of the agency’s response to the Associated Press and Columbus Dispatch’s public records request. In other words, the Kasich campaign felt so comfortable with the former Taft aides they knew in PERS they felt they could ask the agency to tip them off ahead of time when the information would be given to the media so they could plan accordingly.
The Kasich campaign felt it could, unprompted, call up former Taft aides in PERS and coordinate a communication strategy, and even went as far as to instruct the agency what to tell the media about Lehman Brothers and demand to know when information was provided to the media even though there was no legitimate government basis for the Kasich campaign to be allowed to be that plugged in to the inner workings of this state agency.
Of course, this isn’t just the abuse of an arrogant campaign. It turns out the Kasich campaign had every reason to trust PERS to aid them politically in their joint campaign to do damage control over Lehman Brothers-inspired losses caused to PERS. Talking points were given to the call centers about it (what did they say? We, and I’m sure, the media is still working to find that out). The agency freely gave the Kasich campaign its responses to public records requests and questions it received from the media without the campaign even having to ask them.
Again, this is the kind of abuse of power the Kasich campaign is willing to engage in even when they’re not even in office! And it puts to death that ridiculous notion that as Managing Director of Lehman Brothers, Wall Street’s “Man in Columbus,” John Kasich somehow knew absolutely nothing about what Lehman Brothers was doing in Columbus, particular as it related to State officials his campaign, apparently, is one speed dial away to reach to lend a helping political hand.