If John Kasich gets his way, Mark Kvamme and his private development organization JobsOhio will be taking control of hundreds of million of state dollars to be given away in the form of grants, loans and tax incentives. And now it seems they are accepting unknown amounts of private “donations” from undisclosed donors as well. And while we are now getting a glimpse of how part of this money is being spent, most of JobsOhio’s expenses will never have to be revealed.
We’ve already discussed the many, many reasons this is a bad idea. Not only do private development organizations historically have a no better record at producing jobs than public development departments, but the fact that JobsOhio and its board members and employees are exempt from the majority of accountability and transparency requirements applied to other state agencies and employees makes JobsOhio ripe for corruption and abuse.
We predicted JobsOhio would eventually be caught blowing money on lavish trips and other unnecessary expenses, but I don’t think any of us though it would be happening this soon.
According to an article by Joe Vardon in last week’s Dispatch, JobsOhio just moved into fancy new digs in downtown Columbus in an office overlooking the Statehouse.
The office was completely and expensively refurnished by JobsOhio, it has a kitchen stocked with food, expensive new furniture and everyone appears to have thousands of dollars worth of brand new Apply hardware on their desks. A quick check of the Apple website reveals that each of the 27 inch monitors mentioned in Vardon’s piece costs $1000!
It’s obviously troubling to think that JobsOhio is taking OUR money and spending it like a doomed-to-fail internet company from the late 90’s. It kind of reminds me of Webvan.com, one of the “Biggest IPO Flops in History”, which received an “incredible $1 billion from private investment firms like (Mark Kvamme’s) Sequoia Capital” and proceeded to blow it all on useless crap like expensive chairs and, I shit you not, over-priced computer monitors.
It’s obviously troubling that some of the money Kvamme is spending comes from the state. But it’s even more worrisome when Vardon reveals that “Kvamme and JobsOhio are operating mostly with private donations” the source of which Kvamme “declined to disclose“.
Keep in mind here, these are not “investments”. These are “donations”. From private companies. To the private entity that is responsible to determining which private companies will get hundreds of millions of free money from the State of Ohio.
So you have to ask: did the CEO of American Greetings, a company receiving roughly $93.5 million in aid from the state and local entities, give thousands to JobsOhio as a thank you gift? What about Diebold, the company that received $55 million in state funds and laid of 400 workers?
We just don’t know.
Did the money come from individuals and companies that are currently seeking funds from the State? Or maybe individuals who want an appointment from John Kasich? Is JobsOhio simply being used a back-door way for big donors to circumvent campaign finance laws?
Again, we don’t know.
At yesterday’s Bookings Global Cities Initiative forum, Mark Kvamme claimed the reason they had to privatize Ohio’s development efforts was so he could travel. So are big donors getting favors from the administration in exchange for donation to JobsOhio that help pay for Mark Kvamme’s expensive, first-class travel on international “trade missions” to exotic, golf-course-having locations?
The problem is: we’ll never know. Because JobsOhio doesn’t have any requirement to tell us and they don’t seem to have any desire to share the information voluntarily.
The end result of Kasich’s JobsOhio plan is to give a small group of individuals the power to hand out hundreds of millions of dollars without any accountability or transparency, and to spend as much money as they want on travel and meals and other undisclosed expenses in the process. And this same group is now allowed to accept private donations, possibly from the same people who are asking for those handouts?
What could possibly go wrong?