Laura Bischoff and Meagan Pant have a great piece in today’s Dayton Daily News that confirms the stories we broke about James Leftwich over the past two months, and adds some new information about Leftwich’s ties to the Kasich Administration and the Ohio Third Frontier Commission.
On October 2nd, we revealed that Kasich appointee James Leftwich was working for the Ohio Department of Development while running a private consulting company under contract with Wright State University (WSU), a recipient of Development funds.
On November 10th, we broke the news that Leftwich was making $20K per month from his contract with Wright State and that he was likely using his position at Development to sell WSU access to his coworkers at JobsOhio and the Ohio Third Frontier fund. Leftwich was not only working with Wright State to help develop start up companies in which he would be 25% owner, he was planning to do it with state money from Ohio’s Third Frontier fund.
The DDN piece makes another shocking revelation: John Kasich appointed Leftwich to the Ohio Third Frontier Commission while Leftwich was seeking funds from the commission on behalf of his client.
The Governor’s office claims Leftwich didn’t tell them he was working for Wright State when they appointed him to the Third Frontier Commission, so it’s not clear if Leftwich lied about having a contract with Wright State or if the administration just failed to ask. This seems like the very first question any competent administration would ask before appointing someone responsible for doling out millions in state development dollars.
One of the most unfortunate parts of this deception by Leftwich, and lack of proper vetting by the Kasich administration, is that funding for Wright State will now likely be impacted. Regardless of the quality or viability of WSU’s research, any funding request will now be tainted by Kasich and Leftwich’s failures and nearly impossible to fulfill without causing huge political fallout.
The DDN piece also confirms that Leftwich’s work with Development was well known within the Kasich administration. Leftwich was hired at the request of “Kasich’s top policy advisor” Wayne Struble and “the decision to hire Leftwich was widely known by senior managers, including Department [of Development] Director Chris Schmenk, who supervised Leftwich.”
But the most revealing statement of the DDN piece comes when Kasich Spokesman Rob Nichols is asked what duties Leftwich had been performing for the governor. Nichols refuses to answer, claiming it was a “trade secret” that cannot be disclosed.
It’s clear the Kasich administration is going to do everything they can to distance themselves from Leftwich, including throwing him under the bus if necessary, but it also seems clear that they will likely learn nothing from this entire fiasco.
From the beginning we have aggressively questioned the Kasich Administration’s claims that their development efforts need to be free from transparency and accountability requirements to protect trade secrets. We warned the unchecked power of development efforts like JobsOhio could be used to hide the actions of public officials abusing their positions for personal gain, which is exactly what Leftwich appears to have done.
The only reason we know about Leftwich and his likely ethics violations is the fact that he worked as an employee of the Department of Development and not for JobsOhio. If Leftwich had been with JobsOhio or hired as a consultant, the way Kasich’s office had originally intended, he would not have been held to the same ethics rules as a state employee and any records related to his employment would have been exempt from public record laws. Leftwich could have continued working for Wright State and the state of Ohio without receiving any public or private scrutiny.
Nichols’ “trade secret” comments clearly show Kasich has learned nothing about the dangers of entrusting hundreds of millions in state development dollars to people who have no oversight and no public disclosure requirements. Instead, Kasich’s team appears to be hunting for someone else to blame – in this case Department of Development employees who are no longer with the agency – while refusing to release any information on Leftwich’s responsibilities while working for Kasich.
We know Leftwich was hired at Kasich’s request. And he was supposed to working on projects of Kasich’s determination. If Kasich’s team failed to oversee Leftwich’s work and failed to follow up to ensure he wasn’t abusing state resources or using his position to personally profit – then that’s on Kasich. And it appears this is exactly what Leftwich was doing.
The Development Services Agency (the new name of the Department of Development) confirms that they not only fired Leftwich (three days after our original post ran) but also that the matter has been referred to the Ohio Ethics Commission.
Make no mistake, this IS going to blow up into a huge scandal and it will absolutely ensnare other members of the Kasich administration.
And we fully expect the only thing Kasich will take away from this incident is a renewed vigor get JobsOhio up and running so he can hide this type of behavior from the public and prevent similar public scandals in the future.