Here at Plunderbund we pride ourselves on not being your typical “blog” and 2012 certainly saw us continuing this trend. We believe one of the keys to that success has been our original reporting. Not only have we beat the major media outlets to a good many stories this year, we’ve also lead the way with many investigative pieces. As we head into the new year, we thought we’d highlight some of the work that has helped us become one of the most influential and widely-read political blogs in Ohio.
Superintendent of Schools
In May 2011, Greg revealed that then-Interim Superintendent of Schools Stan Heffner had a serious conflict of interest when he gave testimony in favor of teacher restesting provisions that would financially benefit the company at which he’d just been hired. In July we filed an ethics complaint against Heffner and later that same month State Rep Debbie Phillips filed a similar complaint with the IG’s office. This August the Inspector General finally reported on the investigation, concluding that Heffner (now the Superintendent of Schools) had committed “wrongful acts” just as Greg had written. Heffner resigned two days later.
Greg’s estimates for teacher retesting costs, also published in 2011, got new life in 2012 – even if they were wrongly attributed to the Ohio Department of Eduction.
Kasich Appointee Selling Access to State Development Officials
In October we broke the story of James Leftwich, Kasich’s former Development Director, being paid a six-figure salary by the state as an adviser to Kasich WHILE working as a private consultant for a school that is receiving funding from the Department of Development. Later that same day, we were also the first to report the story of Mark Kvamme quitting JobsOhio…coincidence? Leftwich resigned from the state two days after our report.
The following month we reported that the situation was even worse than we originally predicted, with Leftwich likely selling access to his co-workers at other state development organizations while personally profiting to the tune of $20K/month from his private contracting gig.
The case has been referred to the Inspector General for investigation. Assuming the IG doesn’t half-ass this one for political reasons, we expect this to be one of our big stories of 2013 as well.
Highway Patrol at Private Prisons
During the rush to sell off one of Ohio’s prisons, the Kasich Administration forgot one tiny detail: the Ohio Highway Patrol – which typically conducts investigations at Ohio’s state prisons – does not have the authority to operate on private property. And letting troopers operate outside of their jurisdiction would put them at personal risk of litigation.
We had been reporting on the problem since 2011 when the sale was first proposed and in May we revealed public records showing Jim Canepa (head attorney at the Ohio Department of Public Safety) had ignored the legal advice of multiple state government attorneys while attempting to circumvent existing law to allow troopers to operate the newly-privatized prison.
Additional records showed that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine had overturned the legal decisions of two long-time AG office attorneys – including the Opinions section chief and an assistance attorney general – in issuing a highly-partisan and completely erroneous opinion that troopers could continue to operate at private prisons. State law was later changed to allow a specific exception for the one private prison.
With all eyes on Ohio during the presidential race, it should be no surprise that our voting-related stories were some of the most read of the year, many receiving national attention on shows like Rachel Maddow.
One of year’s most widely read posts was about intimidating billboards posted around the state in African American communities. But we also broke two stories about other intimidation attempts by the Tea Party-related group True The Vote. Members of the group claim they want to make the experience of voting like “driving and seeing the police following you.” We were the first to report on True the Vote members attempting to get hundreds of Ohio State University students kicked off the voting roles in Franklin County. We also broke the story about the same group using “forged” signatures to get True the Vote’s observers into polling places in Ohio.
Thankfully the students were able to vote and the observers were banned from the polls.
We were also the only outlet to report the cost of outside legal counsel hired to handle voting-related lawsuits for Secretary of State Jon Husted, as well as Husted’s suggestion that Ohio might consider assigning electoral votes by congressional district.
The Turnpike was a major political issue this year and we were the only outlet to report that Kasich was paying nearly $200,000 to a PR and Marketing company to help sell Ohioans on his plan. The administration later refused to answer questions about the PR firm when asked by other reporters.
We also reported on some of the behind the scenes action that was taking place during the planning process, including the fact that ODOT leadership seemed to believe a takeover was coming and turnpike employees would be fired. We also predicted Kasich would limit toll increases for trips shorter than 30 miles.
Many of our original reporting results from public records obtained from public officials around the state. Earlier this year we hit a snag when a simple record request filed with Treasurer Josh Mandel’s office was simply ignored illegally by him and his staff. We ended up filing a complaint with the Ohio Supreme Court and earlier this month we settled the claim, receiving damages and other costs as well as all the requested records.
Other 2012 Stories
- We uncovered the costs of Kasich’s staff cell phone bills: $23,000.
- We discovered that no Ohioan had actually asked Attorney General Mike DeWine to join a contraception lawsuit on their behalf. But many were very unhappy with the choice.
- We were the first report about and publish this detailed ethics complaint against Kasich and his allies over intimidation and abuses during the fight for control of the Ohio Republican Central Committee.
- We were also the first to publish the full text of an ethics complaint against a former Josh Mandel staffer-turned-lobbyist Joel Riter.
- We revealed that Oil and Gas industry lobbyists helped Kasich write his fracking legislation.
- We were the first to report the biography of Stanley Jackson, the former OSU football player Kasich appointed to the school board. Other news outlets quickly picked up our coverage.
- We were the first to report on Nina Turner’s bill to require men seeking a prescription for Viaga to get “a signed affadavit from at least one sex partner confirming the man has indeed experienced the symptoms of impotence in the past 90 days.”
- We revealed that Kasich-appointed Ohio School Board member C. Todd Jones was sending nasty letters to Plunderbund readers.
- And we first reported on self-proclaimed fiscal conservative Ron Hood being sued by multiple credit card companies for massive, unpaid credit card debt.
I’m sure we missed a few in this list, but I think you get the point.
As Eric pointed out in yesterday’s Year End Review post, 2012 was an amazing year and 2013 looks like it will be even better. We owe it all to our amazing team of writers and our wonderful readers.
We hope everyone will stick around because we’re just getting started!