Depending on your source for news, the embarrassing and allegedly illegal personnel fiasco first revealed by Plunderbund—through a public records request revealing the falsification of records by Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor’s top aides who were both receiving personal care services and working on the state clock to reelect their bosses Kasich and Taylor to a second term—may not make the cut for some news reports or official reports.
The findings of Ohio Inspector General Randy Meyer, related to what Lt. Gov. Taylor’s chief of staff and her aide did on state time, is either an isolated situation or a practice that goes further, as one seasoned investigative reporter thinks.
The Watchdog Defused The Bomb
In a recent editorial titled “IG dropped the ball,” The Columbus Dispatch did more than fall short in its admonition of violators Laura Johnson and Health Brandt and their boss’s poor management, it showed how toothless the paper can be when a governor they’ve defended year after year, through thick and thin, comes into the focus as a person of interest. But opening this can of worms, by calling for a deeper dive, can also topple the governor’s shaky, and likely last run for president. The paper’s alliance and allegiance to Gov. Kasich is in plain view, just as Plunderbund works to counterweight with equally relevant facts, reporting and commentary. This helps explain why the editorial written on the IG’s report was so weak in light of illegal activities that warrant a prosecutor, not a glancing blow.
“Now it indeed looks bad,” The Dispatch wrote. “In addition to using company time to attend to hair and nail appointments, Johnson apparently did work on the re-election campaign of Gov. John Kasich and Taylor while on the clock for her state job, a very clear legal no-no. That fact was reported by the newspaper, but wasn’t included in Inspector General Randy J. Meyer’s report, making it appear as though Meyer might have intentionally overlooked the matter to protect Taylor and the Kasich administration.”
The Dispatch got the first part right, but dropped the ball after that. The legacy newspaper that was recently sold for hundreds of millions less than it once was worth not long ago, appears to have partnered with The Cleveland Plain Dealer, which only publishes a few days a week, as gubernatorial sycophants. Reporting on state strikes at lower officials who have committed lesser offenses, but maybe more sensational ones, makes good copy. They’ve shown over time they’ll go the extra mile to drill down on a specific issue, then prod public bodies to make correction or promulgate new law. Highly prized awards for investigative reporting are sought after.
From day one of John Kasich’s first term in 2011 until now, the Columbus paper has been in the governor’s corner through thick and thin. It’s constantly defended or justified his misguided policy agenda in Columbus. It now appears to have recovered a big Kasich fumble instead of calling for prosecution of clear violations of state law that any half-way engaged county prosecutor could easily use to bring violators, and maybe their bosses, to justice.
The Dispatch could have joined The Ohio Democratic Party and Common Cause-Ohio by calling for an outside investigation into the illegal activities. Complaining but not calling for action on this or other Kasich Administration screw ups further enforces the wide spread belief that Ohio’s so-called “Greatest Home Newspaper” is using its shield to protect Camp Kasich from revealing what it knew, and when it knew it.
“There have been plenty of examples of infractions greater than Johnson’s in local and state government: well-connected people being given ‘no-show’ jobs; state lawmakers accepting bribes; former deputy state treasurer Amer Ahmad running a kickback scheme. All involved greater amounts of money and influence-peddling rather than just playing hooky to the tune of a few thousand dollars” the editorial of Nov. 5 said. “But abuse of public trust is a serious matter no matter what the scale, and Meyer should have flagged it all.”
Really, Safeguarding Integrity In State Government?
Well, Mr. Meyer didn’t, and for good reason, according to an independent investigator who offered a perspective on the state IG walking away from matters that would explode John Kasich’s campaign for president were it pursued as it should be by a county prosecutor willing to take on criminal activity when it comes into plain sight. Right now, that prosecutor, Republican Ron O’Brien, is MIA.
My seasoned source with years of investigative reporting experience helps deconstruct the information Plunderbund first uncovered that the Dispatch editorial let fly off its radar.
Mr. Meyer previously worked for Mary Taylor before Gov. Kasich appointed him Inspector General. He managed a criminal investigation toward the least politically harmful outcome for his two big patrons, my source believes. “What the Dispatch called ‘a very clear legal no-no,’ is more accurately described as a multi-count crime,” I was told via email. Requesting anonymity for fear of retaliation by Camp Kasich, which is well known for exacting retribution on those who don’t play ball with it, my source likened Meyer’s role in covering for Kasich-Taylor to the role John Mitchell filled as the campaign loyalist turned Attorney General for President Richard M. Nixon.
Soon after his appointment to the job by Gov. Kasich, Mr. Meyer was caught attending a Republican Party fund raiser. Headlines but nothing else came from it, as statehouse reporters let it slide. What should have mattered to The Dispatch, the additional crimes of campaigning on the clock, didn’t make the IG report. John Mitchell of Watergate fame went to prison for obstruction of justice. My source believes Ohio’s IG is likely guilty of the same crime. Mr. Meyers risk of a similar outcome “is low given the see-no-political-evil prosecutor’s office of Ron O’Brien.”
Little fish like low-level state employees using a personal computer for personal are the catch of the day for Messrs. O’Brien and Meyer, who dare not ask any questions about the theft in office of being paid for work that didn’t occur along with politicking on state time.
“The fraudulent records required to get that pay and the further illegal activity of working on the Kasich-Taylor campaign while subsidized by the taxpayers are much more than a political embarrassment, they are crimes that should be prosecuted without exception,” I was told. “This prosecutorial discretion is driven by the desire to make sure other illegalities are not revealed,” I was told. The real fear from the fallout is a trial would force testimony under oath by the Lt. Governor, and many other Kasich staffers.
Gov. Kasich, having now been elected twice, is term limited. Mary Taylor, his running mate, is gearing up for the governor’s race in 2018. She’ll face other Republicans like Secretary of State Jon Husted and Attorney General Mike DeWine who also covert the high office.
So why the shortfall in investigating clear violations of law that others have been prosecuted for in the past? Simple, my source says, “Taylor knew many other on the Kasich staff were stealing from the taxpayers through state subsidized campaign work. “It’s surely revealing that a large contingent of key Kasich staff have taken a leave of absence from their important public duties to campaign for Kasich’ presidential bid.”
For history buffs, last year offered some important clues about how Gov. Kasich and his team work in the shadows. Gov. Kasich’s campaign team was simultaneously pursuing a scheme to disqualify Libertarian candidate Charles Earl from the ballot, with methods that smack of conspiracy and perjury in Federal District Court. Convicted political finance fraudster, Terry Casey, a long time friend and political operative of John Kasich’s, claimed he acted alone to initiate a case against Mr. Earl. The Ohio Republican Party paid a bill of $600,000 or more to Mr. Casey, who ran up the bull with GOP power-broker lawyer, John Zieger, who coincidentally has worked for The Columbus Dispatch. My investigative source alleges that Zieger either suborned perjury or extended Casey extraordinary credit, as Casey testified under oath that he acted alone without foreknowledge or partnership of the state Republican party. If Casey really acted alone, my source opines, he [Casey] would have needed to mortgage his house to do it, but instead he was given extraordinary courtesy by attorney Zieger.
Let it not be forgotten that Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges, the man who paid Casey’s bill, is also a convicted public corruption offender, having traded campaign cash under one-time state Treasurer Joe Deters for tens of millions in state investment fund management. And remember, the effective appointing authority for Terry Casey to Chair of the State Board of Personnel Review, and Mr. Borges to head the state GOP is the same person, Ohio’s 69th Governor, John Kasich.
Ethics is only a weapon to use against opposing campaigns for each of these men, my source wrote, based on years of watching politics from the inside and outside. Guilty pleas to political corruption crimes by Messrs. Casey and Borges did not damage their careers, quite the opposite in fact, it helped them earn a spot on Team Kasich.
Why didn’t Mr. Meyer want to know who else in the Kasich Administration knew about this illegal political activity? The facts uncovered by Plunderbund forced the IG to investigate even though he would have just as well let it all disappear had The Dispatch and other Ohio newspapers not written about it.
“If Randy Meyer did his job for taxpayers he would have questioned everyone in the political meetings Laura Johnson attended,” I was told. Meyer should have put people under oath on the extent of their knowledge of the crime Taylor’s staffers were committing. In addition, the IG should have cross-checked the pay status of every state employee shown on the activity logs of the Kasich campaign, but he didn’t. Important to my source is the lack of outrage in the Kasich administration over Laura Johnson’s clear crime. How is this explained? The best answer is that “the high odds that she wasn’t the only person committing this crime and opening this line of investigation would have shown a pattern of activity indicating either lax management or criminal intent at the very top of Ohio government.”
Randy Meyer’s job is protected by keeping the Kasich administration from producing more Casey, Borges corruption convictions. “Randy Meyer didn’t drop the ball, he defused the bomb,” my investigator said. “Unless the FBI public integrity unit now working in Columbus is capable of doing something besides taking statements from disgruntled Redflex employees and taking bows as if they broke a case, Meyer has nothing to fear except a limp little hand slap from a Dispatch editorial that was as convoluted in it’s own special way as the Meyer investigation it criticized.”
It’s a federal crime for a public official at any level of government to withhold the full benefit of their service. And “it’s beyond dispute that Randy Meyer performed an investigation that would have made John Mitchell proud,” my source said. The FBI Public Integrity Unit, which is supposed to catch this sort of thing, has yet to prove it’s up to the job.
For those of us of a certain age, it seems like yesterday that a couple of low-level reporters working for the Washington Post got on their gum-shoes and hit the bricks in an effort to dive into a small burglary at the Watergate in Washington D.C. The work of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to figure out the burglary of the national Democrat Party headquarters by people wearing suits eventually led to the resignation of President Nixon, as many of his top staff earning jail time for their illegal deeds.
Do all politicians in power do this? Some think so, saying the practice knows no party boundary. Bill and Hillary Clinton have long been crittizied for corruption in office, but both are still standing despite decades of allegation, and one may actually find themselves in the White House next year.
That’s no reason, though, for a major newspaper like The Columbus Dispatch to go in the recovery tank for Gov. Kasich and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor. Instead of fretting about it, the paper with new owners should have called for further investigation and even undertaken it’s own investigative reporting series, as it has done with regularity on other topics and other individuals. More investigation would surely reveal the extent to which Camp Kasich was willing to go to guarantee a big win last year, in advance of Gov. Kasich hitting the trail for president this year and next.
Except for the fact that he’s not connecting with voters who come to dislike him once they learn more about him, Gov. Kasich is enjoying his time in the limelight in New Hampshire and other early primary states. He knows from experience that Fourth Estate establishments like the venerated Dispatch and The Cleveland Plain Dealer won’t do their jobs anymore.
That responsibility, it seems, has fallen to the new keepers of the Fifth Estate torch like Plunderbund.