Soon after taking office in 2011, Ohio Governor John Kasich’s office released an “internal only” contact list containing the private email addresses and phone numbers of all office staff. The document was stamped “Confidential” and “Do Not Distribute.” Kasich’s office has refused to release an unredacted version of the document – but we were able to find ourselves a copy anyway. And what we found was a least one Kasich staffer using the same personal email account listed on the contact list for a great deal of state business.
Our concern about the secret document should be obvious: governor’s office staff communication sent via Gmail or Yahoo or AOL accounts are not preserved on government servers and are not included in responses to public record requests unless the requester specifically asks for emails from those personal accounts. Even then, there’s no way to know if certain emails have been deleted by the staffer.
It appears we weren’t far off.
Last year we set off with a goal to gather documents related to then-Press Secretary Rob Nichols’ decision to blacklist Ohio Reporter John Michael Spinelli. Nichols had previously threatened Spinelli over a Pinterest post. “If you want to stand by this,” wrote Nichols, “you will never talk to the governor again.” Nichols later removed Spinelli from his press distribution list and revoked his credentials to John Kasich’s last state of the state speech.
After months of requesting records and fighting through the standard roadblocks and delays, we eventually received records from multiple state agencies including the Kasich Administration, which finally released a small set of personal emails sent and received by Rob Nichols on his personal Yahoo account.
In one set of records we discovered Nichols joking with a house staffer about notifying Spinelli that he would have his credentials revoked. Both Nichols and House Press Secretary Britanny Warner were using their personal email accounts (Yahoo and Gmail) during the exchange.
In another email exchange, Nichols was told to ignore an inquiry from Watchdog Ohio Reporter Jason Hart by Kasich’s Legislative Affairs Director Merle Madrid. Hart was attempting to get input from the governor’s office on a report from Opportunity Ohio related to oil production numbers in Ohio. Nichols joked that his response should be: “We typically don’t provide secretly funded blogs with react to secretly funding studies.”
On January 5th, 2015 a Columbus Dispatch reporter emailed Nichols asking for comment on a story about contract negotiations with state employees, specifically OCSEA. (Plunderbund had been covering the story for awhile.) Nichols refused to comment and “jokingly” threatened to pull the reporter’s access to the governor: “Don’t get all crabby with me before we’re even sworn in for 2nd term, or it’s going to be a long 4 years for you following up on stories Spinelli breaks.”
In August, 2015 Nichols left his position with the governor’s office and went to work for Kasich’s presidential campaign. A month earlier, the husband of Kasich’s chief of staff resigned from his job with the Ohio Department of Education after it was discovered he falsified information on a state report about charter schools.
Plunderbund has obtained emails sent by Mr. Hansen showing he was also using his personal email account to conduct state business. For over four months now the Ohio Department of Education has failed to release Mr. Hansen’s personal emails related to the charter report scandal.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s staff organized an “inner circle” of private email accounts and secret wifi networks when he was a county executive. Six people were convicted in that scandal.
Is a similar scandal ready to be uncovered in Kasich’s office?
Probably, unless the Yahoo and Gmail messages haven’t already been deleted.