If Ohio citizens thought that state media were having a field day reporting about the demise of ECOT, the notorious and very dead online school, the former behemoth’s former spokesman was quick to add his own perspective about the decaying charter carcass. And then some.

“I think most of this is made-up, ridiculous attempts to abuse a corpse,” Neil Clark said.

It was a deft choice of words for Clark, who a few years back famously referred to school districts as “government schools” while he championed an ECOT monster that ravenously consumed government funds as it tried to masquerade as a public school performing a societal purpose.

With charter school proponents, there is an amount of irony in the spin term called school choice and which pro-public education folks call school privatization. Indeed, the stiff ECOT corpse will be remembered for how it stiffed Ohio taxpayers by not breathing long enough to return the millions of dollars of overpayments due the state treasury.

But then again, maybe it might be more accurate to say that before its corpse phase, it was in fact ECOT which abused the taxpayers for nearly two decades. Which brings us back to the controversy surrounding the sudden resignation of Cliff Rosenberger as Ohio’s Speaker of the House.

Bischoff – Dayton Daily News

The headlines about Rosenberger seem to be centered about questions regarding overseas trips the former Speaker took that were paid by the payday lender lobby. In the case of one of those trips, the Columbus Dispatch reported, Rosenberger had some company in the form of legislators from other states:

… [Rosenberger’s] friend Wisconsin Speaker Robin Vos and Michigan Speaker Tom Leonard, also Republicans, faced questions from reporters in their states about their participation in the trip, Dispatch reporter Jim Siegel notes.

Sources have said the FBI is questioning the payday lending industry’s involvement in the trip. Vos and Leonard, like Rosenberger, said they did nothing improper, according to media reports.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said that Vos has sponsored measures to loosen state regulations for payday and closely related title loans, businesses that critics say charge high rates and trap low-income borrowers in cycles of debt.

Sigh. Republican scandals are so predictable. They’re usually about money, privatization of public services – and, of course, deregulation.

Before he left on the series of overseas junkets to China, France, and the UK that sealed his doom, Rosenberger pocketed $36,843 in campaign contributions from ECOT and its founder, William Lager. In 2016, the former speaker served as the commencement speaker for the now-closed charter school in the midst of the Ohio Department of Education audit controversy which ultimately brought down the ECOT empire.

While all of the current attention about Rosenberger seems to focus on payday lending and foreign travel, there has been zero commentary about a previous all-expense foreign junket the former speaker and several of his fellow Republican legislative colleagues enjoyed just prior to his election as leader of the Ohio House.

Beeler- Columbus Dispatch

Two articles first reported in Plunderbund three years ago might prove to be prophetic in providing insight into Rosenberger’s current problems with international travel, possible conflicts-of-interest, and the influence on legislation that lobbyists bring in their bag of tricks.

The first, “Should Scrutiny of Legislative Foreign Travel Be Part of Needed Charter School Reform?” told the story of a private, non-profit foundation affiliated with the Gulen charter school chain that paid for trips by legislators in states where charters linked to Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen operated through receipt of public education funds diverted from school districts under the guise of school choice. Cliff Rosenberger was one of those legislators who was offered free travel by the Gulen-affiliated organization.

A second Plunderbund article, “Politicians, Overseas Junkets and Charter Schools,” published in November 2015, expanded on the issue of free trips that served to favorably influence legislators about the presence of a chain of charter schools that have ties to the international Gulen Movement. Our loyal readers are encouraged to review these two articles to gain some additional perspective on the Rosenberger controversy that also touches on the largesse of people like Lager that use campaign contributions and non-profit groups like the Gulen-affiliated Niagara Foundation to create a climate favorable to the privatization of public education.

Central to the issues raised in the 2015 Plunderbund articles and continuing with the recently reported payday lender junkets is this section of the Ohio Ethics Law:

No public official shall use a position of authority or influence or office to secure anything of value or the promise or offer of anything of value that may manifest a substantial and improper influence with respect to his/her duties. R.C. 102.03(D)

As Ohio citizens follow the progress of the ongoing FBI investigation into the activities of the former speaker and his possible ties with payday lender lobbyists, we must also wonder about the status of the FBI raids on 19 Gulen charter schools in the United States, three of which operate in Ohio.

Rosenberger, as we have seen, also accepted free travel from a foundation affiliated with these charter schools. Perhaps the activities of the payday lender junkets might serve to renew interest on the practice of charter-affiliated organizations offering all-expense paid international trips as things of value that may provide a substantial and improper influence on legislators who are supposed to provide oversight for these publicly funded and privately operated schools.

In an article published five years ago in the Northern Plains Ethics Journal, North Dakota staff attorney John Olsrud offered this helpful observation for evaluating “anything of value” offered to legislators that might be a “substantial and improper influence” with respect to their duties:

Perhaps the reason we have no one in jail is because legislators write their own ethics laws and rules, and care is taken to make sure nothing is done to disturb the cozy relationship between legislators and lobbyists.

My concern is with private trips paid for by people and corporations seeking favors from legislators. It should be understood that lobbyists do not directly pay for trips by legislators. That would require a full report and the public might be upset. Instead, in order to make it impossible to follow the money on trips paid for by lobbyists, corporations launder their money through innocent-sounding nonprofit entities.

(The ethics attorney added this additional note: “Ever heard of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) or the State Legislative Leaders Foundation (SLLF)”? More on ALEC at another time.

A final irony about international travel offered to legislators as well as other charter school players was provided to Plunderbund readers back in May 2015:

Since we have been talking about ethics law and regulation, it should be understood that the very people who write and enact such laws should start leading by example. For the very people who champion these so-called schools of choice by the creation of law and regulation, there is no other choice.

Yes, so far no one is in jail for accepting lavish all-expense paid foreign travel offered by non-profit foundations and lobbyists whose clients operate charter school chains in Ohio and elsewhere. The same can be said for those who accept campaign contributions from charter school moguls, with the profits from these privately operated schools derived from public funds otherwise diverted from public school districts.

It’s regrettable that headlines about international junkets offered by payday lenders that wind up being investigated by the FBI seem to get the only attention these days. Can anyone imagine similar headlines with “FBI” and “charter school international junkets” in the title resulting in the fall of powerful politicians?

But then, as John Olsrud pointedly observed, “Perhaps the reason we have no one in jail is because legislators write their own ethics laws and rules.”

 

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