This controversy is getting bigger in Ohio, but everyone should be questioning these “public-private partnerships” in my view, because we’re not equal partners. The private side write some very favorable accountability and transparency terms for their end:
The Republican state auditor is demanding access to financial documents, Democratic lawmakers are demanding more public scrutiny of the nonprofit JobsOhio, one Republican leader is chastising both of the former, and Gov. John Kasich is calling the whole thing a misunderstanding over a complicated issue.
Such was the status Thursday in a growing controversy over the private office that coordinates the state’s economic development programming, the millions of dollars in public funding it has received and the lack of public information on the nonprofit’s spending and donors.
“Sometimes you read things and it appears one way,” the governor told reporters Thursday. “It’s really just a little disagreement about how we should proceed. The simple fact of the matter is I favor all public money being able to be audited by our state auditor, plain and simple. … But you don’t want to go in and audit the private books of private industry by the auditor. That’s beyond his authority.”
The brouhaha focuses on JobsOhio, the nonprofit created by Kasich and lawmakers two years ago to reach out to existing companies and firms thinking about expanding into Ohio, negotiating economic incentive packages and helping to commercialize research and technologies developed at the state’s universities.
Most of JobsOhio’s dealings are conducted outside of the public spotlight, a setup supporters say is needed during business negotiations.
But documents also indicated the nonprofit has received more than $5 million in public funding, and a number of employees received six-figure salaries.
Auditor Dave Yost this week issued a subpoena seeking financial statements, “bank statements for ALL accounts,” lists of JobsOhio contributors and other documents.
The subpoena requires JobsOhio representatives to appear at the auditor’s office March 19 to turn over the documents and provide additional testimony.
“The governor and I have the same goal: to make sure JobsOhio’s money is working for the people of Ohio — creating jobs and growing this economy for our families,” Yost said. “It’s important to look at the total picture. The private bond proceeds trace directly back to the public money.”
State Rep. and Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern called JobsOhio “Gov. Kasich’s re-election slush fund” and criticized the nonprofit for being “shrouded in secrecy.”
There’s something really wrong with this. They’re setting these things up to “cut red tape” and “innovate” but what’s really happening is they’re getting around state law. The laws were put in for a reason, and it was (everyone pretend to look shocked at this next part) corruption.
This idea that states like Ohio put in disclosure laws because they sought to get in the way of “innovation” or “add red tape” is just ridiculous. That isn’t what happened. They put in sunshine and disclosure laws because they’re stewards of public money and the public has a right to to know where it’s going. If that bothers wealthy people or business entities, if they see that as an impediment they have to circumvent, I am truly sorry but that’s, you know, democracy. It’s a pain in the ass, almost by definition.
It doesn’t really matter if they commingle “donations” with public money. We’re not begging them to chip in towards our “start up” state government. Why are we being so polite and coy about this? We don’t want to insult these wealthy people and powerful business entities and question their intentions? The minute they took public money they opened themselves up to disclosure. It isn’t personal. They’re not some special, protected class of public money recipients because they put in some of their own. Hell, I didn’t even ask for it, and I don’t want it. I think it comes with strings and at a price, obviously. I want to know what they got in exchange. I want to look a gift horse in the mouth, as the saying goes. Is that so wrong and cynical and “mean” of me?