October 23, 2014

Elyria
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State threatens charges against lobbyists

COLUMBUS — Some Statehouse lobbyists and their employers who were among a record number of people who failed to disclose the perks they’re giving lawmakers still have not sent in reports or paid fines.
So the state’s chief enforcer of lobbying laws is warning them they could face criminal charges.
In March, Legislative Inspector General Tony Bledsoe sent a certified letter to 660 lobbyists and employers who missed a reporting deadline last year.
Most have replied, but 41 employers and 20 lobbyists did not, prompting Bledsoe to assess fines of $100 to $600 each, depending on the number of filing deadlines missed and whether they lobby both the executive and legislative branches.
The number of fines is the most his office has ever assessed after its annual examination of filings, Bledsoe said Friday. Usually about 20 lobbyists or employers fail to send in the proper disclosures and receive fines, he said.
Bledsoe is giving the remaining lobbyists two weeks to pay the fines and update their records. If not, he’ll forward names to Attorney General Marc Dann.
Dann has the option of recommending that the Franklin County prosecutor charge the violators with misdemeanor failure to file their financial disclosure statements.
The disclosure reports, which detail how much lobbyists are spending on government officials, are required three times a year.
“These statutes are in place for a reason, for public disclosure,” Bledsoe said. “If we don’t take whatever steps are available to us to ensure that disclosure, we’re undermining the public confidence in the process.”
Mike Toman, president of the Ohio Lobbying Association, said his group is working with Bledsoe.
“I don’t know what else he can do with the folks he has left,” Toman said of Bledsoe’s latest action. “I can’t complain. If they got the certified letter, they’ve got no excuse.”
Disclosure statements have figured prominently in recent ethics scandals.
Amid a scandal over mishandled state investments, former Gov. Bob Taft found he had failed to report golf outings and other gifts on his financial disclosure forms. He pleaded no contest to ethics charges in 2005 and was fined $4,000.