The Ohio Supreme Court's refusal to dismiss a lawsuit filed by state Sen. Marc Dann, D-Liberty, against Gov. Bob Taft for access to records in a state investment scandal should convince the governor that he is in a no-win situation. Even if he ultimately succeeds in a court of law, he will lose in the court of public opinion. That's because the scandal dubbed "Coingate" isn't going to go away any time soon.
The more the governor fights Dann's efforts to find out what he and his office knew about the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation investments and when they knew it, the more suspicious he looks. And that isn't good for his political legacy -- Taft will be leaving office in December 2006 -- and it certainly isn't good for the state of Ohio.
Given the $300 million in losses due to risky investments, including $13 million by rare coin dealer Tom Noe, a prominent Republican fund-raiser and a contributor to Taft and other Republican politicians, arguments about executive privilege sound shrill and desperate.
Dann isn't on a fishing expedition. What he wants is several years of weekly memos between Taft's office and the Bureau of Workers' Compensation. The governor released hundreds of pages of reports late last month, but the state senator isn't satisfied. He says some of the weekly reports from top officials at the BWC were partially blacked out, while there are no reports for some weeks.
He is also seeking a sworn statement from Taft about the failed investments.
Until this week, there was nothing to suggest that the governor had anything to do with how money from the state insurance fund for injured workers was invested. However, on Sunday, the Columbus Dispatch published a story saying that Taft had encouraged the BWC to invest in a Cleveland biotechnology firm. Although the governor had pointed to Athersys Inc. as an example of Ohio's push to compete in the high-tech global economy, the Dispatch pointed out that the company contributed $10,500 to his 2002 gubernatorial re-election campaign.
And the newspaper quoted former BWC Chief Executive Officer James Conrad as saying it was "the only time [Taft] ever called on specific investments and, to my memory, it was the only time I saw the volatile Taft anger."
It's time for the governor to stop fighting Dann on his public records request. Yes, we do believe that any written communication within the governor's office and between the governor's office and the BWC pertaining to "coingate" is in the public domain. Millions of public dollars have been lost and the taxpayers deserve to know how that happened.
Taft is facing ethics violations charges for failing to report up to 60 golf outings as governor, including one outing with rare coin dealer Noe, a Toledo resident.
And, Taft's former chief of staff, Brian Hicks, has been convicted on a charge that he failed to report vacation stays at Noe's Florida home. Hicks was fined $1,000 but avoided jail time.
"Coingate" has hit close to home and the governor would be well advised to stop erecting barriers and simply tell all.
Indeed, it would be refreshing if he would agree to being publicly deposed by Sen. Dann's lawyer. It would send a clear signal to the people of Ohio that Taft has nothing to hide.