Gov. Bob Taft is standing firm on his contention that he did not know about the millions of dollars the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation had lost as a result of investments in high-risk instruments such as coins and hedge funds. Thus far, there has been no evidence to suggest otherwise.
But the more Taft, a Republican, fights requests from state Sen. Marc Dann, D-Liberty, and the press for the weekly reports between the governor's office and former BWC CEO James Conrad, the less the public will be willing to take his word as gospel.
Indeed, while Taft has not been directly linked to the scandal commonly referred to as "coingate," he is the subject of an ethics commission investigation stemming from his admission that he failed to declare on his annual financial disclosure statements that he was a guest at golf outings. The Toledo Blade newspaper, which broke the story of BWC's funds being invested in rare coins, reported that one of the individuals who played golf with the governor was Tom Noe. Noe's Toledo-based rare coins company was given $50 million by the BWC to invest, and the Blade revealed that at least $13 million of that amount has been lost.
Noe is one of the prime targets of the various investigations that have been launched to determine what happened to the coins that cannot be accounted for and whether the prominent Republican campaign contributor and fund-raiser was given special treatment by any state officials.
Against that backdrop, the governor's refusal to release the reports sought by Dann and reporters does raise eyebrows -- when none need be raised. Having his chief legal counsel issue an opinion based on "executive privilege" and "deliberative process privileges" makes this issue much more complicated than it should be.
No one is asking Taft to release all written communication between his office and the heads of all state agencies and offices. In fact, what is being sought is very specific and relates only to the BWC investment scandal.
Before he resigned, Conrad revealed that he had sent an e-mail to Jim Samuel, the governor's executive assistant at the time, in which he detailed some of BWC's losses. In addition to the $13 million missing from the portfolio managed by Noe, there are reports that $300 million has been lost from hedge fund investments. It should be pointed out that the BWC has $15 billion invested in various funds, most of them conservative, and that despite the losses the agency is still making money.
Samuel, who is now working in the Ohio Department of Taxation, has acknowledged receiving the e-mail from Conrad regarding the investment losses, but says he cannot recall whether he forwarded it to the governor's chief of staff or anyone else in the executive suite.
Given this uncertainty, Taft should set aside his chief counsel's concern about executive privilege and hand over whatever pertinent documents may exist that would shed light on this very important issue.
Forcing Dann to file a lawsuit to secure documents that, in our opinion, fall under the public records provision is ill-advised and shortsighted. Stonewalling is never a good thing -- especially when allegations of pay-to-play in Republican-dominated state government are being borne out on an almost daily basis.