As the criminal trial of Ohio Republican Party mover and shaker Tom Noe unfolds, we're confident of one thing: There will be no evidence tying Marc Dann, the Democratic nominee for state attorney general, to Noe.
We can't say the same about Betty Montgomery, the Republican nominee for attorney general. Montgomery, currently state auditor and a former attorney general, has acknowledged a long-standing friendship with the man who hobnobbed with President Bush, Gov. Bob Taft and other high-ranking Republicans on the national and state levels.
But today, Noe, a rare coin dealer from Toledo, represents the worst of the pay-to-play culture that has permeated state government under Republican control.
He is accused of stealing Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation money that was funneled to him to invest in rare coins in 1998 and 2001. A total of 50 million made its way from the public treasury to Noe, of which 2.75 million was redirected into his personal accounts.
He is on trial in Toledo on state charges of theft, money laundering, forgery and corrupt activity. Noe's lawyers have said that their client had the right to use the BWC money in whatever way he saw fit under the contract he had with the state.
In addition, Noe has said that key Republicans knew what he was doing.
Therein lies the issue: Who knew? Or, at the very least, who had heard rumblings of this Republican player and key fund-raiser securing a sweetheart deal with the BWC?
And, once the details of the investment scam became known, did Republicans in positions of authority do all they could to pull the plug?
Montgomery, as state auditor, insists that she acted quickly once she found out that public dollars had been used to buy rare coins and that some of the coins could not be found.
But Dann, state senator from Liberty Township, whose dogged pursuit of the investment scheme known as coingate has put him in the public spotlight throughout the state, insists that Montgomery was less than aggressive in her pursuit of coingate because of her friendship with Noe.
Thus the dilemma for the voters of Ohio and for the editorial board of The Vindicator.
Given that Noe's trial will run through the Nov. 7 general election, and given that the rare coin dealer is expected to take the stand and say that his investment contract was common knowledge among Republicans, this question looms: Could Montgomery be implicated in any way?
Our inability to respond with an unequivocal "no" leads us to the conclusion that an endorsement of Montgomery would be too risky.
There is no doubt that she is qualified to be attorney general and on paper is better prepared than Dann, who served on the Liberty Board of Education before going to the Senate. He also is in the private practice of law.
The sanction he received from the Ohio Supreme Court for not adequately representing a client does give us pause, but we have been impressed by his commitment to not only get to the bottom of the investment scam, but to expose the pay-to-play culture that has marked state government under the Republicans.
The Vindicator endorses Dann in the hope that he will continue to be the watchdog of state government and will use his position as Ohio's lawyer to uncover corruption wherever it may exist and to go after lawbreakers, regardless of party.