By Marc Kovac
The Ohio House approved legislation to increase penalties against public officials who use public funding to support election campaigns.
House Bill 326 passed by a vote of 88-2 Tuesday and heads to the Ohio Senate for further consideration.
The legislation has the backing of state Auditor Dave Yost and Secretary of State Jon Husted, both Republicans. It came in response, in part, to an audit by Yost’s office that identified improper spending by the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority.
According to the audit, that office illegally loaned nearly $67,000 to a political-action committee promoting a levy to support TARTA.
Under Ohio law, such outlays are prohibited. State law, however, provides only for the reimbursement of the public funds, with no further penalties for those involved.
Under HB 326, public officials who use public funding to support election campaigns could face misdemeanor criminal charges.
“House Bill 326 will protect taxpayer dollars, making certain that those monies provide government services, not serve political interests,” said Rep. Jeffrey McClain, a Republican from Upper Sandusky and primary sponsor of the legislation.
Rep. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th, attempted to amend the legislation to add a provision allowing recall elections for state officeholders.
“It’s just another tool that brings people back to government,” said Hagan, who earlier introduced the contents of the amendment in separate legislation. “People are not happy with all of us.”
The amendment failed, however.