Court upholds decision against Dann
By David Skolnick
A court rejected an appeal by Marc Dann and his former campaign treasurer seeking to overturn an Ohio Elections Commission decision that they improperly used $40,610 in campaign funds for a security system at the ex-attorney general’s house.
In a 2-1 decision made Friday, the 10th District Court of Appeals in Columbus affirmed the decision of a Franklin County Common Pleas Court judge that the state elections commission correctly ruled Dann and Mary Beth Snyder broke the law.
In a Monday email to The Vindicator, Dann wrote: “We are filing for reconsideration” with the court of appeals on the decision.
The commission ruled March 19, 2009, that Dann violated elections laws by paying for a home-security system with campaign contributions.
Dann and his campaign were each fined $1,000. Snyder, the former treasurer of Dann’s political campaign fund, was fined $250.
The system was installed after Dann received threats against his life and the safety of his family. That occurred shortly after Dann, a Democrat, took office as attorney general in January 2007.
Dann and Snyder contend the Franklin County Common Pleas Court abused its discretion when it determined there was enough evidence to support the state commission’s decision that the two violated state law. The court of appeals disagreed.
Dann’s campaign spent $40,610 in campaign funds on a closed- circuit, video-monitored security system and new windows, doors and other improvements to the house in Liberty where he lived at the time.
Initially, the state paid for the security system because Dann received credible threats against his life, the 15-page court decision reads. But Dann “became concerned about the continued use of public funds to pay for the law-enforcement personnel protecting his residence,” the decision reads.
Dann decided to use campaign funds for the system. Snyder signed the checks paying for the improvements.
The court of appeals “role is confined to determining whether the court of common pleas abused its discretion,” and ruled it didn’t.
The majority decision — written by Judge William A. Klatt and supported by Judge Judith L. French — states the installation of the security system “is understandable, given the nature of the threats.” But the judges agreed with the commission that the expenditures “were not legitimate, ordinary and necessary to the duties of the state attorney general. This was a very expensive home-security system.” Also, the windows and doors “were not legitimate, ordinary and necessary to Mr. Dann’s public duties.”
In his dissent opinion, Judge Gary Tyack wrote the matter “is much more an issue of law than an issue of fact.” After the threats were made — related to Dann’s position on gambling — the state “began expending significant funds to increase the security around Dann and his family.”
Dann attempted to “reduce the burden on the state budget by finding a way to pay for the needed security with private funds” from his campaign, Judge Tyack wrote.
He added there is “simply no evidence in the record to support” claims that Dann received a financial benefit from the security upgrades because “not everything you spend on your house increases” its value.
“Unfortunately, the majority of the panel supports what to me is a clear misinterpretation of the law,” Judge Tyack wrote.
Dann resigned in May 2008, 16 months into a four-year term, after an internal-office investigation determined he ran an office filled with cronyism.
Already convicted of two ethics counts, Dann could also see his law license suspended. The Ohio Supreme Court is considering a recommendation from its disciplinary counsel to suspend Dann’s license for six months.