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Published: Monday, 7/3/2006

Conduits' ethical lapse

While four prominent local Republican politicians have been convicted on ethics charges related to Tom Noe's scheme to funnel $45,400 illegally to President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign, the list could have been - and should have been - a lot longer.

Pleading no contest in Toledo Municipal Court were a veritable who's who of GOP political activists in Lucas County in recent years, namely Maggie Thurber, an incumbent county commissioner; Betty Shultz, a member of Toledo City Council; former mayor Donna Owens, and Sally Perz, ex-chairman of the party's county organization and a former state representative.

All four were convicted of failing to file state ethics forms disclosing as gifts money that Noe had given them, which then was forwarded illegally to the Bush campaign.

And all four either hold or have held elected office and together have nearly a century of experience in the public arena.

So none of them is a political neophyte. They've been involved in elected and/or appointed public office for a long time, so long that they ignored or forgot their obligations under the law. Most notably, Ms. Perz was believed by investigators in the current case to have illegally contributed $2,500 to Gov. Bob Taft through Noe in 2002, but they did not pursue charges.

It's important to remember that an additional 20 people had been identified by authorities as having served as similar "conduits" for Noe, the former Monclova Township coin dealer, who himself awaits sentencing after pleading guilty for his role as gatekeeper of the campaign cash pipeline.

The other 20, who include Ms. Perz's daughter, Allison, were not charged, apparently because they were given immunity in exchange for testimony that helped to build the case against Noe. They also were not public officials obligated to file ethics disclosure forms, a circumstance that provided a hook to snag the four on state charges.

That does not mean, however, that this Gang of 20 did nothing wrong. On the contrary, it would seem at least some were willing cogs in Noe's illegal operation and could have been charged, as he was, with federal campaign finance offenses.

The fact that they were not will no doubt disappoint many Ohioans, for it appears that culpable "little fish" once again have been allowed to escape simply to catch the "big fish." While we understand why prosecutors make such decisions, that does not make the outcome any easier to stomach for citizens who see illegal conduct and wonder why it goes unpunished.

Another disappointment is the black eye to women in politics left by the four convictions. Some pollsters believe that being female automatically carries an advantage in an election, on the theory that women generally play by the rules and that corruption is a male thing.

To be reminded otherwise is no comfort, and it underscores the importance of judging candidates on more than their gender.



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