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Published: 12/31/2012

$327M for firms follows workers’ gifts of $11.3M

Ex-Gov. Strickland topped recipients in last decade

BY KRIS TURNER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Willard & Kelsey’s Michael Cicak, left talks with then-Gov. Ted Strickland during Mr. Strickland’s visit to the Perrysburg solar firm in 2010. Willard & Kelsey’s Michael Cicak, left talks with then-Gov. Ted Strickland during Mr. Strickland’s visit to the Perrysburg solar firm in 2010.
JETTA FRASER/THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Second of two parts.

People employed at businesses that received more than $327 million in loans and grants from the former Ohio Department of Development contributed more than $11.3 million to state politicians, their campaigns, and political groups during the last decade.

A Blade investigation that began in June found employees at 495 companies that received state funding since July, 2007, contributed an average of $22,864 per firm. Those companies received incentives valued at $512,627 on average.

Political giving to Republican candidates outnumbers Democratic donations by about 80 percent. Since 2002, Republicans running for office in Ohio received $5,698,327 and Democrats received $1,339,889. The Blade tracked the political affiliations of campaigns that received donations from the state-funded companies to determine the results.

The politician receiving the most contributions, however, is former Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, who received $736,059 from employees at firms that obtained state grants and loans.

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The Blade began its investigation after it found sizable contributions to Mr. Strickland’s 2010 re-election campaign from executives at a Perrysburg firm — Willard & Kelsey Solar Group — which defaulted on two state loans. One loan, worth $5 million, was granted by the former state Department of Development.

A spokesman for Mr. Strickland said he was unavailable to comment for this article, but the former governor has said campaign contributions played no part in the state awarding loans and grants to Willard & Kelsey.

John Haseley, Mr. Strickland’s former chief of staff, who works with him at the Columbus lobbying firm Midwest Gateway Partners, released this statement on the former governor’s behalf: “The Strickland administration strategically invested in businesses that would increase the state’s global competitiveness, enhance Ohio’s regional strengths, and increase innovation and excellence.

“This philosophy worked. Those investments kept Hugo Boss in northeast Ohio, Norwalk Furniture in northwest Ohio, and helped our state become a national leader in green jobs.”

Other politicians whose campaigns received the most from employees working at state-funded firms include Gov. John Kasich; former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who ran for governor in 2006; Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, and Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel. Most of the top recipients of campaign cash are Republicans.

The Blade reviewed more than 10,000 loans and grants from the former Ohio Department of Development, which was renamed the Ohio Development Services Agency this year. From those awards, the Blade determined 1,159 companies received some form of funding from the agency. The state’s online database contains information dating from July, 2007.

Of those companies that received an incentive, 495 donated to political campaigns or groups throughout Ohio. The donations made by employees of companies that received multiple incentives from the state averaged $39,244. Those businesses were approved for an average of $1.06 million in awards from the agency and actually received $796,587 on average.

Employee contributions at companies that received a single incentive averaged $10,492. On average, those businesses were approved for $358,224 and received $298,146.

Oftentimes, the state attaches job creation requirements or other stipulations to funding. If companies fail to meet those standards, they don’t receive the full award from the state.

The Ohio secretary of state’s campaign finance database contains information dating to 2002, and people who donate more than $100 are required to list place of employment. Campaign contributions are limited to $10,000 for statewide, state Senate, and state House candidates, and state law severely restricts the use of funds or property by a business for political purposes.

The Development Services Agency said in a statement it doesn’t review campaign contributions and they have no bearing on whether a company receives an incentive.

Mr. Strickland received contributions from employees at 188 companies. The former governor’s largest contributors included Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprise, whose employees gave $87,250, and Huntington National Bank, which showed $40,615 in contributions.

William Eiler, a spokesman for Huntington, released this statement in light of its contributions and sizable donations: “All [political action committee] contributions are made and reported publicly in full compliance with relevant state and federal elections law.” Huntington’s employees contributed $387,363 and rank sixth overall for most donations.

The average donation to Mr. Strickland’s campaigns was $3,936. Mr. Kasich received slightly fewer contributions — employees at 170 companies were donors — and the average donation to him was $3,906.

The Kasich administration released a statement that said it is placing less emphasis on incentives and changing the way the state measures companies’ success. Mr. Kasich, a Republican, garnered $664,030 during his 2010 campaign for governor from employees of firms that received state grants and loans, raising almost as much as Mr. Strickland did in two election cycles.

“Political considerations may have mattered in previous administrations but don’t have weight today because, for the first time in Ohio’s history, we’ve made it about results,” Kasich spokesman Connie Wehrkamp said in a statement. “We’re measuring the taxpayers’ return-on-investment from an incentive to make sure Ohioans are getting their money’s worth. It’s about maximizing the benefit for workers while minimizing the impact on taxpayers.”

Campaign donations aren’t meant to sway politicians in Columbus, said Tim Vaughn, chief executive officer of Vaughn Industries. Employees of Vaughn donated $127,900 to Ohio campaigns and the firm received state grants in 2009 and 2010 worth $213,000.

Mr. Vaughn said he supports candidates who will create a business-friendly atmosphere in the state. He supported Mr. Kasich in the last midterm election; employees at his company contributed $22,900 to the Kasich campaign.

“The only thing that I donate for personally, and I feel anybody else here donates for, would be change,” Mr. Vaughn said. “It was time to get the Democratic regime out of the state of Ohio and open this up for a more business-friendly base.”

Contact Kris Turner at: kturner@theblade.com, or 419-724-6103.



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