COLUMBUS Four months after taking office in 1991, then-Gov. George Voinovich made a decision that would alter the course of Ohio politics by setting in motion the rise to prominence of Toledo-area coin dealer Tom Noe.
The Republican governor needed to fill an upcoming vacancy on the Bowling Green State University Board of Trustees, and he had three candidates to choose from: banker Ed Reiter, civic booster David Bryan, and a BGSU dropout Mr. Noe.
Mary Sabin, Mr. Voinovich s campaign fund-raiser, used her knowledge of the political landscape in northwest Ohio and the wishes of Toledo-area GOP powerbroker Jim Brennan to offer an opinion to the governor in a memo about who should get the appointment.
About Mr. Reiter, Ms. Sabin wrote: He was nowhere to be found during the campaign.
She noted that it was Mr. Bryan s father who was Wood County finance director for Mr. Voinovich s failed 1988 U.S. Senate campaign and successful 1990 gubernatorial bid.
She saved her highest praise for Mr. Noe.
He had been on the Toledo finance team during both campaigns preprimary. And, Ms. Sabin said, she wanted Mr. Noe to get the appointment.
He was the strongest working bee member of the finance team [other than Mr. Brennan], she wrote to Mr. Voinovich. Jim Brennan really wants Tom to get this appointment.
Mr. Voinovich took Ms. Sabin s advice and chose Mr. Noe.
Reached for comment, Mr. Voinovich said through his press secretary that he didn t recall ever asking Ms. Sabin for a memo on someone for a trustee appointment.
When this memo was received, it was unsolicited from then-Governor Voinovich, said press secretary Marcie Ridgway, who noted the memo also went to Chief of Staff Paul Mifsud and high-ranking aide Andy Futey. The senator bases decisions on all the information given to him. With a trustee position, you get letters of support from all types. You put them together and pick the best candidate.
The memo, along with thousands of other letters, invitations, and pieces of correspondence, recently were released by the governor s office providing a rare look at the inner workings of the highest level of state government.
The appointment to the BGSU board gave Mr. Noe, an up-and-coming political climber, his first gubernatorial appointment and put him on the path to have the influence that would give him the ear of the most powerful people in Ohio and eventually the nation.
Over the next 15 years, Mr. Noe won highly coveted gubernatorial appointments to the Ohio Board of Regents and the Ohio Turnpike Commission. He, along with his wife, Bernadette, hosted fund-raisers and contributed more than $200,000 to Republican candidates and causes including the campaigns of Mr. Voinovich, current Gov. Bob Taft, and President Bush.
By 1998, the coin dealer convinced the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation to invest $50 million with him to put into rare coins. The investment began under the Voinovich administration and expanded under the Taft administration, but both Mr. Voinovich and Mr. Taft have denied any knowledge of the investment with their supporter and friend until The Blade reported on it five months ago.
In 1998, the same year Mr. Noe received his first installment of $25 million from the state, Mr. Voinovich was running for a seat in the U.S. Senate.
In a May, 1991, letter to Mr. Voinovich about his impending appointment to the BGSU board, Mr. Noe wrote: I look forward to the challenges that lie ahead for BGSU and know that I will represent you in a manner that you can be proud of.
In May, Mr. Noe relinquished his state appointments amid questions about the coin venture. Mr. Noe, who has been accused by Attorney General Jim Petro of stealing millions of dollars from the coin fund, is facing multiple state and federal investigations, including a probe into whether he illegally laundered money into President Bush s re-election campaign.
But in the years before the fallout that has tainted his political party, Mr. Noe replaced Mr. Brennan, who died in 2003, as the leading GOP powerbroker in northwest Ohio. Like Mr. Noe, Mr. Brennan earlier served as chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party and held seats on the Turnpike Commission and the Board of Regents.
Paula Pennypacker, a Republican who ran for mayor of Toledo in 1991 and 1993, said Mr. Noe and Mr. Brennan were tighter than two coats of paint. She said in the early 1990s, Mr. Brennan was grooming Mr. Noe to take his place as one of the most powerful Republicans in the state.
Brennan and Noe never supported any of my runs for office because, unlike Donna Owens, I would not do as I was told ... I will never forget when Brennan described Tom to me once in 1989, he said, You need to get to know him because he makes a lot of money.
Mr. Noe succeeded Mr. Brennan as chairman of the county party in 1992. A year later, when asked during his divorce proceedings if his party work had enhanced his business, he replied: I think it s kept me alive.
And, he said, the connections he made through politics were the lifeblood of his now-closed business, Vintage Coins & Collectibles.
Mr. Noe s rise from the supporting cast of Republican players to a lead role was pushed along in 1995 as Mr. Voinovich tapped him for an open spot on the Ohio Board of Regents, one of the most prominent gubernatorial appointments.
But the nod didn t come without the help of then-Secretary of State Bob Taft, who had become a political ally of the coin dealer. In a recommendation letter to Mr. Voinovich, Mr. Taft noted Mr. Noe s contributions to the Republican Party.
Tom has been a successful businessman for many years, and that experience also qualifies him to be an effective member of the regents, wrote Mr. Taft. As you know, Tom is a former Republican chairman for Lucas County, and serves on the Lucas County Board of Elections.
Mr. Noe originally was appointed to serve the remaining four years of a term vacated by William F. Boyle, a Toledo Democrat. But in 1996, Mr. Noe lobbied Mr. Voinovich to put him into a full nine-year term. If a Democrat had been elected in 1998, Mr. Noe likely would not have received an extra term, so his proposal would have assured that he would have a seat on the board well beyond Mr. Voinovich s term.
I would like you to consider an idea: that you appoint me to a full nine (9) year term and appoint someone else to fill my remaining three (3) years, Mr. Noe wrote in a 1996 letter to Mr. Voinovich.
Later in the two-page note, he said, The last point I would like to emphasize is that I want to be George V. Voinovich s regent. I was your trustee at BGSU and your appointment to the Governors Commission on Educational Choice.
Several Republican officials lent their support to Mr. Noe.
Tom and I have worked closely on many projects, wrote Sally Perz, then the state representative for Toledo. In fact, I probably would have never been a state rep in the first place had it not been for Tom s financial support and political savvy, which he generously shared with me.
Mr. Noe s special request ultimately was denied by Mr. Voinovich, who said in his letter of rejection that the coin dealer s contributions to the board would speak for themselves when the time comes for reappointment.
In 1999, in his first year as governor, Mr. Taft reappointed Mr. Noe to the board. In 2003, Mr. Taft appointed Mr. Noe to the Turnpike Commission.
State Sen. Marc Dann, a Democrat from suburban Youngstown and vocal critic of the Republican leadership in Columbus, said the new details about how Mr. Noe rose through the ranks offer more evidence that they have been selling state government even before Taft got there.
George Voinovich invented the system. Bob Taft has perfected it, Mr. Dann said. And, if it is the last thing I do, I am going to put an end to it.
Mr. Dann called the brazenness of the interoffice memo between Mr. Voinovich and his campaign fund-raiser about Mr. Noe s 1991 BGSU appointment in a government document unbelievable.
You can t base appointments on people s political activity or how much money they raised or contributed, Mr. Dann said, adding, They are giving public benefit in exchange for a private benefit.
Once Mr. Noe had ascended to power, he used his position to help political allies gain coveted posts on boards and commissions controlled by Mr. Taft.
On numerous occasions since Mr. Taft took office in 1999, Mr. Noe sent letters or e-mails to the governor or his staff to recommend people for appointments. Mr. Taft often took Mr. Noe s suggestions and chose them for seats on boards and commissions.
Mr. Reiter, who was considered for the 1991 BGSU opening, told The Blade last week it had been a dream to serve on the university s board of trustees, but he never pursued the appointment because he did not want to get involved in the political skirmish.
Mr. Reiter, a Toledo civic leader and Republican, said he believes Mr. Brennan wanted Mr. Noe to get the BGSU appointment because of Mr. Noe s political involvement.
Even though I am a Republican and consider myself to be active, I don t get involved in that big political stuff. ... It s not a good game, he said.
Mr. Reiter, chairman of the BGSU Foundation, said unfortunately, a lot of high-profile appointments are tied to political fund-raising. There are a lot of ways to help and to do things other than being politically appointed, said Mr. Reiter, who retired last year from Sky Financial Group. Political appointments are not always something that great. They don t mean that much. I d rather be appointed based on my record rather than my donations.
Contact James Drew at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.