COLUMBUS - Revelations that the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation had lost $215 million in a high-risk hedge fund translated into a political windfall for Democrats yesterday.
Democrats - still emboldened by the disclosure late last month by Tom Noe's attorneys that $10 million to $12 million in assets from the bureau's $50 million rare-coin fund were missing - told their Republican counterparts that they believed all along that the "culture of corruption" in Columbus extended beyond the failed rare-coin venture.
They were quick to point their fingers at Republican statewide officeholders, calling the news more proof of reckless leadership in Columbus.
"I just wonder how much taxpayers of Ohio will take before they say, 'Let's throw these crooks out,'●" said Denny White, the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party. "As I said from day one, I think 'Coingate' is just the tip of the iceberg."
Republicans, still on their heels after the scandal involving Mr. Noe, said yesterday that Democrats should shoulder some of the responsibility for the latest failed investment.
"The bureau's investments are overseen by a bipartisan board ..." said Jason Mauk, a spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party. "So it is a bit hypocritical for the Democratic Party to act like they didn't know about this investigation."
The bureau's five-member board, which includes Republicans and Democrats, was appointed by Govs. Bob Taft and George Voinovich.
Democrats also chided Republicans, saying the "pay-to-play" culture in Columbus is beginning to catch up with the GOP.
Mark Lay, the chairman and chief executive of the investment firm, MDL Capital Management, and Steve Sanders, MDL's president, have contributed at least $9,000 to Ohio Republicans, including Governor Taft, Auditor Betty Montgomery, former treasurer Joe Deters, and former House speaker Larry Householder.
In 1998, MDL's political action committee gave $3,250 to Democrats, including $250 to gubernatorial candidate Lee Fisher and $3,000 to state treasurer candidate John Donofrio.
Mr. Lay has supported Democratic candidates on the federal level, including $2,000 to John Kerry for president and $5,000 to a Democratic candidates' political action committee.
State Sen. Marc Dann, a Democrat from suburban Youngstown, said the contributions to Republican statewide candidates might provide at least one reason that action was not taken sooner with both the coin scandal and with MDL.
"It's the same scenario," he said. "It's, 'We've got some bad news, we better look at this, but not too closely. We don't want to offend people who are funding our campaigns.' "
Republicans say Democrats accepted their share of money from MDL, too.
"Their contribution record obviously indicates a bipartisan giving pattern," said Mr. Mauk, the spokesman for the Ohio GOP. "They are not exclusive to Republicans."
State Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) said she believes the bureau was "funneling money" through investment managers to Republican officeholders.
"Noe was just a little minnow, and now we have a 215-million-pound whale on the line,'' Ms. Fedor said. "Money has been stolen from the pockets of Ohio's businesses and injured workers." she said.
"Meanwhile, the Republicans have been getting fat checks to pad their bank accounts. All of it is hush money to keep pay-to-steal alive and well in the state of Ohio,'' she added.
Jim Ruvolo, a former chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said the concerns are "beyond partisanship at this point."
"Bob Taft has a lot of explaining to do," Mr. Ruvolo said. "He has either lost control of his administration or there is some kind of conspiracy that he is involved in."
He added, "If Republicans don't condemn this, they deserve to sink in his ship."
Mr. Ruvolo said the actions of the workers' compensation bureau were clearly "incompetent" or "criminal."
"Every Ohioan deserves an explanation of what's going on in Columbus," he said. "Is it the arrogance of one party rule, incompetence, or is it criminal?
"There is a lot of explaining to do."
Staff writers James Drew, Mike Wilkinson, and Christopher D. Kirkpatrick contributed to this report.
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