Saturday, July 3, 2004

A reason to keep accounts open


The decision of state Sen. Jeff Jacobson, R-Dayton, to withdraw as the likely next president of the Ohio Senate is a case of a politician getting caught up in his own intrigue.

Jacobson, expected to succeed Sen. Doug White in the next term, withdrew Thursday after admitting that money from a secret account of the Montgomery County Republican Party had been used to pay Kyle Sisk and Brett Buerck, two disgraced political operatives caught up in a Statehouse fund-raising scandal.

Buerck and Sisk formerly worked for House Speaker Larry Householder, and have been the center of investigations by the secretary of state and others into allegations of campaign finance and ethics violations.

Jacobson admitted this week that despite the cloud over the two men, he had paid them through another consultant to advise him on how to win the Senate presidency.

Jacobson, chairman of the Montgomery County party until January, had controlled the party's so-called "operating funds" account. Such accounts exist in every county party organization and have been the subject of controversy for the past two years because of the reluctance of party officials to allow them to be opened to public scrutiny. While state campaign disclosure laws enable people to know who contributes how much to political campaigns, a loophole allows party organizations to keep secret the contributions to, and disbursements from, their local operating accounts.

We called for an end to this practice in 2002, after it was revealed that Frank Gruttadauria, a Cleveland stockbroker now in prison for bank and securities fraud, theft and racketeering, had made a $50,000 contribution to the operating account of the Hamilton County Republican Party.

Before his convictions, Gruttadauria had been given a license to handle investments for the state treasurer's office. State Treasurer Joseph Deters is the former head of the Hamilton County Republican Party. The county party never cashed Gruttadauria's check, but in March, during a Cuyahoga County investigation into allegations of state corruption, Gruttadauria said the contribution to the Hamilton County operating fund was done to mask a campaign contribution to Deters.

All political contributions should be transparent, including those made to party operating accounts. The intent of campaign disclosure laws is to allow the public to see who is contributing financially to the political process. It is too easy hide the influence of contributions by running them through such closed accounts. Some public figures, such as Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, have strongly supported such openness. Others, particularly county chairmen such as Jacobson, resisted the idea. He was quoted last year saying he "would rather die" than open such accounts to scrutiny.

With the revelations that money from the Montgomery County account paid for the likes of Sisk and Buerck, we now know why he felt that way.

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