COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Public transparency is a priority for some Republican lawmakers in Ohio.
Shortly after losing his bid for Speaker of the House, Rep. Derek Merrin and others in his caucus introduced an ethics reform bill, the Ohio Ethics and Financial Disclosure Reform Act. The Monclova Township Republican contends it’s the first of its kind in decades.
“As scandals have taken place and multiple ethical issues have risen to the surface, Ohio’s ethics and financial disclosure statues have been stagnant,” Merrin said.
Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio, said she welcomes Merrin’s efforts to clean up government, especially as a new slate of lawmakers begin work at the Statehouse.
“Going into this new General Assembly, there is a real opportunity for legislatures to focus on greater transparency in lobbying, in elections and in the nomination of important agencies,” Turcer said.
The bill does four things:
- Requires the Ohio Elections Commission to publish financial disclosure statements from elected officials and candidates for public office
- Prohibits elected state officials from receiving compensation for serving on corporate boards unless the seat was held prior to taking office and the official has ownership in the corporation. If so, the bill would require compensation to be properly disclosed
- Mandates all lobbying income to be reported and sourced directly to clients, mirroring federal law
- Requires nominees for the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to submit a financial disclosure before an appointment is made
As far as the lobbying provision of the proposed legislation, Merrin said his bill “makes it crystal clear that they are going to report on their disclosure statements every bill that they have been involved with.”
Merrin pointed to the case of former PUCO Chairman Sam Randazzo, who accepted millions of dollars from the Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. — who is currently embroiled in the state’s largest public corruption trial — shortly before he assumed the role as chairman.
“The governor will have the information to know what ties these individuals have had and continue to have with entities they’re supposed to regulate,” Merrin said.
Instead of nominating candidates who are deep in the pockets of utility companies, Turcer said public servants should answer to everyday Ohioans. “And how do we do that?” she asked, “By creating greater transparency so we can identify the conflicts of interest.”
Lawmakers who backed Merrin in the House Speaker vote — as opposed to the ultimate victor Rep. Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) — also have their sights set on restructuring power in the Ohio House.
“Our goal is to change the rules so we decentralize power, so we all have a voice so we can do the job our constituents elected us to do,” Rep. Phil Plummer (R-Dayton) said. “We also asked for 66% of all chairmanships, 66% of all members on committees, so he (Stephens) can’t stack power committees without the voice of this caucus.”
Merrin’s ethics reform bill was introduced just days before former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder goes on trial in the largest public corruption trial in the state’s history.
“The Republican side of the aisle is involved in this trial,” Plummer said. “The Republican side of the aisle is now going to fix these problems.”