Dann Scandal Leads to Donation Limits

Dann Scandal Leads to Donation Limits

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

COLUMBUS — House OKs bill to curb new officials’ transition accounts.

Fueled by the scandal that drove former Attorney General Marc Dann from office, the Ohio House cast a rare unanimous vote yesterday to rein in the unregulated use of transition accounts by statewide officeholders.

After completing an investigation into Dann in December, Ohio Inspector General Thomas P. Charles urged legislators to do something to either regulate or eliminate transition accounts, which can accept unlimited and unreported donations from corporations, political action committees and others.

Yesterday, the House responded by passing House Bill 5, which would limit how much contributors can donate to the funds: $10,000 for the governor-elect and $2,500 for any other elected official. Contributions also would have to be disclosed to the secretary of state’s office.

The funds are supposed to be used to pay the costs of making a transition to a new office and of inauguration ceremonies. However, with no regulation or reporting requirements, legislators acknowledge there is no way to know whether that has been the practice in the past.

“These accounts have been somewhat cloaked in secrecy,” said Rep. Mark Okey, D-Carrollton. “They’ve hidden behind the veil of a corporate structure that made it hard for the public or the legislature to look in and see what they were doing with these accounts.”

Some officeholders have voluntarily disclosed the accounts’ contributions and spending.

“I’m not sure we can rely on self-regulation,” Okey said, pointing to the Dann scandal.

Dann collected more than $195,000 in his transition fund, which Charles said he used “to circumvent Ohio laws governing the acceptance and use of campaign funds.”

Charles highlighted that the fund spent more than $12,000 on a dinnerware business owned by Dann’s wife.

Dann could be sanctioned by the Ohio Elections Commission for campaign spending, including outlays from his transition account.

The bill, which moves to the Senate, would allow transition accounts to be opened the day after an election or appointment and remain active for 120 days. It also spells out that spending would be limited to transition activities and inaugural celebrations.

House Speaker Armond Budish, D-Beachwood, said that before the Dann scandal, “I’m not sure people had recognized the extent of the potential problems with transition funds. I’m glad we were able to take care of this problem so we will not face these issues again.”

Jim Siegel, THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH, Thursday, May 28, 2009 3:29 AM.