Five for Friday August 4, 2017

By Aaron Marshall

The summer doldrums are hitting Columbus hard as everyone goes on vacation and the Cap Square pace slows to a crawl. Rest assured Five For Friday is on the job here to report on Jeff Session’s steak dinner, Nan Whaley’s campaign-finance headaches, elected officials possibly packing heat and other early August goodies.  Put on your trunks, and let’s jump in the pool.

 

Well, at least the AG got to hit Mitchell’s  

 

The nation’s “beleaguered” Attorney General Jeff Sessions swung through town this week ostensibly for the purposes of declaring a war on prescription drugs.

Taking a break from scheming up ways to bust the millions of “bad people” who smoke pot, Sessions issued a plan to crack down on doctors and pharmacists selling improperly prescribed opioids that sounded mighty familiar to folks who tackle this issue in Ohio. Like real familiar, because it’s already exactly what they are doing.

That gave the Columbus Dispatch a chance to point that out in a headline saying that Session’s big plan was “already being fought in Ohio.” See Dispatch story here

And it made for some humorous quotes like this one from Antonio Ciacci of the Ohio Pharmaceutical Association: “I’m not sure how much the feds will be able to do if anything other than duplicating efforts.” In fact, according to a state pharmacy board spokesman, Ohio has enforcement agents going after dirty doctors right now thanks to –wait for it—federal grants.

In most eras, this Grandstanding 101 Fail would generally be cause for a red face or two around the ol’ Justice Department. Yet, when your administration’s barometer for embarrassing is The Mooch’s fellatio rants this practically qualifies as a great day at the office,   

Session wrapped up his big day in the Capital City by digging into a fat steak at the ol’ downtown Mitchell’s, according to our well-placed dining sources. No word on whether Sessions brought a similar innovative approach to dinner by bringing a fork.

 

Bring your gun to town (council)

Those feeling undefended inside the walls of the Statehouse have a champion in Representative Nino Vitale who introduced legislation this week to give lawmakers and other public officials—and only public officials mind you—the right to carry weapons inside the Statehouse and other state and local government buildings. See the story here.

The Urbana Republican told Cleveland.com that the bill is needed because he needs a safe space from which to legislate having been followed into committee rooms, the parking lot and having had “less than pleasant” conversations that made him feel unsafe in the Statehouse.

While local government building across Ohio have various levels of security, the Statehouse itself has gone from a place where anyone could walk in any door and wander freely at about anytime to heavily fortified Fort Knox in the space of a decade.

Currently, all members of the general public have to dutifully line up for a metal detector and a bag check to even set foot in the building.

Because the bill singles out public officials for special treatment, it's failing to attract support even from Ohio’s Second Amendment fetish crowd. “If its OK for a legislator to carry a gun, why is it not OK for his aide, who is the first person you see when you walk into an office, to defend herself?” asked Buckeye Firearms Association President Jim Irvine.

To be fair, the argument that lawmakers packing heat would increase safety and security does have some merit. Who among us wouldn’t feel more safe knowing that folks with the judgment, impulse control, and comportment of a Wes Retherford were rolling around around the Statehouse with a loaded weapon? 

 

Nan Whaley has 99 problems, and her mayoral campaign fund is one

Semi-annual campaign finance reports were due this week, and that meant it was time for Ohio’s bountiful 2018 gubernatorial crop to show their current hands when it comes to the dough they are piling up.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley posted the second-biggest number ($455,131) on the board for Democrats—trailing only dial-a-dollar machine former State Rep. Connie Pillich—but has herself in a dill of a pickle when it comes to trying to spend that money, according to a Cleveland.com story. See the story here.

That’s because Nan’s haul is actually in her 2017 mayoral reelection campaign fund as she is legally barred from setting up a gubernatorial fund without giving up her mayoral gig. And that means she would only be able to transfer $200,000 to her gubernatorial campaign once the mayoral election dust settles, according to Ohio’s byzantine campaign-finance laws.

So where’s that leave Whaley? High and dry as she decides whether to play Lawyerball in court or play Santa Claus for other Democrats once 2018 rolls around. “We continue to have internal campaign discussions and will make decision at the appropriate time,” said Whaley campaign spokeswoman Faith Oltman in the story. Translation: Please leave us alone while we stare forlornly at this pile of money. 

 

Let the leaking begin

The spoils of war turned up this week on Cleveland.com as the 216 newshounds turned up a “private” memo from Speaker Cliff Rosenberger to his caucus concerning a rather unusual Cuyahoga County GOP donation. See story here

The story details how Rosenberger shot a memo out to members after determining that $63,000 in Cuyahoga County GOP Party funds may have been illegally doled out to wanna-be future speaker Representative Larry Householder.  The dollars were part of Householder’s caucus-leading fundraising haul.

The donation is being questioned because lawmakers can only get up to $63,000 from county parties that are in their district otherwise they are limited to collecting $12,707, according to Ohio campaign-finance law. “In light of recent events, we have received several inquiries, both from within our caucus and others about contribution limits that candidate campaign committees may accept form various other campaign organizations and individual  contributors,” Rosenberger is quoted as writing. The memo also lays out contribution limits in various scenarios—without explicitly naming Householder—and includes a handy chart from Ohio Secretary of State’s Office, according to the story.

The memo leak comes in the wake of Householder returning a $70,000 contribution from the Summit County Republican Party for being over what he thought was the $63,000 limit

Candidates on both sides of the aisle have long used contributions to political parties to sidestep Ohio’s campaign finance limits to their own campaign committees, but it appears Team Householder may need to brush up on the rules of the game.

It remains to be seen whether this activity draws interest from regulators, but this memo story certainly does signal open season for reporters who now have warring House GOP factions to play off one another as the 2018 speaker fight plays out. 

Speaking of which, 3rd Rail is now hearing that State Representative Rob McColley (R-Northwest Ohio’s Northwesternmost tip) is now polling colleagues on whether he should jump into the Speaker’s race.  As Assistant Majority Whip, McColley is a member of Speaker Rosenberger’s leadership team and a presumed Ryan Smith vote.  But McColley is reportedly making a pitch that with two full terms left, he is better suited for the chair than Smith, whose term limit would make him a one term “lameduck” Speaker on day one.  

Bye Felicia!

Former Columbus City Councilwoman Michelle Mills may have dodged a bullet this week when the non-profit agency she used to lead declined to get law-enforcement involved in her extremely fishy expense reports. See Dispatch story here

Instead, Mills has agreed to pay $44,000 worth of questionable expenses.

Mills was bounced from her job as CEO of St. Stephen’s Community House after her non-profit credit card use was found to be less than legitimate. The money Mills spent was taken from a well-meaning agency that has faithfully served the poor in the Linden area for more than 50 years.

So what is the money in question getting spent on? Details were few and far between, but it sounds like some swanky dinners and fancy hotels if you read between the lines of what Mills attorney Larry James told the paper. “It’s extremely painful for her,” James is quoted as saying. “We get seduced sometimes in certain surroundings and we need these hard check-ups.”

This week’s news comes after Mills plead guilty to a misdemeanor in February for failing to disclose a sweet Buckeye trip with disgraced City hall lobbyist John Raphael. And it about wraps up the saga of Mills, who had a swift fall from cushy Council appointee to ethically-challenged job seeker.