Toledo Blade: Fix or eliminate Ohio Ethics Commission

Ohio’s financial disclosure law doesn’t work and must be fixed.

That the Ohio Ethics Commission failed to see a violation in a widely reported example of avoiding reporting requirement is telling.

Ohio’s top utility regulator collected $22 million dollars in consulting fees from FirstEnergy. The deferred prosecution agreement between FirstEnergy and the Justice Department stipulates that $4.3 million paid to former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chairman, Sam Randazzo was a bribe. Of course, FirstEnergy has motivation to cast blame elsewhere.

Randazzo has been charged with no crime and denies any wrongdoing. Prosecutors must either charge Randozzo or exonerate him. The limbo he’s in isn’t fair to citizens or Randozzo.

The facts behind FirstEnergy’s $230 million fine for $60 million in bribes to pass a billion-dollar bailout of Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear power plants are well known.

What has gone unnoticed is the financial disclosure statements filed with the Ohio Ethics Commission by Randazzo between 2007 and 2020. Remarkably, the entire time FirstEnergy was paying Randazzo, he was filing financial disclosure statements as a member of the PUCO Nominating Council or as PUCO Chairman.

Of course, those documents showed no financial connection between a regulator and regulated company. Randazzo created one-man consulting companies shown as the source of outside income. The exact amount of revenue and specific source of the funds was not revealed.

Ohio law requires the exact amount from the specific source of payment when there is a connection between government duty and outside employment.

It’s a failure of the Ethics Commission to see this problem as a failure to report and go after it.

When it comes to the Ohio financial disclosure law, transparency is the relevant issue. Once citizens became aware of the business relationship between FirstEnergy and PUCO Chairman Randazzo, he was finished as a regulator.

This despite knowledge by Gov. Mike DeWine, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and their senior staff of the past connection between Randazzo and FirstEnergy.

It’s public awareness of potential conflicts that protects Ohio taxpayers. That’s why it is high time for a change in Ohio law requiring financial disclosure by public officials of the exact amount and specific source of all outside income.

It’s an embarrassment to the very concept of state ethics laws that a regulator could earn millions from a firm he regulated while filing Ohio financial disclosure statements.

It would be better to abolish the Ohio Ethics Commission than to allow this massive failure of process to go unfixed.