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July 11, 2005

Life after politics, Ohio-style

From the state that brought you Coingate and dubious hedge-fund investments, the true definition of “political capital:”

For Gov. Bob Taft’s closest aides, the same connections that served as the backbone of their official careers in his administration became the lifeblood of their political afterlives once they began departing Ohio’s highest office in 2003.
Mr. Taft’s former chief of staff, Brian Hicks, and his assistant, Cherie Carroll, had plans in place to quickly cash in on the ties they had established in more than a decade working for the state’s most influential elected official, documents released by the governor’s office last week show.
Mr. Hicks’ firm, Hicks Partners, has raked in more than $700,000 in state and federal lobbying deals and political consulting fees since the business opened two years ago, shortly after he left the governor’s office.
… After nine years with the Ohio Republican Party, Tom Whatman stepped down as executive director and opened his own lobbying and consulting firms in 2002. Since then, his firms - Strategic Public Partners and Whatman & Associates - have collected about $500,000 as lobbyists in Washington and worked on a number of issue advocacy campaigns.
Mr. Whatman, who considers Ohio GOP Chairman Bob Bennett his mentor, was considered a Bush Pioneer because he raised at least $100,000 for the President’s re-election campaign. Mr. Bennett was also a Bush Pioneer.
Dwayne Sattler, a former aide to Republican U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, became a lobbyist after leaving public service. Between 1999 and 2003, Mr. Sattler worked for Nicholas Wise, another former DeWine staffer, helping to collect more than $2 million in lobbying fees during those years. In 2004, Mr. Sattler started his own firm, Network Government Relations, which collected about $135,000 last year lobbying on the federal level for clients including the Ohio Board of Regents - whose chairman was Tom Noe.

And so on, and on, and on.

Noe—yet another Bush Pioneer—is of course the Republican fundraiser at the center of the Coingate scandal, which involves a $50 million investment by the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation in rare-coin funds controlled by Noe. Some $12 million of that cash is now unaccounted for, and Noe is at the center of the police inquiry. He is also being investigated by the FBI for alleged campaign-finance violations, including laundering contributions to President Bush’s re-election campaign. And he is connected to just about every key Ohio Republican:

From fall, 2002, until last year, Mr. Noe held what his friends called the “Noe Supper Club” in the wood-paneled private boardroom at Morton’s steakhouse blocks from the Statehouse in Columbus, where Mr. Noe would pick up the tab. There were about eight or nine “Noe Supper Club” parties, which featured expensive steaks, flowing drinks, and large tips.
One supper club regular, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said participants included Mr. Sattler and Ms. Carroll; two former Taft aides who became lobbyists, Doug Moormann and H. Douglas Talbott; Beverly Martin, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, who joined Mr. Hicks’ lobbying and consulting firm, and Jim Mermis, the former head of the state Bureau of Employment Services, who is now a lobbyist.

In theory, Ohio state regulations are supposed to prevent high-ranking officials from trading their status and connections into instant riches. In practice, they don’t work:

Herb Asher, an Ohio State University political analyst, …said the state’s limitations that forbid an official from lobbying their governmental agency for one year after their departure are not especially meaningful because “there is a giant loophole.”
“You can be a consultant,” he said. “A lot of people think that’s a distinction without a difference.”

More Buckeye graft in the Toledo Blade’s special report.

Posted by Stephen at 12:01 AM in Politics | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

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