Rival political parties in Ohio probably know more about your elected officials than you do. It’s common practice for the major parties to file open records requests to get everything from schedules and emails to staff resumes from officeholders.
“This is something we do every week. It’s not something that’s uncommon,” says Ohio Republican Party spokesman Matt Henderson. “This is something we do as a state party, which is hold Democrats accountable.”
Henderson says the state party usually sends out public records requests to about five Democrat officials each week — everyone from state senators and representatives to county sheriffs, mayors and city council members. Henderson says it’s against the party’s policy to discuss the strategy or name specifically to whom those requests were recently sent. The Plain Dealer in Cleveland reported that one of those recipients was Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, a Democrat who is considering a run against Republican Gov. John Kasich.
The Ohio Democratic Party (ODP) is also involved in the game. Party spokesman Jerid Kurtz also declined to discuss specifics of their strategy, but said, “We request schedules and other documents that give us an idea of the types of activities some of the higher-profile Republicans across the state engage in.”
Kurtz says how often they send requests depends on from which office they are seeking information and how responsive that office is. Henderson with the Ohio GOP says officeholders usually respond, most of the time in a timely manner. However, the state Democratic Party has recently had some public and high profile spats with officials who have not responded in a timely manner or have ignored requests altogether.
On Aug. 14 the Ohio Democratic Party sued Gov. Kasich, alleging that he failed to comply with Ohio’s open records law because he sent the party redacted documents. According to the court filing, the ODP sent seven requests to the governor’s office asking for his public schedule. The lawsuit claims Kasich’s office responded to only one of the records requests, but it was heavily redacted.
In a letter to the Ohio Democratic Party, Kasich assistant chief counsel Mehek M.
The Ohio Democratic Party contends that the redacted information doesn’t actually put the governor in danger and should be revealed. At the minimum, Kurtz said, Ohio law requires the governor’s office to provide a specific reason for each redaction, and Cook only made broad statements.
Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the administration doesn’t comment on litigation, but dismissed the allegations. “We release public records in accordance with the law, and in fact have already publicly released the governor’s schedule six times, including a schedule request to the ODP,” Nichols wrote in an email. “This is predictable election year politics from the same people who were just rebuked for using public records demands to interfere with the Auditor of State’s investigation into possible data manipulation in some school districts.”
Nichols added that the state Democratic Party had made more than 40 public records requests since June. Kurtz says the high volume of requests stems from one made for emails between Nichols and a spokesman for Florida Gov. Rick Scott in which the two talk about the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act. He said Kasich’s office sent them a reply saying they would have to send a request for each correspondence, requiring them to submit 26 additional requests.
“They have a responsibility to put the proper resources in hand to respond to requests in a reasonable amount of time,” Kurtz says. “I would say they’re simply trying to obstruct. They don’t like transparency. They don’t like openness. I think it’s very clear what they’re trying to do.”
Kasich’s schedule includes things like public appearances, scheduled phone calls and media availabilities. The ODP is worried that the governor could be improperly campaigning for presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on the taxpayer’s dime.
The Ohio Republican Party counters that Democratic former Gov. Ted Strickland openly hit the campaign trail with then-candidate Barack Obama four years ago.
Kurtz says nobody is disputing that Strickland campaigned for Obama, but it would be illegal for any governor to do that using taxpayer money. He said Kasich is so secretive that it’s difficult to determine whether he’s used his elected office to campaign for Romney.
Kasich isn’t the only Republican who is being secretive, the ODP contends. According to Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Andrew Zucker, it took Ohio state treasurer and U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel 14 public records requests to release the resumes of some questionable staff hires.
Zucker says Mandel’s office hasn’t responded to 10 requests for the treasurer’s schedule that have been submitted starting in June.
“Josh Mandel has shaped his reputation as a politician who can’t be trusted by blowing off work for campaign fundraisers and political events,” Zucker says. “Ohioans deserve to know just how little time their absentee treasurer spends in the office they elected him to.”
Spokespeople for Mandel’s U.S. Senate campaign and for the treasurer’s office did not reply to requests for comment.
The Ohio Democratic Party has also asked for Mandel’s official dealings and contracts involving the treasurer’s office during his tenure. According to a news release, the party has filed three requests since November 2011 and received no reply.
Kurtz says not all Republicans have been slow or lacking in their responses to public records requests. He says Auditor of State Dave Yost and Attorney General Mike DeWine both complied with requests for their schedules and did so in a timely manner.
“However, our governor has continually refused to let the people of Ohio know what he’s up to,” Kurtz said. “He’s a bully and the only way you can deal with a bully is fighting back.” ©