Democrats to File Ethics Complaint Against Republican Lawmaker Over Pregnancy Center Legislation

State Rep. Candice Keller of Middletown is cosponsor of a bill that would give tax breaks to donors of pregnancy centers like the one she leads.

State Rep. Candice Keller - Ohio House of Representatives
Ohio House of Representatives
State Rep. Candice Keller

Ohio Democrats are calling foul over a bill that would provide tax breaks to donors of pregnancy centers that do not provide abortions.

Critics say one of the co-sponsors of House Bill 297, Republican State Rep. Candice Keller, stands to benefit from the legislation. Keller has been the executive director of Middletown's Community Pregnancy Center, a nonprofit like the kind the legislation is designed to benefit, for more than a dozen years. 

Keller, however, has said she will recuse herself from further involvement in the bill and that charges she's backing it because it could increase donations to the center are baseless. Keller has filed to run for state Senate in 2020. 

"They're trying to tarnish my reputation simply because I cosponsored a bill important to my constituents," Keller said in a written statement. 

Under the proposed law, donors would get a 50 percent tax credit on their contributions to what are often called crisis pregnancy centers — centers that provide services like ultrasounds to women who may not be able to otherwise afford medical care. The clinics, some of which are religiously-affiliated, do not provide abortions or refer patients to places that do, and in some cases actively counsel against them.

The Butler County Democratic Party has asked the Ohio Joint Legislative Ethics Committee to look into whether Keller broke ethics rules by working on the bill, since the nonprofit she leads could directly benefit from the law. 

"Ohio taxpayers shouldn’t be funding pet projects for members of the General Assembly," Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said in a statement. "And lawmakers shouldn’t be writing and voting on bills to benefit those pet projects."

The Community Pregnancy Center Keller leads has lost money in recent years — $17,675 in 2017, the latest year for which documentation is available. That year, the Center reported it had $12,030 in liabilities above its assets, according to its federal tax forms. Keller made $58,521 that year as executive director of the center, the tax forms show.

Keller says she followed "all proper protocols" as she co-sponsored the legislation but told Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder that she will step away from the process moving forward. Democrats, however, want to see proof that she followed conflict of interest rules.

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