The Ohio Democratic Party has filed a lawsuit against Gov. John Kasich — who they claim is improperly using his office to campaign for presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney — to get the governor to release his schedule of public events.
The ODP’s lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, contends that Kasich’s office either ignored or only partially fulfilled the request.
“It’s unfortunate that this Governor is so opposed to transparency and public disclosure that we have to ask the Court to force him to follow the law,” ODP Chairman Chris Redfern said in a statement.
“Serious questions remain regarding whether the Governor has improperly used his office for the benefit of Mitt Romney, and it’s deeply disappointing Kasich is so secretive he won’t even tell the public what he’s done or where he’s gone.”
Kasich press secretary Rob Nichols said the administration doesn’t comment on litigation, but dismissed the Ohio Democratic Party’s 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 said.
“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.”
Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Jerid Kurtz said Kasich’s office did respond to one of the seven requests for the schedule, but some of the information in the records was redacted — including an entire week that was blacked out with no explanation.
“Ohio law is very clear, and it states you have to give a specific excuse when you redact something,” Kurtz said.
According to the lawsuit and court documents, the ODP requested on July 2 Kasich’s public schedule from that date through Aug. 27.
According to a letter to the Ohio Democratic Party from Mehek M. Cook — assistant chief counsel to Kasich — the information about the governor's future plans was blacked out because that information could put him at risk.
“The governor and his office receive threats on any given day and the release of his whereabouts increases security issues surrounding the governor’s safety,” Cook wrote.
Cook wrote that any information in the records used by the Executive Protection Unit assigned to guard Kasich constitutes a security record and was redacted.
He also wrote that some information that would reveal confidential business meetings and trade secrets that would harm Ohio efforts to court businesses was blacked out. Additionally, information not relevant to the request was redacted.
Kurtz said it’s important that the public have access those schedules because voters have a right to know what their governor is doing on the public dime.
The schedules include where the governor is and with whom he meets, but they also show scheduled phone calls and media interviews.
The Ohio Democratic Party worries that Kasich is improperly campaigning for Romney while receiving a taxpayer-funded paycheck, or using public money to have his staff do so.
The concerns stem from statements made by Kasich both in public and on his Twitter account either praising the presumed Republican presidential nominee or slamming President Obama.
For instance, The Plain Dealerin Cleveland reported that when Obama visited Ohio on Aug. 1 the governor tweeted “On the occasion of the President's latest visit to Ohio, we have a question for him,” with a link to a graphic asking “If the President's policies are behind Ohio's success, why is the rest of the country trailing us?”
Democrats claim that Ohio’s success relative to the rest of the country are due to efforts by President Obama, while Republicans say Governor Kasich is behind Ohio’s faster-than-average recovery.
While the Ohio Democratic Party is suing to have Kasich release his public schedule (Kurtz says Attorney General Mike DeWine and Auditor Dave Yost complied with similar requests in a timely manner) the state Republican Party has also submitted similar requests to Democrats throughout Ohio.
Kurtz characterized the GOP requests as being sent by Kasich’s “hand-picked lieutenants in the Ohio Republican Party,” though Nichols told The Plain Dealer that the governor had no involvement.
Ohio GOP executive director Matt Borges told the newspaper that the requests were routine.
Still, Kurtz called Kasich’s refusal to release his own schedule “hypocritical.”
“He’s a bully and the only way you can deal with a bully is fighting back.”