By Julie Carr Smyth
COLUMBUS — The state watchdog hasn’t yet released an investigative report on the investment scandal that engulfed Ohio in 2005 — and critics want to know why.
With the presidential election only weeks away, the nonprofit government watchdog group Common Cause Ohio is asking Ohio Inspector General Randall Meyer to explain the delay and questioning whether it might be politically motivated.
Meyer was facing a threatened lawsuit by the nonprofit group when he pledged in February to complete the report left unissued by his predecessor. The legal threat raised the possibility that the wide-ranging Republican scandal dubbed “Coingate” could re-emerge as a campaign issue in a key battleground state.
The Coingate scandal began with the 2005 revelation that the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation was investing $50 million in rare coins through Republican donor Tom Noe. Noe is now serving 18 years in prison for theft and other crimes.
Common Cause, which says it works to hold government accountable to the public interest, dropped the lawsuit threat after Meyer’s February announcement. But it now wants him to ease the group’s concerns.
Common Cause Ohio Chairman Sam Gresham wrote in a Tuesday letter that due to the timing of the presidential contest and “because additional prominent Republicans have been rumored to be implicated in the scandal,” the organization believes an explanation is necessary “to prevent charges that the report has been withheld for political purposes.”
Meyer spokesman Carl Enslen reiterated that no timetable has been set for completing the report, but he said the office recognizes its significance. The investigative work in the case was completed before Republican Gov. John Kasich appointed Meyer in January 2011. Meyer’s predecessor, Tom Charles, said before he switched jobs that the legally-required report was coming.
The 2005 scandal reached the highest levels of state government, resulting in 19 convictions — including then-Gov. Bob Taft’s no contest plea to ethics charges for failing to report golf outings and other gifts on his disclosure forms. Democrats won four of five statewide offices in the November 2006 election — including the governor’s office — in the wake of the scandal.
Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern also is pushing for release of a final report. He said he still believes that Democrat John Kerry might have won Ohio — and the presidency — in 2004, had Noe’s actions as a fundraiser for then-President George W. Bush come to light more quickly.
“I think the tentacles of this scandal go much deeper, much wider than anybody knows,” Redfern said. “Yet this inspector general would rather chase after (state natural resources) employees who are selling excess propane than he would go after the biggest political scandal of this generation.”