Sunday, March 12, 2000

Many on Japan trip gave to Taft, GOP


Practices of contributing and traveling defended as part of being politically active

BY ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Frank Guglielmi has contributed heavily to the political campaigns of state Republicans, including Gov. Bob Taft, but he says that's not why he was able to travel with Mr. Taft to Japan.

        “I went to represent our county's community development foundation effort,” said Mr. Guglielmi, 48, of Findlay. “In this case I don't think politics had anything to do with it.”

        Of 34 private-sector participants on the governor's recent trade mission, at least 12 contributed to Mr. Taft's campaigns or those of other Republicans, or work for companies that have.

        The donations didn't win a seat on the trip: The Department of Development issued an open invitation to the business community and charged participants $10,000 apiece for the privilege of riding along with Mr. Taft. The state spent about $100,000 on 10 state participants, including Mr. Taft and first lady Hope Taft.

        But the Japan trip shows how a governor going the extra mile — or 6,559 miles in this case — to push state business interests can find willing partners among the same people with the money and interest to be political donors.

        “Our two primary goals were to visit with all of the companies that had businesses located in the Findlay area, and we wanted to network through them to try to generate new business to bring to our area,” Mr. Guglielmi said.

        Mr. Guglielmi gave $750 to Mr. Taft in 1996 and 1997, and he and his wife, Annette, helped raise $5,200 at a March 1996 fund-raiser. He's also given to the campaigns of Attorney General Betty Montgomery, former Gov. George Voinovich, and state auditor Jim Petro. All are Republicans.

        Mr. Guglielmi and Findlay Mayor John Stozich put together a five-member contingent representing Findlay's Community Development Foundation.

        At least eight Japanese companies have factories in Findlay. Mr. Stozich also visited Japan in July.

        Mr. Stozich, former director of Ohio's Industrial Commission under Mr. Voinovich, has made donations to Mr. Taft and the campaigns of Chief Justice Thomas Moyer of the Ohio Supreme Court, Ms. Montgomery and Mr. Petro.

        “I would not be surprised that people sophisticated enough to be involved in matters of international trade and work with different governments would also be politically active,” Taft spokeswoman Mary Anne Sharkey said.

        Any Ohio company that can afford to go is welcome to participate in trade missions, said Laura Mason, a spokeswoman for the Department of Development.

        There are 255 Japanese companies in Ohio, employing 67,379 people with a total investment of $11.3 billion, Ms. Mason said.

        Mr. Taft's trip to Japan was his first trade mission as governor. Records show that some participants on Mr. Voinovich's 1997 trade mission to Korea, Taiwan and Australia and his 1998 trade mission to Argentina, Brazil and Chile had made large contributions to Mr. Voinovich's campaign fund.

        As a rule around the nation, a company's degree of political activity and generosity play a role in participation in trade missions, said Karen Schnietz, a professor at Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Management in Texas.

        Ms. Schnietz studied companies that went on U.S. trade missions in the years 1993-1996.

        “It seems to be that the firms that are really aggressive about seeking foreign markets are using private means, such as high export sales, and also seem to be very politically active as well,” Ms. Schnietz said.

        John Ensign, president of Ruscilli Construction Co., of Columbus, gave $750 to Mr. Voinovich in 1990, $1,100 to Mr. Taft between 1990 and 1997 and $1,200 to Democrat Lee Fisher — Mr. Taft's 1998 gubernatorial opponent — between 1994 and 1998.

        “We've been around through Democratic and Republican administrations — we've always attempted to be involved in these events,” said Mr. Ensign, 53, who visited Japan in 1991 and whose company has been involved in several Japanese projects in Ohio.

        “We feel it's very important for us to support these trade missions no matter who's in,” he said. “That's sort of been our approach, sort of let the chips fall where they may.”

       



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