Thursday, May 25, 2000

Commission clears Taft of ethics complaint about football tickets

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Gov. Bob Taft didn't violate state ethics laws when he accepted free football tickets from Ohio State University, the Ohio Ethics Commission has ruled.

        The commission unanimously dismissed a complaint filed by the Ohio Democratic Party against Mr. Taft as “frivolous and not supported by any reasonable grounds,” according to a motion approved by the commission Tuesday.

        David Leland, Ohio Democratic Party chairman, filed a complaint with the commission earlier this month over Mr. Taft's acceptance of $2,688 in free tickets for Ohio State University football games in 1999.

        The complaint stemmed from newspaper reports about the tick ets and about individual campaign contributions up to $50,000 for membership in “Team Ohio,” an operating fund for the Ohio Republican Party whose contributors aren't required to be named.

        The complaint said that Mr. Taft, a Republican, accepted the tickets even though as governor he has veto power over bills in the general-fund budget and the construction budget that could affect the university.

        The complaint also said that Mr. Leland thought the Ohio Republican Party solicited campaign donations in exchange for the opportunity to use the tickets.

        In its ruling, the commission noted that Mr. Taft had listed the tickets on a financial disclosure statement filed with the commission.

        “Voluntary disclosure ... significantly weighs on the issue of intentional criminal misconduct,” the commission said.

        Previous governors also disclosed acceptance of their tickets and weren't challenged, the commission added.

        Mr. Leland's other allegation is outside the commission's jurisdiction since they concern elections laws, not ethics laws, the commission said.

        Mr. Leland questioned the ruling, saying Mr. Taft should have known accepting the tickets was wrong.

        “He has a legal staff and the full resources of the attorney general's office,” Mr. Leland said. “If he doesn't have knowledge of the law, who does?”

        Mr. Taft was confident the commission would see the complaint as a partisan attack, spokesman Scott Milburn said Wednesday.


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