Tuesday, September 17, 2002

State officeholders warned to stay out of local politics

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS - Statewide officeholders with authority to spend taxpayer money on government contracts should not hold positions in local political parties, the Ohio Ethics Commission said Monday in an advisory opinion.

        The commission looked into the role of officeholders and county parties after reports that state vendors made contributions to a secret Hamilton County Republican Party fund following state Treasurer Joseph Deters' tenure as county chairman.

        Mr. Deters, who is seeking re-election this year, took over as chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party in January 2000 after Buck Niehoff returned full-time to his position as the party's financial officer.

        Mr. Deters made clear he was only taking the job for the 2000 campaigns and relinquished it in January 2001.

        In March 2002, Cleveland's The Plain Dealer reported that investment banker Frank Gruttadauria contributed $50,000 to the Hamilton County Republican Party operating fund. Those contributions, whose donors do not have to be disclosed, are intended for party-building activities.

        The county party has contributed $300,000 to Mr. Deters' campaign. His office has done business with Mr. Gruttadauria and his employers. Mr. Deters has said the contributions did not come from the operating fund.

        Mr. Gruttadauria pleaded guilty Aug. 28 to securities fraud, mail fraud, identity theft and making false statements to a bank after allegedly bilking clients out of $50 million. U.S. District Judge John Manos will sentence him Nov. 14.

        The Ethics Commission studied the matter after Mr. Gruttadauria's contributions to the GOP became known, said David Freel, the panel's executive director. It was not the result of any complaint, and no wrongdoing is alleged, he said.

        The opinion says that when an officeholder with authority to enter into public contracts is also a “significant local political party official, the potential for a prohibited conflict of interest is heightened because of the duality of the roles and responsibilities.


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