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5

Corruption 101

The Common and Essential Ingredient: Eliminate Independent Oversight
5

The facts of Ohio’s First Energy bribery scandal provide a perfect case study of how corruption takes hold, and is protected.

So it’s also a good heads up about what we all should be on the lookout for wherever we may live, and especially in states with a history of corruption. And when you look around, the key ingredient keeps reappearing—from how we run schools to how we invest pension dollars.

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That first and essential ingredient to any corrupt scheme like the First Energy scandal is the elimination or takeover of independent oversight structures and functions which otherwise provide essential checks and balance that benefit the public. Those independent structures are often the best guardrails keeping politicians from handing special interest donors all they want—be it public dollars or assets favorable policies that benefit them at the expense of the public.

So whenever you see politicians hard at work to eliminate or gut or take over entities that provide independent oversight or management of key government functions, look out. That smoke will likely build into fire.

And those fires have been blazing in Ohio for too long.

Let’s examine the pattern that keeps playing out like clockwork:

For this week’s indictment, the independent body in question was the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), the body providing independent regulation of utilities. And the key step was that the chairman of the PUCO was in the pockets of a major utility itself. Once Governor DeWine and Lt. Gov. Husted installed him there—right around the time he was handed $4.3 million by the utility—it shattered any independent regulation and oversight protecting the public from the desires of the private interest. Predictably, disaster and more corruption followed.

For-Profit School Oversight

The same thing happened a few years back with the elimination of a legislative agency in place to provide independent oversight of for-profit charter schools in Ohio.

When that agency raised alarms about those schools, then-Speaker of the House Jon Husted (the same guy who recruited Randazzo to run PUCO) eliminated that oversight agency. For all the details, read here.

Just as with PUCO, that’s when Ohio’s for-profit disaster exploded—all while major donors to Husted and other politicians made millions from siphoned-away tax dollars, converting a cut of those revenues into even more political donations.

SO….the lesson is, whenever you see politicians going after the power of independent agencies or bodies that are serving as checks and balances….alarm bells should be ringing loudly. It’s the key step that opens the door. And, of course, when it’s the very same politicians who did it before, be doubly concerned!

And in Ohio, as I write this, the same maneuver is playing out right now.

Will we finally learn the lesson?

State School Board Takeover

The most blatant example is the Governor’s recent takeover of powers of the independent state school board voters have a direct vote on. And it happened right after Democratic-endosed candidates won a majority of the elected board positions—meaning even more independence was about to set in.

This is happening even as the Ohio Constitution establishes a separate education board and department—a provision the voters put in place decades ago precisely out of the concern that guardrails were needed.

Once again, who’s been out front championing the removal of that independent oversight of our schools?

You guessed it, Jon Husted. Same guy as with PUCO. Same guy as with for-profit schools. Same maneuver now:

At it again….

Even though 74% of Ohioans disagree with the power grab from a body THEY elect…

…Husted and DeWine still pushed it through.

Now that you see the pattern, you can also be sure there are certain interests, looking for something valuable, pushing DeWine and Husted to eliminate that independent check. With the school board out of the way, and transparency gone, they are well on their way to achieving whatever their goal is.

To make the rot even more clear, this week, the Governor is installing his choice to oversee and run Ohio’s education system. This is one of the key powers he swiped from the state school board.

Ideally, for a position this important, you’d do a national search to find the most impressive and qualified education leader available, wouldn’t you? Someone who could reverse the recent decline in our schools (from 5th to 26th in the nation since 2010, amid all the giveaways and right-wing experiments) and lay out and achieve a vision of world-class education for the 21st century. If the reason you fought so hard to grab the school board’s duties was a sincere concern for education, of course that’s what you’d look for.

And because this is the leader for all education in a state the size of Ohio, you’d also attract some high-caliber candidates to select from from all around the country. You could be choosy, and you’d draw the interest of nationally regarded leaders.

Well, do you know who they picked?

Someone who just last year had to resign from the same Ohio job due to an ethical problem.

That’s right, they grabbed the power to install the person who leads Ohio’s education system from an independent body…only to install someone whose most recent public tenure ended in an ethics-driven resignation!

Now you tell me this doesn’t have a stench all over it. That it’s not clearly part of the same pattern. A zest for control versus a commitment to high quality.

With everything now behind closed doors, my fear is we’ll only find out later what’s driving it all—as we did with First Energy and for-profit schools.

Want another example?

Teachers Pension Board

This Spring, days before an election (the votes were in, but not announced) that would’ve altered the makeup of the teachers pension board into a reform-minded body asking tough questions of pension staff, Gov. DeWine swooped in and (in my strong opinion) illegally removed the swing vote on that board.

He replaced him with a major donor and crony. And after the fact, he publicly lied about the reason for the removal.

So when the election result was announced days later, the winner (also a reformer) didn’t flip the majority after all. DeWine’s interference from a few days before negated the result, and avoided what would have been a different majority!

The pension fund, of course, oversees billions of dollars. Thanks to the votes of retired teachers—frustrated by the fund’s performance—the board was on the verge of asking independent questions about those investments. But again, DeWine’s last-minute maneuver keeps that independent oversight—those tough questions—from happening.

Given the pattern we’ve seen with First Energy and for-profit schools, to not see that move as another five-alarm fire means we’re not paying attention. Instead, we should be asking tough questions: that week, who pushed DeWine to get rid of that pension board member? After the results came in, but before they were announced, who did DeWine talk to?

Have no doubt, it was someone with something important to protect by switching that person out. And whoever it is was important enough that DeWine was willing to do something so egregious, timed in a way that couldn't look more suspicious, then lie about the reason he did it.

Folks, it’s the same damn pattern, again and again.

Look closely.…you may see it where you are.

Maneuvers like these should be called out loudly and clearly as they happen. The press should be all over them every time. It should be treated as the key ingredient to corruption it keeps proving to be.

Until these moves are treated this way, they will keep doing it. And they will keep getting away with it. And we will keep learning far too late who and what was behind it all.

Please share this so everyone you know sees it as well.

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