Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler reports the claim is that the money is being laundered through the Third Frontier program.
The left-leaning group Progress Ohio is opposed to the collective bargaining reform law, and the privatization of the Department of Development into JobsOhio. But executive director Brian Rothenberg says Progress Ohio has been supportive of the Third Frontier program, the state’s 1.3 billion dollar high-tech job creating initiative renewed by voters 15 months ago. So he says he was surprised that Gov. John Kasich’s administration announced that regional JobsOhio offices created by local chambers of commerce will be getting $24 million in Third Frontier money.
“Clearly the fact that they’re also going to have local, local chambers are going to get some of this public money is going to have a major influence effect when the governor’s office approaches them about Issue 2 or Senate Bill 5.”
The Ohio Chamber of Commerce backs Issue 2 and supports collective bargaining reform. And at least four of the state’s local chambers or their sister organizations have come out in support of Issue 2 as well. Rothenberg says that makes him suspicious.
“I don’t care what governor is in power. The fact of the matter is this is now a laundering scheme that allows for public money to flow into organizations that will be compromised in their decision-making over issues like Senate Bill 5 in the future.”
But the head of the JobsOhio board says that’s ridiculous.
“Anybody can use any words that they want. There is no fact, zero fact.”
As Rothenberg was speaking, the Third Frontier Commission was meeting. JobsOhio board president Mark Kvamme sits on the commission, and he came out of the meeting to say that Third Frontier funding is awarded to businesses and organizations on the basis of detailed requests on how they’ll use the money. Beside him was Development Department director Chris Schmenk.
“They will have to report the use of these funds, metrics that we are asking them to do. And they will have to demonstrate how the money is spent to return on those metrics and bring jobs to the state. So absolutely no relation at all.”
And Kvamme calls claims of a lack of transparency at JobsOhio - quoting here - a total red herring.
“We’ll have an annual report for JobsOhio. JobsOhio will spent and/or donate zero to anything like this. It will not happen. 100% of our funds are for job creation. That is it. End of story.”
But Rothenberg says it sounds like a pay to play scheme - the governor appoints the members of the Third Frontier Commission. And money goes from the Third Frontier to local chambers, which Rothenberg says are full of people who have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaign to pass Issue 2.
“In four or five years, if this continues, this isn’t going to be a civil court matter. This is a recipe for an ethical and criminal problem.”
Schmenk and Kvamme reacted to that statement this way.
“Just amazement. It’s crazy. I mean, come on. Anybody can publish a press release. Anybody can do that stuff. Measure us on three things and three things only: net new jobs we help create, net new capital invested in the state, and net ROI to the state. Okay?”
A spokesman for the official pro-Issue 2 group, Building a Better Ohio, says Progress Ohio’s claim is – quoting here – an absurd reach in logic. And Jason Mauk says Ohioans should be outraged that unions are using dues that come from the tax dollars that are paid to public employees to try to defeat the collective bargaining reform law.