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No movement to guard against campaign theft in Ohio

One year after former Rep. Clayton Luckie went to prison for mispending campaign funds, calls for reform laws to prevent the theft of money from political campaigns have gone nowhere in the Ohio Statehouse.

Luckie, of Dayton, pleaded guilty in January 2013 to money laundering, theft and election falsification. Federal investigators found that he spent more than $130,000 from his campaign fund on personal and living expenses and falsified his campaign finance reports.

He currently is serving a three-year sentence at the Southeastern Correctional Institution in Lancaster. Luckie requested early release from prison in December. His sentence is scheduled to end March 15, 2016.

In the year that has passed since Luckie entered prison, lawmakers have not introduced any bills in the Ohio House or Senate to guard against theft from campaign accounts.

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, who personally handled the Luckie case in court, asked lawmakers to pass a reform plan one year ago. The change sought by O’Brien would require campaign finance reports to include bank statements from all political campaign accounts.

“That way if there are discrepancies then they are immediately apparent,” O’Brien said.

Under the current system incumbent politicians, candidates for office and anyone who maintains a campaign account as a potential candidate must file campaign finance reports with the Ohio Secretary of State.

While Luckie managed to file his forms with the state for years, it was later discovered that he forged his supposed campaign treasurer’s signature and moved money from the campaign account into his own bank account.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who formerly served as Speaker of the Ohio House and as a member of the Ohio Senate, also called on lawmakers to make changes.

When asked by the I-Team if Ohio is doing all it can to prevent another theft case similar to the one that sent Luckie to prison, Husted expressed his frustration.

“It’s actually not doing all it can,” he said.

Husted said bank records would be a good first step to make sure a politician’s transactions with banks actually match the transactions that they are publicly reporting.

“In the absence of that, we can never really know up front whether those two things coincide,” Husted said.

The lack of action by lawmakers, according to Husted, may be attributable to a greater concern for the protection of public tax money rather than private dollars contributed to campaigns.

Former Ohio Lt. Gov. Paul Leonard, now an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Wright State University, said the state’s campaign finance reporting laws are filled with loopholes that have existed for decades.

“I think the Luckie case tells us that there is a lot of money flowing in the political profession and we are still crying out for some regulation to get on top of it,” Leonard said.

He supports elimination of cash donations to campaigns. Leonard also supports the addition of more tools to track where the money goes.

“Tracing campaign contributions and disclosure, in my opinion, are the two most important areas that need focus by the state legislature and the Congress,” Leonard said.

Without additional safeguards the door is open to abuse and outright theft, according to Seth Morgan, a former representative from Huber Heights and a one-time candidate for Ohio Auditor. He supports the requirement of campaign bank statements to be disclosed.

Morgan would go a step further and allow greater coordination between the Joint Legislative Ethics Commission and the Secretary of State. Morgan considers the current regulations to be an “honor system” that gives regulators no authority to require additional financial information from candidates unless they suspect problems.

Less scrutiny for financial records, said Morgan, means more temptation for some people to bend or break the rules.

“If that person wants to cheat, lie and steal, they are going to cheat, lie and steal,” he said.

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