Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Eric Kearney and his wife and their businesses owe nearly $1 million in back taxes, according to tax liens filed with the Hamilton County Recorder.
Documents show the Kearneys personally owe $197,344, which they say is related to their publishing business, Sesh Communications. Meanwhile, a related company, KGL Media Group Inc., faces another $731,805 in state and federal liens, according to Hamilton County records.
Kearney said they are disputing some of the tax liens, which date back to at least 2003, and he and his wife, Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney, are on a payment plan, making installments of $1,000 a month. Kearney released records showing the balance on the couple’s personal tax debt is now $96,376.
Last week Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald announced Kearney as his running mate for the 2014 statewide race. Kearney, 50, is a state senator from Cincinnati and minority leader in the Ohio Senate.
FitzGerald campaign spokesman Matt McGrath said the campaign was aware of the tax problems before naming Kearney to the ticket. “We knew about it. He was completely forthcoming about it. It was reported in his 2010 campaign (for Ohio Senate,)” McGrath said. “Ed considered it an asked and answered, settled issue.”
McGrath and Kearney did not answer questions about how much money was still owed on the dozen liens against KGL Media.
Kearney attributed the business tax problems to several issues: employee theft, challenges in the print media industry and closing one business and replacing it with a new corporation. Court records show that Blake Wilton pleaded guilty to theft and forgery charges and ordered to repay $25,298 to Sesh Communications in 2002.
Sesh Communications publishes The Dayton Defender, The Cincinnati Herald, the Northern Kentucky Herald and a quarterly magazine.
“I think in order to be an entrepreneur you have to be hardy and you have to be able to withstand a variety of different challenges,” said Kearney who started the publishing business in 1995 but has not been personally involved in it for several years. “It’s tough. We are still fighting the fight but it’s a challenge. We’re up for the challenge but sometimes there are rocky roads and you have to withstand those challenges. I think I’ve learned a lot of lessons from that.”
While Democrats downplay Kearney’s tax liens, they called Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges a tax cheat when news broke in April that he owed $592,000 in back income taxes.
Borges prevailed in an argument with the IRS and got the liens reduced to $168,161. At the time, Borges was the front runner to be state party chairman – a job he landed in late April. Borges said he still owes about $82,000 and he is on a payment plan.
Kearney helps balance out the Democratic ticket: he is from southwest Ohio and African-American while FitzGerald is from northeast Ohio and is white. Kearney and Lemon Kearney are friends with Barack and Michelle Obama and he served as the co-chair of Obama’s Ohio fundraising committee.
Kearney was appointed to the state Senate in 2005 and was re-elected in 2006 and 2010. He cannot seek re-election next year due to term limits. If the FitzGerald-Kearney unseats Kasich and his Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, Kearney will be the first black Democrat elected statewide.