Bogus receipts, fake expenses: Who’s policing campaign donations?

Former State Rep. Clayton Luckie, D-Dayton, outside Miami-Jacobs Career College in 2010.
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Former State Rep. Clayton Luckie, D-Dayton, outside Miami-Jacobs Career College in 2010.

Public officials are essentially on the honor system when disclosing finances.

A Dayton lawmaker’s criminal case illustrates some of the limitations in Ohio watchdogs’ ability to police unethical — and even unlawful — behavior.

The way the system works now, public officials are essentially on the honor system. The Ohio Secretary of State’s six auditors spot check the 3,300 to 4,100 campaign finance reports that are filed every year, but they lack authority to peek at the underlying bank records tied to those accounts.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Husted says campaign bank records should be reported

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Prosecutors say that’s one of the reasons former State Rep. Clayton Luckie, D-Dayton, was able to spend $130,000 in campaign money on personal expenses. Luckie made up bogus receipts for fake expenses and used the money as he saw fit at casinos, department stores and elsewhere, records show.

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Luckie, who spent 10 years on the Dayton School Board and six years in the Ohio House, was eventually caught and served three years in prison before his release in March 2016.

“I continue to believe filing bank statements makes sense — otherwise a candidate, treasurer or committee just reports what they want and there is no cross-check on its accuracy,” said Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, who prosecuted the Luckie case. “The boards of elections or secretary of state just take them at face value.”

Josh Eck, spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, said Husted still supports getting authority to access bank records for campaign finance reports.

“In the end, if we want appropriate oversight into the campaign finance laws already on the books, a necessary ingredient is having access to those records,” Eck said.

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Mandating that bank records get submitted along with campaign finance reports would require a change in state law from the Ohio General Assembly.

Husted, a Republican and former lawmaker, said he’s not sure why that hasn’t happened, but he did make an interesting observation.

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“It’s the people who have to file the reports are also in charge of making the laws,” he said. “What we have asked the General Assembly to do is give us access to information.”

Without that access, said Husted, his office is “nothing more than a reporting mechanism. We can’t be an accountability tool.”

Although some people, like Luckie, do get caught, Eck said if access to bank records was granted, “the red flags would go up earlier.”

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