By Maggie Thurber | Special to Ohio Watchdog
Ohio Sen. Shirley Smith, D-Cleveland, wanted to see the financial records of the nonprofit foundation run by the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus. The foundation told her no. But after five months of persistence, it granted her access.
Now she is saying never mind, because it might negatively affect President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.
What does the foundation have to do with Obama?
Good question. Let’s start at the beginning.
It also has its share of controversy.
In March, former state representative and caucus member Carlton Weddington was charged with felony bribery. The Democrat from Columbus was accused of demanding a donation for the foundation in exchange for setting up a meeting with OLBC. He pleaded guilty to bribery and also to promising, during an unrelated FBI sting, to introduce legislation in return for cash and trips. He was sentenced to three years in prison.
Earlier this month OLBC member and state Rep. Clayton Luckie, D-Dayton, announced he was ending his re-election bid after being identified as the target of an investigation by Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien.
Following the news of Weddington’s bribery charge, Smith, a former OLBC officer, asked to see the financial records of the foundation.
Because of the foundation’s tax status, it can accept donations from lobbyists and corporations and it is not required to publicize its donors or the amounts contributed. But it consists solely of elected officials who are, under Ohio law, required to itemize their campaign donors as well as other personal financial details including gifts, outside employment and debts.
It’s unlike most other charities because, like other legislative caucus groups, it is also an arm of the Legislature.
Smith wanted to see the records of contributions and expenditures since 2009. Among other things, she questioned a $20,000 consulting contract with an individual who was a foundation trustee.
She was denied access. And then she went public.
She told The Plain Dealer that “her inability to obtain financial records showing the foundation’s revenues and expenditures has raised suspicions about the caucus’ president, state Rep. Sandra Williams, also a Cleveland Democrat.”
“I am becoming very suspicious now. It seems to me she has something to cover up,” Smith told the Cleveland paper. “Whatever she’s trying to hide, she is trying to have time to fix it up.”
Williams denied any improprieties and said Smith was a “bully,” telling The Plain Dealer, “I’m just going to pray that the devil removes himself from her body. If she was dying, I wouldn’t give her a drink of water.”
Others accused Smith of being motivated by personal issues unrelated to the workings of OLBC or its foundation.
But she persisted, and last month, the foundation voted to let her view the records.
Only now she doesn’t want to. She’s afraid it might harm members of the group and Obama’s re-election efforts in Ohio.
She told The Plain Dealer that she would be obligated to share anything suspicious she might find.
“I think that would’ve opened up a can of worms that would’ve taken the attention off the Barack campaign for many people. I would rather just leave it alone when the president, especially an African-American president, has so much at stake in Ohio,” she said.
“I don’t want to add fuel to the fire.”
So for five months she’s been demanding access to financial records and now that she can see them, she doesn’t want to because she thinks it might harm members of the group or the “African-American president?”
How could Obama possibly be affected by what this small foundation does? Or is this somehow related to their shared race? If it is, does Smith think all Ohio voters will judge the president by what might possibly be said about members of OLBC?
If there is any wrongdoing, should an upcoming election matter? Wouldn’t it be better to have any potential wrongdoing identified before any members are re-elected?
Being a watchdog on your own organization is the right thing to do. Forgoing that responsibility just to win an election is not.