Gongwer: Tea Party Sues Municipal, Township Groups in Supreme Court Over Public Records

Tea Party Sues Municipal, Township Groups in Supreme Court Over Public Records

Opponents of the estate tax and government spending growth said Thursday they are asking the Ohio Supreme Court to declare that two groups of township and city officials are “the functional equivalent” of public offices and should be required to abide by the public records law.

The Dayton Tea Party filed a complaint asking justices to order the Ohio Municipal League and the Ohio Township Association to release policy and financial records related to their legislative lobbying against repeal of the estate tax and in favor of increases in the Local Government Fund.

Both groups declined to produce the material on grounds they were private organizations not subject to the public records law.

Maurice Thompson of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, who is representing the Dayton Tea Party, argues that all or nearly all of the OML and OTA support comes from municipal government dues, fees, and contributions, using taxpayer funds.

He said local governments “have shrouded in secrecy certain governmental activities, such as lobbying, through utilization of private organizations,” including the OML and OTA.

“These de facto local government coalitions receive and rely almost exclusively upon public funds to lobby and litigate for higher taxes, greater government spending, diminished constitutional protections for Ohioans, and overall larger government, all as prescribed by their government members,” Mr. Thompson said.

“Meanwhile, these organizations refuse to respond to public records requests, denying information to citizens regarding the use of their tax dollars to promote and advance highly ideological causes by and on behalf of local governments,” he told justices.

Mr. Thompson contends that the OML and OTA are the “functional equivalents of public offices” under the state’s public records act, and must produce documents about the operation of their organizations, including lobbying efforts before the General Assembly.

He said the groups were using public funds to participate in a campaign to inflate the amount of state money spent on the Local Government Fund, and to oppose repeal of the estate tax. Both provisions are included in the pending biennial state budget (HB 153).

“Both the OML and the OTA continue to use Ohio taxpayers’ funds to operate in secrecy on these issues,” Mr. Thompson said. “In the course of their clandestine operations, OML and OTA argues against repeal of the Ohio Estate Tax and in favor of inflating state spending on local governments.”

The complaint asks the Supreme Court to compel the groups to comply with the requests for records, and to pay court costs, attorney fees, and statutory damages.

The Dayton Tea Party, Inc. was described as a non-partisan, non-profit corporation that is a conglomeration of 19 “liberty groups” in the Miami Valley region.

The complaint was filed in the name of Robert Scott, the group’s president and founder, who “has invested significant effort into effectuating repeal of the Ohio Estate Tax, and reducing state government spending.”

Mr. Thompson asked the court to apply a four-part functional equivalency test it cited in a 2006 opinion to determine whether a private entity is a public institution for purposes of the public records law.

“In applying the functional-equivalency test, courts in other states have adjudicated private organizations comparable to the Ohio Municipal League and Ohio Township Association to be amenable to public records requests,” he told justices.

He referred to a 1999 opinion that found the Washington State Association of Counties was a public agency for purposes of a disclosure law. A 2010 decision held that the Association of Washington Cities, a private, non-profit corporation, was the functional equivalent of a public agency subject to that state’s public records law.

“The factual allegations herein demonstrate that the OML is extensively controlled and funded by government, created by and for the benefit of government, exists to serve government, and has no purpose other than to serve government, and is thus the functional equivalent of a public office,” Mr. Thompson said.

Susan Cave, OML executive director, said she had not seen the complaint and could not comment.

Columbus Dispatch: Conservatives’ suit alleges Strickland favored unions

Contracts to build schools at heart of corruption claim

Friday, October 15, 2010 02:55 AM
By Darrel Rowland

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

A conservative group sued Gov. Ted Strickland, his chief of staff, the Ohio School Facilities Commission and others yesterday, alleging that they engaged in a pattern of corrupt activity by favoring unions in school-construction contracts.

A lawyer for the Columbus-based 1851 Center for Constitutional Law filed the action on behalf of six

Richland County residents – including the founder of the local tea party – in that county’s Common Pleas Court.

The lawsuit parallels many of the August findings of Inspector General Thomas P. Charles about the commission’s pro-union slant after Richard Murray was hired to replace Michael Shoemaker as its head. The suit also names Murray and the Laborers International Union.

“It certainly appears as though union influence over the Strickland administration caused the firing of the prior OSFC director, and the hiring of Murray, with either the instructions or the implicit understanding that Murray would run roughshod over taxpayers and school districts to benefit union allies,” said center Executive Director Maurice Thompson in a news release.

“School districts are making construction decisions within this troublesome framework. This suit aims to clean up the process before additional tax dollars are wasted.”

Strickland spokeswoman Amanda Wurst called the lawsuit “a really sad political stunt” by supporters of GOP opponent John Kasich.

“It’s an embarrassing sign of desperation just weeks before an election. We know that Congressman Kasich and his allies don’t share Ohio values, but to equate the governor’s support for policies that make sure working Ohioans get fair pay for a hard day’s work to corruption is just pathetic.”

The suit alleges that John Haseley, Strickland’s chief of staff, pressured Shoemaker to favor unions, noting that they are major Democratic contributors. Shoemaker was fired in July 2009 after unions threatened to withhold $400,000 in campaign contributions to Strickland, the suit contends.

The lawsuit accuses the Strickland administration of steering work – and state money – to the Laborers union “in exchange for (the union’s) contributions to the re-election campaign fund of Strickland.” The administration took part in bribery, intimidation, obstructing justice and money laundering, the suit alleges.

The complaint alleges instances of corrupt activity by the defendants in the Madison and Shelby school districts in Richland County, the Clay, New Boston and Washington-Nile school districts in Scioto County, and the Fremont school district in Sandusky County.

Gannett News Central Ohio:Lawsuit claims Strickland, Ohio School Facilities Commission engaged in corrupt activity

By LINDA MARTZ • CentralOhio.com • October 15, 2010

MANSFIELD — Six Richland County residents filed a lawsuit through a Columbus-based conservative group Thursday, claiming Gov. Ted Strickland and the Ohio School Facilities Commission engaged in corrupt activity by favoring unions on school construction projects.

Two Richland County school districts are named as defendants.

The lawsuit focuses partly on an April 12 meeting between Ohio School Facilities Commission director Richard C. Murray, Shelby and Madison school superintendents and Mansfield area union officials.

The lawsuit contends Murray, with encouragement by Strickland and his chief of staff, has pressured school districts to use Project Labor Agreements, which require contractors to hire workers from local union halls, or have their non-union employees pay dues to local unions, for the duration of construction projects.

In a prepared statement, the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, whose attorneys filed the civil action, stated, “Tax dollars have been wasted and continue to be at risk due to an unlawfully cozy relationship between the Strickland administration and labor unions.”

“It certainly appears as though union influence over the Strickland administration caused the firing of the prior OSFC director, and the hiring of Murray, with either the instructions or the implicit understanding that Murray would run rough-shod over taxpayers and school districts to benefit union allies,” 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson said.

“School districts are making construction decisions within this troublesome framework. This suit aims to clean up the process before additional tax dollars are wasted,” Thompson said.

A governor’s spokeswoman said the lawsuit, timed less than three weeks away from the Nov. 2 election, is politically motivated.

“These accusations are flat-out wrong. This is a really sad political stunt. It’s an embarrassing sign of desperation just weeks before an election,” Amanda Wurst said.

The civil action focuses on Murray, who replaced Michael Shoemaker as executive director of the Ohio School Facilities Commission after Strickland came into office, and is a member of LIUNA Local No. 423.

The lawsuit says at the April 12 meeting, Murray told Madison and Shelby school superintendents that “construction problems” occurred in the absence of PLAs, and that the commission had begun to use them because of this.

It alleges that union officials, including some affiliated with LIUNA, offered school officials their support passing upcoming levies each of the two districts placed on the ballot.

AP: Suit against Ohio governor alleges favoritism

October 15, 2010 3:35 PM ET

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – A libertarian legal center has sued Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, key aides and a labor union alleging they engaged in a pattern of corrupt activity regarding school construction contracts.

The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law filed the suit on behalf of 6 residents of Richland County in north-central Ohio. It cites August findings of the state watchdog that Strickland’s schools construction chief, Richard Murray, abused his authority in awarding contracts.

The suit accuses Strickland, his chief of staff, Murray and the Laborers International Union of bribery, intimidation, obstructing justice, and money laundering.

The governor’s spokeswoman calls the suit an act of election-season desperation by supporters of Strickland’s political opponent, Republican John Kasich.

Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

COUNTY ELECTIONS BOARD FILES OEC COMPLAINT AGAINST BLOGGER WHO TARGETS ‘RINOS’

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A non-profit legal advocacy firm is asking the Ohio Elections Commission to dismiss a complaint from a county elections board that contends a blogger violated campaign finance laws with postings that, among other things, target “RINOs” – Republicans in Name Only.

The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law characterized a filing from the Geauga County Board of Elections against Edmund Corsi as “an apparent retaliatory action against an outspoken critic.” [Read more…]

(WBNS 10TV) Watchdog: Red Light Camera Law ‘Fundamentally Flawed’

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 6:00 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Some critics on Tuesday said that the city’s controversial red light camera program is fundamentally flawed and could be challenged in court.

The city said that the red light camera program is about safety, but 10 Investigates has discovered the camera system that helps spot red light violators may be based on a shaky law.

The cameras catch drivers breaking the law by running red lights. They also catch those who turn on red without stopping. The city’s system is also snaring some innocent drivers, 10 Investigates’ Paul Aker reported.

The city sent Lance Smith a $95 ticket for turning right on a red light. The city’s documents showed Columbus sent more than 15,000 similar tickets between January and April.

Smith said he was not guilty because he stopped.

“I was very upset, I couldn’t believe it,” Smith said.

After reviewing the camera’s tape, a hearing officer agreed and said Smith did not break the law.

According to the law the city enacted to start its red light camera program, it is illegal to move past the stop bar whenever there is a steady red light.

The law does not make exceptions for right-hand turns, Aker reported.

“I think it’s faulty, that system is faulty,” Smith said.

Critics of the law agreed.

Ohio law states it is OK to turn right on red, unless signs are posted that prohibit right turns.

There are no such signs at intersections with the red light cameras, Aker reported.

Columbus’ 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a Libertarian-oriented constitutional watchdog, said the law is unconstitutional and is prepared to fight it in court.

“There is a viable challenge,” said the center’s spokesman, Maurice Thompson. “We’ll support that attorney with legal research and legal briefing and make sure that the people of Ohio are ultimately able to limit their government and to keep a little bit of their own money in their pocket.”

Public safety officials said the red light cameras are legal, but agreed that the laws surrounding them need some work.

View the original story here.

Judge sets charter school precedent

Public districts can no longer stop competitors from moving in to old buildings

BY KIMBALL PERRY • Cincinnati Enquirer • June 1, 2010

CINCINNATI — For the first time, a Hamilton County judge has allowed an exclusive exception to property deed restrictions that could help thwart attempts by public school districts to block school children — and the public money that accompanies them — from going to charter schools across the country.

Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Ruehlman ruled last week the Cincinnati Public School district cannot prevent Roger Conners from opening a charter school at the old Roosevelt School at 1550 Tremont Street after he bought the building from the district. That ruling came even though the deed on the building carried a clause — that Conners knew about — prohibiting the building from ever again being used for a school.

“There has never been a court in Ohio or the country that has decided to void a deed restriction … as it relates to charter schools,” said Scott Phillips, attorney for Cincinnati Public Schools.

The ruling is ominous for school districts across the state, especially those in major metropolitan areas which no longer can use similar deed restrictions to try to keep charter schools from opening, Maurice Thompson, Conners’ attorney, said Friday.

That’s because the issue largely is about money.

“It’s done to suppress the growth of charter schools in Cincinnati,” said Thompson, director of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, a private, nonprofit public policy law firm with a goal of preventing government abuses.

Each student who leaves Cincinnati Public Schools for a charter school takes with him or her about $5,700 in public education money to the new school.

Thompson noted about 7,000 Cincinnati students attend charter schools, taking with them about $40 million in state money that previously went to the public schools.

Conners and others bought the building — one of nine the district auctioned off last year because they were dilapidated — for $30,000. His group noted at the time the building would be used for commercial purposes.

Shortly after the sale was complete, Conners told the public school district he planned to open a charter school — publicly financed, privately operated schools that operate independently of and compete with traditional districts — in the building.

Cincinnati Public Schools sued.

Conners argued, and Ruehlman agreed, the district’s deed restrictions violated public policy.

Thompson said it was akin to selling your house and putting a clause in the deed noting the house can’t be sold to a person of a specific race.

“Cincinnati (school district) can’t enforce this restriction, now or in the future,” Thompson said.

Other school districts have tried similar deed restrictions to limit the growth of charter schools and their drain of the public money, Thompson said. Ruehlman’s ruling, he added, ends that.

“This is actually a big issue across the state,” Thompson said, “because they are all losing money to charter schools.”

Phillips noted the “public policy exception” cited by the judge is “rarely used” and shouldn’t have been in this case. It is “highly likely” the district will appeal Ruehlman’s decision, Phillips said Friday.

Conners’ school, the Theodore Roosevelt School, has 12 classrooms and will be for kindergarten through 12th grade. It will focus on an individualized technology-based program.

Already, it has 45 students enrolled and plans to have 150 by the time school opens in mid-August, Thompson said. It has 35 employees, including 18 teachers.

Conners has spent about $100,000 to renovate the unused building and win a zoning change that allows for the building to become — again — a school.

AP: ACORN gives up Ohio business license, won’t return

By JULIE CARR SMYTH (AP)
Thursday, March 11, 2010

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The community organizing group ACORN has agreed to give up its Ohio business license and not return under another name, as it has in other states, under a settlement struck with a libertarian center that sued it.

U.S. District Judge Herman Weber, in Cincinnati, signed off on the deal, which settles claims brought by the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law against ACORN’s voter registration practices. Other terms of the deal are confidential.

The center alleged in a lawsuit filed in 2008 that ACORN’s voter registration drives amounted to organized crime because the group turned in a pattern of fraudulent forms.

Center attorney Maurice Thompson said restricting ACORN’s ability to support or enable other groups to “do what they do” was crucial to the deal, especially in a state he characterized as “ground zero” to their voter advocacy efforts.

“It carries a great deal of significance because, in the absence of that term, ACORN could simply have shut down but reopened the next day as WALNUT or CHESTNUT or whatever and done the exact same thing,” Thompson said. “So our goal was to affect permanent change.”

In other states, including New York and California, ACORN chapters have disbanded and resumed operations under new names.

The California ACORN chapter split from the national organization in January, forming a new nonprofit called the Alliance of Californians for Community Employment, or ACCE.

In New York, where three ACORN employees were caught on video apparently advising a couple posing as a prostitute and her boyfriend to lie about her profession and launder her earnings, ACORN’s local offices disbanded and resumed operations as New York Communities for Change. Prosecutors said they found no criminal wrongdoing by the employees.

That video and a series of others filmed at ACORN offices around the country last year sparked a national scandal and helped drive the organization to near ruin.

ACORN spokesman Kevin Whelan said Thursday the group agreed to surrender its Ohio business license by June 1 and already has closed up shop in the state.

“For reasons unrelated to the lawsuit, ACORN was winding up its staff operations in Ohio anyway,” he said. “So there was no practical reason for us to spend time and money litigating this suit further, even though it was baseless and intended to harass us.”

ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, describes itself as an advocate for low-income and minority home buyers and residents. It denied any wrongdoing in Ohio.

Whelan said offshoot groups that have formed as new nonprofits may have help from former ACORN activists but are independent entities. He said no such effort has taken place in Ohio.

“They’re new corporations, incorporated with different boards that include some people that used to be involved with ACORN but also prominent community members from labor and public life,” Whelan said. “So those really are new and different things, although a number of people who played a big role in them played a role in ACORN for a long time.”