A line buried in a routine financial disclosure statement has revealed how corporate donations are fueling JobsOhio, the private job-creation agency created in 2011 to take over from the Ohio Department of Development. American Electric Power, according to a 2011 federal filing uncovered by the Columbus Dispatch, donated $2 million, routing the substantial sum through an obscure JobsOhio companion agency then called the Ohio Business Development Coalition.
To confuse matters further, the business coalition, originally formed to help the development department, was restructured and renamed. It is now the JobsOhio Beverage System, even though its task is to route money to JobsOhio, not serve refreshments. Eventually, it may become the vehicle for public funds, through a complicated lease of the state’s liquor profits.
Both the structure of JobsOhio and its financing invite questions about transparency and accountability, especially for an agency that is shielded from public-records laws and allowed to keep its negotiations on development deals private.
But the questions don’t end there. In the case of AEP (which quit the Ohio Chamber of Commerce after it endorsed John Kasich for governor), such a large donation carries with it the question of whether the utility is currying political favor or promoting economic expansion.
Once elected governor, Kasich made JobsOhio a top priority, private donations becoming important because legal obstacles have frozen use of state liquor profits, at least temporarily.
JobsOhio has been counting on using the state’s liquor profits to generate $100 million a year. But lawsuits from the left and right challenged the use of public money by the private sector. The issue remains unresolved, the Ohio Supreme Court ending its term Dec. 31 with no ruling on the challengers’ right to sue.
Even so, JobsOhio, buoyed by strong credit ratings from Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, says it will proceed to the bond market to borrow $1.5 billion, the money necessary to lease the state’s liquor profits. In the absence of transparency, the question is what other surprises lie ahead.