Invitation to GOP fundraiser stirs some concern

Friday, 4 March 2011

Days before Ohio Gov. John Kasich is to release his rumored Draconian state budget, a freshman Republican House member is holding a fundraiser for himself with a minimum $250 donation advertised as a "Last chance before the Governor's Budget!"
State Rep. Michael Henne of Clayton, a suburb of Dayton, recently distributed an invitation to his fundraiser Wednesday at the Athletic Club of Columbus that was obtained by The Dispatch. The document does not include a disclaimer notifying recipients of who paid for the invitation - a breach of Ohio election law punishable by a fine of up to $500 - and promises a "free valuable gift for all attendees."
At the bottom of the invitation is a reference to Kasich's looming budget proposal - due March 15 to the Ohio House. Kasich's budget will affect schools, hospitals, prisons and many other institutions that rely on state funding.
"We hope to get a lot done this GA (general assembly session) but need your help," the invitation reads. "Last chance before the Governor's Budget!"
Some Democrats and government watchdogs decried the invitation for what they said was its appearance of offering influence on the budget in exchange for cash donations.
In an interview today, Henne denied those charges and said his only intent was to "have a little fun before the governor's budget" is released.
"After the budget comes out, there's going to be some really hard work to do," said Henne, who owns an insurance company.
"I just thought we'd go have a drink together before the hard work truly begins March 15. I've never been in politics before, so I'm not used to looking for hidden meanings in everything."
Catherine Turcer, a campaign-finance specialist with the nonprofit government watchdog Ohio Citizen Action, said Henne's invitation sounds like it is promoting a pay-to-play atmosphere.
"It says 'This is your last chance before the governor's budget.' That's pretty direct," Turcer said. "He may have had a more innocent meaning, but ask someone on the street about it and they wouldn't see the subtext."
Tony Bledsoe, Ohio's legislative inspector general, said Henne's budget reference wasn't illegal because there is no "blatant quid pro quo," but "the appearance (of a quid pro quo) can certainly be an issue here."
Henne said he would post signs at the event indicating who was paying for it, to make up for the fact that the invitation did not explain it.
Mike Dittoe, a spokesman for the Republican Ohio House caucus, said the "free gift" Henne advertised is actually a cheap button that reads "I like Mike."
Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said he is issuing a "pass" for Henne because he is in his first year as an elected officeholder.
"I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt that he's a very new and uninformed legislator and didn't have a deeper intent," Redfern said. "I'd like to think that he doesn't understand the laws of the state and that he might not get it that's a bad idea to tie votes to donations."


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