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State officials wrong to use tax money on campaign trail

This time of year, elected officials walk a fine line between public appearances required by their jobs and appearances that turn out to be campaign stops. They and their staffs know the value of every voter greeted, every bit of name recognition reinforced. In the Buckeye State, a newspaper’s investigation revealed a few state level officials who appear to have done a bit of scrambling in making sure they did not step off that line.

According to a report by The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio’s attorney general, auditor, secretary of state and treasurer say a state prohibition against driving taxpayer-provided vehicles for personal, non-state or political purposes does not apply to them.

In fact, according to the Dispatch, Treasurer Robert Sprague traveled a total of 4,447 miles for “unofficial” or personal business. The Dispatch requested mileage records Feb. 18. Sprague’s campaign reimbursed his office $2,312 for personal use of his state car in 2019, on Feb. 25; and then provided the records to the Dispatch on Feb. 26.

Attorney General David Yost’s office did not keep a travel log, it told the Dispatch. But created one when records were requested. It showed nearly 600 miles in state vehicles to attend 32 political events in 2019. His campaign later wrote a check for $348 to the attorney general’s office, though spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle insisted to the Dispatch reporter, “He’s Ohio’s attorney general at all public-facing events.”

Auditor Keith Faber’s campaign reimbursed his office $727 for 1,397 personal miles on his state SUV in 2019, and Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s campaign paid back $391 through Oct. 31, 2019, according to the report. All four state officials also have drivers and/or personal aides paid to, among other duties, accompany them on such trips.

In the grand scheme of things, the amount of money in question is not large, it seems to have been reimbursed (in two cases, AFTER reporters started investigating), and all the officials investigated came up with explanations for why an important state policy does not apply to them. But a state vehicle with a taxpayer funded driver is not a luxury other candidates have on the campaign trail.

Ethics rules exist for a reason. One would think those incumbents would be especially concerned about following them carefully as they hope to convince voters they deserve to remain in office. Sprague, Yost, Faber and LaRose were right to have their campaigns reimburse the state for “unofficial” travel. Perhaps next time they will think better of it and save themselves the trouble.

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