State policy grants lobbyists greater access to government buildings than the general public, according to government officials.
Members of the Ohio Lobbying Association, which represents Ohio lobbyists, can obtain access cards to the Statehouse and state office buildings nearby.
The cards are also available to lawmakers, their staff, some state employees and certain journalists. They enable their beholders to skip security lines, access elevator bays in the office buildings, and enter the Statehouse after hours. Facetime with policymakers is simply easier to come by in the public spaces than calling in and setting a meeting.
The Department of Administrative Services, which manages the Rhodes and Riffe buildings, does not have a written policy regarding who gets a card, according to spokesman Bill Teets.
He said the cards grant access to the turnstiles and elevator bays only, not into specific agencies’ doors. They generally go to members of OLA and the Ohio Legislative Correspondents Association, comprised of the statehouse press corps.
(Disclosure: Ohio Capital Journal reporters are OLCA members and have Capitol access cards.)
“Badge access is part of a security review we [DAS and the Capital Square Review and Advisory Board] are undertaking, and is something that could change in the near future,” Teets said.
Those without access cards can enter the Riffe Center without an appointment by presenting a government-issued photo identification and obtaining a visitor sticker at the security reception desk, Teets said.
DAS declined a public records request seeking a full list of who has such access cards, citing a “security record” exemption to public records laws.
The Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board’s policy allows issuance of access cards to registered lobbyists; statehouse employees; agency employees with office space at the statehouse or who work out of there on a daily basis; elected officials; agency directors; and journalists who are OLCA members. The cards grant access one hour before doors open to the public, and one hour afterward.
“Members of the general public who are not part of these groups are required to pass through security screening at one of the public entrances,” said CSRAB spokesman Mike Rupert.
Sheila Fox, executive director of the OLA, did not respond to an interview request or specifics about whether lobbyists should have greater access to government buildings than the public.
“All individuals registered with [the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee] and in good standing are eligible to apply and pay for a pass to the select state buildings, which, in the course of the business day, may require entry or reentry multiple times a day to attend hearings or meetings,” the OLA board said in a statement, issued through Fox.
Two men who recently served as speaker of the House were ousted from their perch due to allegedly unscrupulous relationships with lobbyists.
Larry Householder, who is under indictment for alleged public corruption and was recently expelled from the House, was charged alongside three lobbyists in an alleged pay-to-play scheme. One has pleaded guilty, one died by suicide, and one pleaded not guilty. Householder pleaded not guilty and awaits trial.
Federal investigators also issued subpoenas to the Ohio House in 2018 amid their investigation of former Speaker Cliff Rosenberger’s relationship with three payday lending lobbyists, according to the Columbus Dispatch. He has not been charged with a crime.
Different states have different approaches in giving lobbyists free roam.
The Arkansas secretary of state tried but backed down in 2020 from implementing a policy to limit lawmakers from sponsoring lobbyists to access a key card to the Capitol, according to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. In 2018, the only West Virginia lobbyist with access to the Capitol represented companies owned by the governor (he said he had the card because he worked on the governor’s transition team in 2016), according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
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