Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)
There was another call on Wednesday for Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose to provide documents explaining his decision to move his state offices into the same building as he registered his campaign for U.S. Senate.
LaRose, a Republican, has claimed he’s running a “lean and mean” campaign for Senate and doesn’t have a fixed headquarters. But he refused to answer last week when asked whether he was engaged in campaign activities in the same building the secretary of state’s offices are moving into — something he appears already to have done on at least one occasion.
For LaRose to administer next year’s Senate election in the same building he campaigns out of would raise serious ethical questions, experts have said. For one, LaRose and his staff would be strongly tempted to use taxpayer resources meant to run a fair election to instead try to win that election, they said.
Among others, Ohio Democrats have been pushing for answers.
Late last month, 13 Democratic lawmakers sent LaRose a letter demanding information about the move, which could be complete as early as next month.
Then on Wednesday, the state Democratic Party organized a press conference in front of the offices the secretary of state has occupied for the past two decades. It featured three Ohioans who have submitted open-records requests to the state Department of Administrative Services — which handles state leases.
NBC4 in September reported on LaRose’s plans to move the taxpayer-funded offices from 22 N. 4th St. to 200 Civic Center Drive. The latter address also happened to be the address at which he registered his Senate campaign with the Federal Election Commission on July 17.
Since then, LaRose has answered few questions about the move, other than to tell a friendly interviewer that it would save taxpayers money and that it’s a “silly non-story.” However, the claim that the move is a money saver for taxpayers is questionable.
Rent in the new offices at 200 Civic Center Drive is $11,000 a year less than at the ones the secretary of state is leaving. But the move itself will cost $600,000, meaning that the rental savings won’t pay for the move for 54 years.
“LaRose refuses to be transparent with us,” said Armando Telles, one of those speaking at Wednesday’s press conference.
He, Kathryn Seewer and Alfred Navarro submitted identical open-records requests to the Department of Administrative Services asking for all communications between the secretary of state’s office and DAS about the move since the start of last year.
LaRose requested and received a waiver from the state’s competitive-procurement requirements to enter into the new lease. In their records requests, the three want documents relating to any analyses DAS might have done of the relocation and documents about any other locations that were considered.
In addition, LaRose has cited the parking garage that’s adjacent to the building his offices are moving to as a reason for making the change. The requesters want any DAS documents relating to the secretary of state’s current lease and parking near that location.
Telles, one of the information requestors, said it needs to be released so the public can know whether LaRose’s effort to move the state office he runs is on the level.
“This is a conflict of interest at the expense of Ohioans,” Telles said.
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