LaRose uses state newsletter to promote Senate campaign

By: - October 30, 2023 5:00 am

Left to right, forum moderator, Bloomdaddy from WTAM Radio, Bernie Moreno, Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, OH Sec. of State Frank LaRose. (Photo by Nick Evans, Ohio Capital Journal.)

Frustrated former employees told the press that in their office “everything revolved around” Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s run for U.S. Senate. Now LaRose appears to be using the taxpayer-funded office’s newsletter in that campaign.

As a state official, LaRose isn’t supposed to use state resources in his political campaigns. And as secretary of state, it’s especially important that he wall off politics from his official duties because LaRose administers elections — including those in which he’s running.

However, as he seeks the Republican nomination to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown next year, LaRose has become an increasingly hard-edged partisan as he seeks the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, who continues to attack the underpinnings of democracy itself.

In addition to ignoring state Supreme Court orders regarding partisan gerrymandering, LaRose championed a measure in an August special election that would have made it almost impossible for citizen-initiated amendments to make it onto the ballot, much less into the Ohio Constitution. The measure failed badly, but LaRose and his allies tried to force it through ahead of a vote on an amendment protecting abortion rights that takes place a week from tomorrow, and an anti-gerrymandering amendment that is expected to be on the ballot in 2024.

Substantial ethical questions also have arisen as LaRose juggles his senatorial ambitions with his duty to conduct secure, fair elections in Ohio.

The Columbus Dispatch earlier this month reported on high staff turnover, with one former staffer telling the paper “Everything (in the secretary of state’s office) revolved around the Senate run.” 

Last month, NBC4 reported that LaRose was moving the secretary of state’s office from its location of 20 years and into a building where he had also registered his campaign with the Federal Election Commission. 

Then earlier this month, the Capital Journal reported that LaRose almost certainly recorded a campaign interview with election denier and conspiracy theorist Steve Bannon from the same building. 

LaRose refuses to answer questions about such activities. But he claims to have no campaign headquarters while he soon will be running his state office from the building where his campaign is registered. 

If LaRose uses people working on state time or uses state offices in his campaign, it could violate a section of Ohio law prohibiting the use of state resources to raise funds for a campaign.

Paul Nick, executive director of the Ohio Ethics Commission, this week said his agency needs to know more about LaRose’s new office arrangements.

“The Commission doesn’t pass judgment without first gathering and evaluating all of the facts,” Nick said in an email. “Determining whether a public official’s agency may relocate to the same office building as that official’s campaign headquarters requires deeper inquiry. We would encourage the Secretary of State to contact us for guidance on such questions.”

Philip Richter, executive director of the Ohio Elections Commission, said his agency would have to be asked in order to look into the matter.

“The only way for the Commission to take action on the statute is if an affidavit of complaint is filed with the Commission that would start the Commission’s processes on addressing those types of allegations,” Richter said in an email Thursday.  “The Commission cannot simply commence an investigation without the filing of a complaint.”

Now LaRose appears to have used his office’s newsletter to promote his campaign. 

The Oct. 20 edition of the Secretary of State’s “Week in Review” offers updates about the coming election and it notes that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. There are also blurbs about LaRose’s travels and activities during the week.

But the newsletter also has an “In Case You Missed It” section. It contained the top of an article by The Marietta Times that prominently featured the political message LaRose wants to convey to people who will be voting in the GOP Senate Primary.

The second paragraph said LaRose “also confirmed his credentials as a conservative Republican who wants to make Sherrod Brown a former U.S. Senator, not the incumbent. Brown has been Ohio’s senior U.S. senator for a dozen years and the only Democratic statewide elected official in Ohio, with the exception of a few nonpartisan judicial races.”

The newsletter then linked to the full story, which quoted LaRose bashing Brown for allegedly helping to make the country “weaker, poorer and less secure,” and the Biden administration over the economy and border security.  

LaRose’s office didn’t respond to questions about the newsletter.

The state auditor is responsible for policing misuse of state resources. A spokesman said Thursday that a law regarding politicking in taxpayer-funded newsletters applies only to officials with “political subdivisions” such as counties. The law prohibits them from publishing a newsletter that “supports or opposes the nomination or election of a candidate for public office.”

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Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.

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