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Ohio Sec. of State LaRose concedes he politicked out of building where he moved his state office


Ohio Sec. of State LaRose concedes he politicked out of building where he moved his state office

Dec 01, 2023 | 5:00 am ET
By Marty Schladen
Ohio Sec. of State LaRose concedes he politicked out of building where he moved his state office
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.)

After months of silence, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose this week conceded that he’s engaged in campaign activity in the same building where he just finished moving his state agency — one that is in charge of conducting Ohio elections. But he hasn’t given any further details, nor did he explain why Ohioans should trust him not to politick out of the building as he runs in a three-way U.S. Senate primary that will be held in just four months.

Adding to questions about the secretary’s forthrightness, his office has stressed that the more than $600,000 it will cost to move and refit the new space won’t come from taxpayers. The expenses instead will be funded by fees the secretary collects from business filings, his office emphasized.

Since both are public funds, many in the public might find that to be a distinction without a difference.

NBC4 in September reported that LaRose was quietly moving the secretary of state’s office from the 180 Broad Street location it had occupied for nearly two decades to one at 200 Civic Center Drive along the Scioto Mile. 

That building also happens to house the offices at which LaRose in July registered his Senate campaign with the Federal Elections Commission. They belong to BakerHostetler, the law firm representing his campaign.

He says he doesn’t have a campaign headquarters, and LaRose claimed it was just a coincidence that his campaign lawyers would be located in the building where he is now using taxpayer dollars to administer that and other elections as secretary of state. 

For months, LaRose declined to answer questions from NBC4 and the Capital Journal asking whether he had engaged in campaign activities at 200 Civic Center Drive, and whether he planned to do so in the future. In mid-October when he was asked in person, LaRose stalked off

A few weeks earlier, he certainly appeared to have politicked in the building when he posted a video clip of a campaign interview with far-right provocateur Steve Bannon. His office refused to answer questions, but LaRose was seated in front of a window overlooking a scene showing that he almost certainly was somewhere in the building at 200 Civic Center Drive.

On Monday, LaRose’s office finally conceded to NBC4 that he had used the building for campaign activities in the past. 

“While the Secretary has used meeting space temporarily at the law firm’s offices in the past, and there is no legal or ethical restriction on continuing to do so, he will not use that space now that the Secretary of State’s office has relocated to this new property,” the station quoted LaRose spokeswoman Melanie Amato as saying. 

LaRose’s office didn’t respond to questions from the Capital Journal. They included a request to detail the campaign activities LaRose had undertaken in the building — instead of simply saying Ohio’s top election official “used meeting space temporarily.” 

LaRose’s candor has frequently come into question this year. 

Among the instances, he led an expensive, failed campaign to make it much more difficult for citizens to amend the state Constitution. The campaign was littered with contradictory and misleading claims.

Then, as chairman of the Ohio Ballot Board, he rewrote a ballot “summary” of an abortion-rights amendment that passed by a 14-point margin on Nov. 7. The ballot board made misleading changes and inserted loaded words such as “unborn child” into a supposed summary that was roughly as long as the amendment itself.

On Wednesday, The Cleveland Plain Dealer broke the news that LaRose on Nov. 17 told a Republican group that he allowed several anti-abortion groups to assist in the rewrite. In other words, Ohio’s top elections official invited opponents to write ballot language that mischaracterized an abortion-rights amendment that supporters gathered a half-million registered voters’ signatures to put to on that ballot.

In light of such apparent duplicity, LaRose’s spokeswoman was asked why Ohioans should trust LaRose to honor his promise not to campaign out of the building at 200 Civic Center Drive — or even out of the office from which he’s supposed to be administering elections. She didn’t respond.

In addition, spokeswoman Amato told NBC4 that taxpayers aren’t funding the move, because fees from business filings are. That ignores the fact that tax funds would have to make up for any losses in filing fees and vice versa.

Another question that received no response: If business filing fees are so plentiful, would LaRose support cutting them to help small businesses?