Ohio2006 Blog

News, analysis, and comments on Ohio elections.

Thursday, September 14

Treasurer: Cordray (D) Faults Blackwell (R) for Coingate Scandal

State treasurer candidate County Treasurer Richard Cordray (D-Grove City) says gubernatorial candidate Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (R-Cincinnati) committed a "pure abuse of authority" and gave disgraced Republican party official and fundraiser Tom Noe a "license to steal" when Noe received unbridled personal authority to invest $25 million in BWC investment funds while Blackwell was state treasurer. Cordray said he doesn't want to "suggest other officials aren't culpable, but the treasurer has custody of the money" and "it was illegal and improper for the treasurer to allow BWC money to go out of the treasury" in that way.

These comments came toward the end of an interview with Cordray in which I participated with fellow bloggers Redhorse and Pho at Cafe Momus in Akron the week before last. Pho had just asked how much power Cordray would have as state treasurer to prevent another Coingate, to which he replied "enough -- enough to prevent it." He explained that a treasurer should operate on a delivery vs. payment system, under which funds are not paid out until the return is delivered. The investment latitude granted to Noe violated this principle. When I brought up the criticism leveled by Cordray's opponent County Auditor Sandra O'Brien (R-Ashtabula) against her primary foe, incumbent Treasurer Jennette Bradley (R), to the effect that Bradley bore the responsibility for Coingate, Cordray called the criticism "disingenuous" and explained that the fault dates back to Blackwell's tenure as state treasurer, as detailed above. Cordray reports that O'Brien now makes the "bizarre" claim that the Republican party has "solved the problem" of BWC/Coingate corruption by choosing O'Brien over Bradley in the Republican primary for state treasurer.

This was only one highlight among many in our long conversation with Cordray, a brilliant man with sterling credentials. Just to mention a few, he earned his economics degree at Oxford University, was Editor-in-Chief of the law review at The University of Chicago Law School, and clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy. Cordray was a State Representative 1991-93 and Ohio State Solicitor 1993-94, supervising all appellate work for the Attorney General. He ran for Congress in the 15th District in 1992 and for Attorney General in 1998, and he's been Treasurer of Franklin County since 2002. Just in case there's any remaining question about his remarkable intelligence, Cordray was captain of the "College Bowl" team (and a national all-star) at Michigan State University and an undefeated five-time champion on the TV program "Jeopardy."

Cordray said that he likes his job as a county treasurer, which has given him a chance to "build a record" and "do good things." He manages a portfolio that averages $650 million and consistently beats its benchmarks, and he has set new records for delinquent tax collection in Franklin County. His major initiatives include stimulating land revitalization, promoting personal finance education, and developing a community outreach program. In 2005 he was named the national "County Leader of the Year." He credits his 1998 statewide campaign for Attorney General, however, with helping him win his primary race against another county treasurer, his friend Hugh Quill (D-Dayton).

As to his opponent, Cordray said it is "peculiar" that all O'Brien has to recommend her is that she is not a moderate. O'Brien has a "pretty troublesome record" and she does not even have the qualification of being a county treasurer (she is a county auditor, which is "more like an accountant"). She "won an ideological primary" against Bradley. Cordray says that O'Brien doesn't even talk about the state treasurer's office when the two of them appear before newspaper editorial boards, focusing instead on her ideological positions.

As to his own qualifications, Cordray stressed his solid record of keeping money safe as treasurer for four years in a county that collects $1.5 billion in taxes annually and has about $650 million to invest at any given time. Ohio's financial scandals have been so pervasive that "simply being more careful" resonates with the voters. As far as what else he hopes to accomplish as state treasurer, Cordray wants to look at using part of the $11 billion that the State Treasurer invests on a daily basis to jump start local economies. This would occur through a "linked deposit loan program," in which the state places money on deposit in local banks at a "haircut" rate in return for the banks' agreement to make low-interest loans in the community to increase economic development. This has been done for purposes of agricultural preservation, but Ohio "hasn't really used it aggressively for job creation." In addition, Cordray hopes to obtain the authority (probably in the form of legislative approval) to conduct an inventory of state property. He contends that much property is not being used to best economic effect at present, and without an inventory that situation is impossible to rectify.

Cordray describes himself as a zealot on the issue of personal finance education. In Franklin County he learned that many taxpayers have trouble handling their personal finances, which results in unnecessary defaults and foreclosures. He says that educating people on responsible personal finance practices, preferably in high school before they are deluged with credit card applications, is the key to reducing tax delinquency. He would like to continue to advocate for this as state treasurer.

As to corruption and mismanagement in state government, Cordray believes that "a lot of Republicans feel personally disappointed about these things" and "there is a lot of anger." Although Republican dogma is anti-government, people "know there are certain things that government needs to do, and looking after money is one of them." The right to expect public officials to be honest and "handle state money like it is their own" is not a partisan issue, and people certainly get it. "It is not under the radar screen," Cordray said, "because people wouldn't invest their own retirement money in rare coins and beanie babies." For this reason, Cordray thinks he will get Republican votes.

Comparing a statewide race to a local race, Cordray said it is valuable to go door-to-door in the former but you can't affect enough voters that way. The key is therefore raising money and getting your message on the airwaves. Younger candidates are interested in other means, he said, and in particular Cordray is interested in the blogosphere, but "there's really no substitute for beaming the message into living rooms via the TV set." As election day approaches, Cordray is surprised that the Republicans didn't get a "red meat issue" on the ballot. He had heard that it might be gay adoption, but apparently that didn't poll well after it was introduced as a bill in the General Assembly.


At 9:38 AM, Anonymous Eric said...

Great piece. I've been really impressed with Rich as well and it would be nice to see someone in that job who will safeguard our hard earned tax money. I think many could support this kind of reform.

At 1:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

excellent piece and blog - I'm glad I stumbled across it on the internets.
(one note, you identified O'Brien as a D in the hyperlink)

I remember Rich from back in the day when he ran against Pryce, iirc, and couldn't go back and compete in the Tournament of Champions because he was a current political candidate. He seemed really young, but still very impressive. He has even managed to improve with age - Pryce, not so much. Must be the company she keeps.

Keep up the great work! I'll be visiting regularly.


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