One would think that with as much golf as Gov. Bob Taft plays, he could avoid the sand traps. But apparently, he still has a big handicap.
On Aug. 17, Taft was charged with four counts of ethics violations, one for each year since 2002. For the past four years, he has filed incorrect financial disclosure statements with the Ohio Ethics Commission. According to the OEC, the purpose of the financial disclosure statements is “to remind public officials of financial interests that may conflict with their duties.”
Taft forgot to report golf outings with officials from Ohio-based companies, such as Nationwide Mutual Insurance and Longaberger. Taft also met with coin dealer Thomas Noe on one of these 18-hole business engagements. In all, Taft failed to report 52 gifts with a total value of nearly $5,800. He has said the omissions in the financial disclosure statements were accidental.
I have an easy solution that would eliminate such accidents: Don’t accept bribes, err, I mean, gifts.
Countless professions have strict ethics codes that prohibit members from accepting gifts. Many journalists take these codes to heart, doing nothing that could jeopardize a story’s credibility. Accepting gifts and doing some routine actions may lead some to suspect bias in stories written by that journalist.
Journalists often like to meet potential sources in person, sometimes at their homes. Out of kindness, many people offer coffee or tea to visiting journalists. The strictest of us politely refuse this offer. A cup of coffee would hardly sway a story, but such a gesture may suggest to the source that forthcoming stories will show him or her in a favorable light.
In the same way, the golf trips Taft has taken may make the officials of the host companies believe they have garnered some sort of favor. This is not only misleading, but also harmful to relations between companies and the state government.
The gifts may have indeed garnered favor for Longaberger and Nationwide. Not only did the companies give Taft a few free rounds of golf, but they also got a chance to bend his ear.
Diebold, another Ohio company, is currently working on voting machines for future elections. Diebold was not involved in Taft’s ethics violation, but imagine the influence the company could have when talking with the governor. Possibilities for impropriety abound. These secret meetings could get Taft to give the company tax breaks. Bribes may even make Taft look the other way while Diebold tampers with voting machines in pursuit of its own political agenda.
The instances above are hypothetical. But there is a handful of companies in Ohio as powerful as Diebold, and each could potentially harm America. To prevent bias when making decisions, politicians should follow rules as strict as those followed by journalists concerning gifts.
Taft, who has been voted the worst governor in the United States, may have messed up again, but I believe all politicians who accept gifts are making mistakes, which could hurt us all.
Allen Hines is a freshman pre-journalism and mass communication major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]