Ohio Gov. John Kasich made news last month when he proposed returning $1 billion in insurance premiums to more than 200,000 public and private employers.
The rebates, later approved by the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation board, could be worth up to millions of dollars and are possible thanks to an unexpected surplus in bureau funds.
A couple of weeks later, the Republican Kasich noted the accomplishment among others in an email sent to his campaign’s listserv. The email drew the ire of State Rep. Tom Letson.
A statement sent by Letson’s office called Kasich campaign’s email as a "fundraising pitch to cash in" on the rebates. Letson asserted that Kasich was "raising money from an injured workers’ fund" and that the governor has "directly tied BWC rebates to" political donations.
"It is as if the Governor is implying that a portion of the rebate should be directed back to him in the form of campaign cash," said Letson, a four-term Democrat from Warren.
PolitiFact Ohio decided that Letson’s provocative claim was worth a closer look.
Let’s start with the email from Kasich’s campaign. Letson’s office attached a copy to his statement. We confirmed its authenticity after a Kasich aide forwarded us the original.
The campaign email’s subject line: "$1 billion back." Here is the entire text:
[Supporter], did you hear the recent news about the $1 billion coming back to Ohio taxpayers? Governor Kasich recently announced that Ohio's Bureau of Workers' Compensation would be returning $1 billion back to public and private employers in a move that’s aimed to help spur job creation. This plan has received a lot of praise and you can read some of the coverage below.
Also, a recent survey of CEOs named Ohio as having the most improved business climate of all the other states in the country. It's great to see our reforms getting so much attention but there's still a lot more work to do and we’ll need your help to keep up the momentum.
Finally, Gov. Kasich joined a Mahoning Valley company in announcing the creation of new jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in the local economy. You can read more about this great news here.
Below are some more things for you to read and please take a moment to help us share some of them with your Facebook friends:
We share the entire text, with the Kasich campaign’s bolded emphasis added, to show that there is no direct fundraising pitch in the text. The closest the campaign comes is the line about how Kasich has "a lot more work to do" and needs "your help to keep up the momentum."
Immediately below the text were photos and headlines that link to six articles shared on the campaign’s website. At the very bottom of the email were two button-style links. One, labeled "Donate Today", links to the contribution page on the campaign’s website. The "Donate" button was not displayed next to any mention of the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation rebate offer.
PolitiFact Ohio reached out to Letson’s office. Keary McCarthy, chief of staff for the Ohio House Democrats, responded on the lawmaker’s behalf. He argued that because the email included the "Donate" button at the bottom, it qualified as a fundraising pitch. Because the email noted the rebate program, McCarthy said it’s fair to link the rebates to a plea for campaign money.
"Donate" buttons are common on nearly every email sent by a political campaign. Many emails are much more explicit, whether by suggesting specific contribution amounts or making it clear that the supporter’s donation is important to meeting an incremental goal or winning a race.
McCarthy stressed other points from Letson’s statement, which referred to past "horrible missteps" at the workers’ compensation agency. That’s a reference to the Coingate scandal during the Taft administration, in which lax oversight of investments cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Tom Noe, a Republican fundraiser, went to prison for raiding a $50 million portfolio he had managed for the agency.
That context helps explain what type of behavior Letson is concerned about. But Letson spoke of misbehavior as if it already was occurring. So, do the facts back him up? Let’s review.
In an email to campaign supporters, Kasich’s campaign touted the workers’ comp rebate program and two other recent accomplishments. The email included links to articles about these and other accomplishments and, at the very bottom, a link for those who wished to donate. So there is a fundraising element to the email.
Letson said it was "as if the Governor is implying that a portion of the rebate should be directed back to him in the form of campaign cash." He is not merely asserting that Kasich was trying to raise money in the email. Rather, Letson is positing something very specific: that Kasich was asking rebate recipients to kick back some of their savings to the governor’s campaign.
That’s a serious accusation. And though Letson hedges with words such as "as if" and "implying," that doesn’t excuse the gravity of his claim. We don’t think anyone could reasonably come away from Kasich’s email with the impression he implied what Letson says he did.
PolitiFact Ohio has a rating for such absurd statements: Pants on Fire!