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21st of May 2018

Politics



Cliff Rosenberger, former House speaker, discloses tens of thousands of dollars in travel expenses

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Former Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, who abruptly resigned last month amid an FBI inquiry into his international travel habits, on Tuesday disclosed being reimbursed for more than $43,000 in travel expenses last year while he was in the state legislature.

More than half of the travel Rosenberger disclosed came from two campaign accounts -- Rosenberger's campaign committee paid for just less than $13,700 for his travel, while the Ohio House Republican Organizational Committee, the campaign arm for Ohio House Republicans, paid for another $10,900 in travel.

Another $18,400 came from a variety of other groups. Columbus 2020, a Central Ohio economic development nonprofit, paid for $10,900 in travel, which a spokeswoman said went to charter a private plane to fly Rosenberger from Boston to Columbus, and then back again, to take Rosenberger to a Columbus meeting in August between state officials and a manufacturing company considering building a factory there. GOPAC, a conservative advocacy organization that sponsored an August trip Rosenberger took to London, paid for another $3,600. Two lobbyists for auto title loan company Select Management Resources traveled with Rosenberger on that trip, which sources have said caught the interest of the FBI. The FBI does not confirm or deny investigations. 

David Axelrod, a Columbus attorney whom Rosenberger hired in April after learning of the FBI inquiry, said Tuesday: "The trips were all perfectly lawful. They were properly reported. And he remains confident in his ultimate vindication."

Axelrod added the FBI still has not confirmed to him the existence of the investigation, much less reached out to Rosenberger to seek additional information.

The routine disclosures were filed Tuesday with the Joint Legislative Ethics Commission, a state legislative watchdog agency. They were made against the backdrop of an ongoing process to find Rosenberger's successor. Republican lawmakers were meeting Tuesday to pick a short-term replacement, while a pitched political battle for a more long-term hold on the job is ongoing. Besides apparently causing potential legal problems, Rosenberger's travel also has been a source of private frustration for some House Republicans.

(Scroll down to view the full disclosure, of click here for a PDF.) 

The $10,900 Columbus 2020 paid was to fly Rosenberger in July 2017 to a meeting between Ohio officials and representatives of Foxconn, the Chinese electronics manufacturer, according to Columbus 2020 spokeswoman Irene Alvarez.

The Foxconn officials, who were searching for a location to build a new factory, visited Central Ohio on short notice as part of their site-selection process. Rosenberger was in Boston. So Columbus 2020, the Central Ohio affiliate for JobsOhio, the state's economic development nonprofit, paid to charter a private plane to fly him to a potentially pivotal meeting, which included Foxconn's chairman and other state and federal elected officials.

"The speaker was already engaged in a commitment out of state, but understanding the impact of the project, he was willing to return," Alvarez said in an email. "We facilitated ground transportation and a private aircraft to ensure we'd have the speaker present in Columbus for the required meeting, while also allowing for his immediate return to previous commitments out of state."

Foxconn ended up selecting Wisconsin as the site for its factory. 

Rosenberger also disclosed on Tuesday that the National Conference of State Legislatures, a nonpartisan professional association, paid for $2,500 in travel -- the group held a conference in Boston in August 2017 which Rosenberger attended --  while Rosenberger reported receiving $423 in travel expenses from Clinton County businessman Bret Dixon, and another $56 from Cleveland Film Commission President Ivan Schwarz. Both Dixon and Schwarz accompanied Rosenberger and a top staffer on an August 2017 trip to California. The trek was hastily organized after Rosenberger received information, which turned out to be false, that Disney was considering building a studio outside Cincinnati.  

The $43,000 in travel was a considerable amount of money compared to Rosenberger's overall income. His only reported income was his state salary, which paid him $100,800, plus less than $1,000 in interest from his savings account. He did not report owning any real estate, although he continued to list as a creditor an LLC associated with Ginni Ragan, a major Republican donor who reportedly rented to him a luxury condo in downtown Columbus.

Rosenberger resigned in April, about seven months before he was to leave office due to term limits, following reports that he had hired Axelrod, a Columbus criminal defense attorney, after he said he learned the FBI was "asking questions about things [he] may have been involved in." He has not responded to media inquiries since his resignation, and he didn't respond to a message seeking comment on Tuesday. 

Rosenberger also disclosed receiving $708 in gifts from five different organizations which lobby the state legislature, including a $420 commemorative axe from the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame gave him an award valued at $116. He disclosed receiving gifts from another 25 individuals or organizations, including Ragan and State Rep. Nathan Manning, who traveled with Rosenberger during the August 2017 trip to London. 

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