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WVXU has been covering the stories of politics and corruption at Cincinnati's City Hall since early 2020. We have now launched an initiative to more closely examine Cincinnati politics and the individuals who have shaped it, along with the current allegations of corruption. We'll also explore proposals for change, and seek feedback from local leaders and community members on what can be done to restore trust in City Hall.Trust in Local Government, WVXU's Public Integrity Project will analyze our council-manager form of government and the charter amendments designed to reinforce ethical standards at City Hall; take a historical look at corruption in Cincinnati government; talk with the candidates for Cincinnati mayor and continue with an ongoing series of features, interviews and candidate profiles.

Bribery Or Conflict Of Interest? Reform Panel Considers Developer Campaign Donations

cincinnati city hall
Becca Costello
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WVXU
Cincinnati City Hall

Campaign donations from developers to elected officials are common, and are now under scrutiny by a panel tasked with suggesting reforms in Cincinnati. City Council formed the panel in response to the arrests of three council members on federal corruption charges.

Panelist Bernadette Watson, former chief of staff to Mayor Charlie Luken, says the problems are system-wide.

"We all know that these three people are not the first people," Watson said at the panel's meeting Friday. "That's been the question from people to me, as being a part of this: who has done this and has just not gotten caught?"

Panelist Dan Schimberg, a developer himself, says campaign donations from developers may not be so different from lobbyist donations. Schimberg recently donated to a fund for Mayor John Cranley's likely campaign for governor, according to the Cincinnati Business Courier.

The panel may include new disclosure requirements in its recommendations to council.

Ohio Ethics Commission Chair Paul Nick says there's a key difference between conflict of interest and bribery.

"The conflict of interest statute prohibits you from soliciting or accepting anything that could have an improper influence upon the performance of your duties," Nick told the panel. "The bribery statute prohibits you from doing something that does have an improper influence."

What's considered "valuable" varies from state to state. Nick says some states define a specific monetary value, ranging from $3 to $500 (with a median of $50). Ohio doesn't specify an amount.

The panel is looking for public input on the development process, but so far hasn't gotten any comments from residents. The next meeting, April 9, will be a public forum. Residents can register online to speak to the panel virtually.

See information below about municipal ethics commissions across the country and an overview of Ohio Ethics Laws:

Memo: City Ethics Commissions by WVXU News

Ohio Ethics Law Overview by WVXU News

 The "Trust In Local Government: WVXU's Public Integrity Project" examines Cincinnati politics and the individuals who shaped it. Read more hereSupport for this project comes from The Murray and Agnes Seasongood Good Government Foundation. 

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Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU
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WVXU