Sycamore Township Ethics Investigation – The Facts

Were Mr. Connor and other elected officials spending huge amounts of Township taxpayer dollars to pay for their campaign fundraisers?

Denny Connor was investigated for possible Improper Influence (Ohio Revised Code § 2921.42(A)) and Self-Dealing (RC § 102.03(A)) violations by the Ohio Ethics Commission and a Special Prosecutor. So were the two other longtime incumbent Sycamore Township Trustees, Cliff Bishop and Tom Weidman. The affair soon became known as BeerGate. Details and a copy of the terms to which Mr. Connor and the others agreed when the investigation concluded follow below. As a lifelong Republican, it saddens me to know that members of my party were such willing participants in this.

The Cincinnati Enquirer & CityBeat wrote about the affair:

Enquirer 6-23-2014Enquirer 7-19-2014CityBeat 12-14-2016CityBeat 6-19-2017
6/20/14 7/19/14 12/14/16 6/19/17

These were the allegations: Trustees Denny Connor, Tom Weidman, and Cliff Bishop “allowed the Sycamore Township Republican Club…, where they served as officers, to be the alcohol vendor at the annual Sycamore Township summer festival known as ‘Festival in Sycamore’ and allowed the Club to retain the proceeds of those sales.” And then those beer sale proceeds were donated to the Trustees’ campaign treasuries to fund their reelection campaigns. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Mr. Weidman told it he “doesn’t see anything unethical about the practice” (link).

Was that a Township taxpayer-paid campaign fundraiser? That’s what the circumstances suggested, because even though the Festival beer vendor usually makes a big profit, Sycamore Township itself spends about $100,000 each year to put on the Festival which hosts those beer sales, and sometimes much more — a net $156,000 in 2017. And all beer sale profits go to the beer seller, not to the Township.

Did Mr. Connor use any of that money? Yes. At least $5,000 of it went into his campaign treasury, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer (story link).

Were there any consequences? Yes. Two years ago, Mr. Connor and the other investigation targets entered into a Settlement Agreement with a Special Prosecutor. According to the agreed terms: “Pursuant to the conclusion of the investigation, the Parties have agreed that the following measures have been taken.” The Agreement:

  • Forbid the use of money from future Festival beer sales in Mr. Connor’s campaigns
  • Forced Mr. Connor and the other officials to quit the Sycamore Township Republican Club (STRC)
  • Required charitable donation of all future STRC beer sale profits

Did the Agreement end the controversy? Perhaps not entirely: “Should the Special Prosecutor determine that any of the parties committed a willful and knowing breach of any material provisions of this Agreement: the Special Prosecutor reserves the right to reopen the investigation of this matter immediately.”

This question remains unanswered: How could Mr. Connor and the others – former Trustee Bishop and current Trustee Weidman – have ever allowed such a sordid arrangement to happen on their watch?

Here are the Special Prosecutor settlement terms: