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New Democratic governor in Ohio targets ethics after scandals


Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland tackled the state's ethics rules for his first executive order Monday after several scandals, including the conviction of his Republican predecessor, rocked state politics.

Under Strickland's order, only the occasional, inexpensive token gift &

"such as a T-shirt, cap, mug or lapel pin" &

or meals or refreshments under $20 are allowed for the governor, lieutenant governor, their wives, and all cabinet directors. All agency employees must follow the same rules.

That's a significant drop from the rule under former Gov. Bob Taft, which had required all gifts of more than $75 to be reported annually. It allowed smaller gifts to go unreported as long as they did not come from someone seeking to influence government business.

"It looks like what Governor Strickland's trying to do at the outset is to set a high standard," Ohio Ethics Commission executive director David Freel said. "This looks to be really a supplement to the state ethics statutes, which are aimed at the most serious or egregious conduct. This gets at those more everyday occurrences."

Taft, who could not seek re-election because of term limits, pleaded no contest in 2005 to failing to report golf outings and other gifts worth nearly $6,000 during his four-year term. He was fined $4,000.

Freel said the Strickland policy mirrors a trend around the country to lower thresholds for gift-giving.

Strickland's win over GOP nominee Ken Blackwell in the November election followed high-profile scandals involving former Republican Congressman Bob Ney of Ohio, who pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges, and an unusual $50 million investment in rare coins by the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.

The fallout from the coin scandal included the departure of the bureau's longtime director and numerous criminal charges against bureau employees and members of Taft's administration involving free golf and discounted condo stays from Tom Noe, the GOP donor and coin dealer who ran the investment.

Noe, who had pleaded guilty in federal court to illegally funneling $45,000 to President Bush's re-election campaign, was convicted of charges that he stole from the investment.