- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2009

COLUMBUS, OHIO (AP) - A divided Ohio Elections Commission found Thursday that former Attorney General Marc Dann twice violated state elections law by using campaign funds to pay for an expensive in-home security system and a cell phone often used for personal calls.

The panel fined both Dann and his campaign committee $1,000 each in the security system matter, and issued him a public reprimand over the handling of his cell phone expenses. The campaign’s then-deputy treasurer, Mary Beth Snyder, received a $250 fine for signing off on the security system expenses.

Commission members stopped short of referring any of the matters for criminal prosecution, however.

The former consumer bulldog sat pensively throughout the hours of legal wrangling, only occasionally becoming agitated over having to funnel answers to commissioners’ questions through his lawyer rather than answering them himself.

The commission ended the day with only one of two cases resolved against Dann. He still faces a future hearing over a wide-ranging set of allegations brought by the state watchdog, Inspector General Tom Charles, after a four-month investigation.

Dann’s lawyer, Donald McTigue, fought unsuccessfully Thursday to have the second case dismissed on grounds that Charles was acting outside his jurisdiction.

After the proceedings, Dann said he was disappointed that violations were found, but gratified no criminal charges were sought. He said he will decide whether to appeal.

“I made a choice over whether to use taxpayer dollars _ what would have been hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of time I was serving as attorney general _ to protect myself and my family, or to use campaign funds,” he said. “I think I made the right decision at the time.”

Elections commissioner Yvette McGee Brown said during the hearing that evidence didn’t bear out that Dann made the decision to be magnanimous. She noted that documents submitted in the case indicated Dann did not decide to use campaign funds until he learned the executive budget could not cover the expense, and because having police officers around was interfering with his family’s privacy.

Assistant Attorney General Melinda Osgood, representing the state, said an in-home security system is not a normal way to handle such threats. She said Ohio has a history of providing law enforcement protection to officeholders who face danger, and that Dann had been provided with such protection.

Dann, who turned 47 last week, resigned in May amid a sexual harassment scandal in his office and after admitting to an extramarital affair with an employee.

The Youngstown Democrat was part of a near-sweep of statewide offices by Ohio Democrats in 2006 after a scandal over state investments sullied the reputation of the Ohio Republican Party.

Despite the public furor surrounding the Dann scandal, Osgood said, the issue was very simple.

“Campaign money simply can’t be converted for personal use,” she said.

The security system and cell phone complaints were brought by Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a fellow Democrat, after an audit of Dann’s campaign finance reports through 2007. Osgood said Brunner is auditing his 2008 reports.

Charles’ complaint accuses Dann of misusing campaign funds to give gifts to family and friends, pay for unauthorized trips for his family, and to cover everyday expenses such as coffee, meals and newspapers. Charles also alleges Dann provided incomplete, inaccurate and false information on his state campaign finance filings.

McTigue told the commission that Charles’ investigation went further than what was allowed by the Legislature.

“We believe this is an instance of a government official overreaching his authority,” he said.

McTigue argued Thursday that the $27,000 security system was a legitimate expense under Ohio campaign finance laws because it was made necessary in the course of Dann’s official duties as a result of threats to Dann and his daughter. McTigue said the girl was being observed by a man with a teardrop tattoo, which can mean a person is a past sexual offender.

McTigue used Gov. Ted Strickland’s decision to approve some enhanced security for Dann before the security system was installed as evidence that there was a legitimate need.

Strickland, who led the push last spring for Dann to resign, said Thursday he may have approved State Highway Patrol protection for Dann for a brief period.

“Any special protection would have come from the State Highway Patrol and would have been handled as other Highway Patrol executive protection is handled, which would not involve the purchase of vehicles, equipment or anything like that,” he said. “I’d never authorize anything of that nature.”

Brown expressed regret that the panel could not impose more than a $1,000 fine, initially suggesting they fine Dann $5,000.

“I’m trying to find something that’s fair and that sends a message as to how serious we find the violation,” she said.

The seven-member elections commission includes three Republicans, three Democrats and one independent.

____

Associated Press Writer Stephen Majors contributed to this report.

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