- The Washington Times - Friday, August 19, 2005

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Gov. Bob Taft issued a public apology yesterday after pleading no contest to state ethics violations, saying “I accept total responsibility for my mistake” but insisting he would not resign.

“I will continue to do the job to which I have been elected by the people of the state of Ohio,” Mr. Taft said. “There is no connection between golf or contributions and state contracts in our administration.”

He told Franklin County Municipal Judge Mark Froehlich he chose not to plead guilty but was taking responsibility for ethics lapses. His no-contest plea wraps up the case less than 24 hours after Mr. Taft became the first Ohio governor charged with a crime.

He was fined the maximum $1,000 for each of four misdemeanor counts. As expected, no jail time was ordered; the charges carried a maximum sentence of six months on each count.

Mr. Taft, a great-grandson of President William Howard Taft, nodded his head as the charges were read, and his wife, Hope, sat behind him showing no emotion.

Prosecutors charged the governor with four misdemeanors for failing to report 52 gifts worth about $5,800, including 47 golf outings. State law requires officeholders to report all gifts worth more than $75 if the donor wasn’t reimbursed.

Mr. Taft has forced out underlings for ethics offenses, but he said those cases were different, saying his gifts were mostly weekend events with friends and he didn’t know they needed to be reported.

The Ohio Ethics Commission found no evidence that he had given political access in exchange for the outings.

“Further, attendees at these events largely indicated that the purpose and discussions were social in nature,” said the panel’s report into the outings, which was released yesterday.

In addition to the fine, the judge ordered Mr. Taft to send e-mail to Ohio newspapers and state employees apologizing for his behavior.

A statement Mr. Taft issued shortly after his conviction will serve as the media e-mail, with a separate apology to employees to come later, spokesman Mark Rickel said.

“I accept total responsibility for my mistake, and I’m sorry,” the governor said.

“Words are not adequate to express the remorse that I feel personally for the embarrassment that I have caused to my administration and to this great state. … I hope you will understand that my mistake, though serious, was not a purposeful one and hope and pray that you will accept my heartfelt apology and allow me the opportunity to restore your trust.”

A state task force and the commission are investigating public employees for similar offenses, and prosecutors expect more serious felony charges to be brought, although not against Mr. Taft.

Mr. Taft’s golf partners included John W. Snow, then the head of transportation company CSX Corp. and now the U.S. Treasury secretary; and Tony Alexander, president and chief executive officer of Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp.

Some partners have said Mr. Taft paid for the golf; others have said they picked up the tab.

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