A spokesman for Gov. John Kasich said Wednesday he doesn’t know the major Republican “bundler” for Republican presidential candidates whose fund will receive a $50 million investment from Ohio’s government-run insurance fund for injured workers.
“We’ve never heard of the guy, never met the guy,” said Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols. “The governor doesn’t weigh in on [Bureau of Workers’ Compensation] investments.”
In November, the BWC’s board unanimously voted to invest in a $450 million Hammes Partners II fund headed by former health care consultant Jon D. Hammes of Brookfield, Wis. It’s a spin-off of Hammes Co. Health Care, founded in 1991, that will focus on investment in and development of health-care real estate. This marks its first investment using government institutional funds.
In addition to Ohio, pension and other government-related investment funds in New Jersey, Texas, and New Mexico have committed to providing half of the fund’s capital goal. All four have Republican governors who have been among those mentioned as presidential contenders in 2016.
“If someone told me when I was in the FBI that a government board, appointed by a Republican governor, made an investment in an out-of-state fund run by a major Republican donor and that the only other states who invested in that fund also have Republican governors, I’d have told them that’s a clue,” said Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, the Democrat who hopes to run against Mr. Kasich this fall.
Mr. Hammes was a major campaign “bundler” for President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign, John McCain in 2008, and also contributed to Mitt Romney in 2012. A bundler raises funds from family, friends, and associates to present to the candidate as a package, usually after meeting his or her own personal contribution limit.
According to the secretary of state’s campaign finance database, Mr. Hammes has not contributed to candidates at the Ohio state level, including to Mr. Kasich’s gubernatorial campaign. But the involvement of an influential GOP campaign contributor and the $50 million price tag of the BWC investment have led to comparisons with Tom Noe.
Noe — the former Toledo area coin dealer, Lucas County Republican Party chairman, and Bush bundler — is in a prison cell today for stealing from the BWC’s investment in rare coins and collectibles made with him. He also served time in federal prison for illegally laundering campaign contributions to Mr. Bush’s 2004 campaign.
“After suffering through Coingate, Ohioans deserve full transparency from Governor Kasich and his political appointees on any interactions they’ve had with Jon Hammes or the BWC,” Mr. FitzGerald said. “We cannot afford to play fast and loose with taxpayer dollars.”
Nine of the 11 current members of the BWC board have been appointed by Mr. Kasich along with the bureau’s administrator, Stephen Buehrer, the former state representative and senator from Delta. Two other board members predate Mr. Kasich, who took office in 2011.
The board contains two labor representatives and one each representing small employers, large employers, employees in general, the public at large, and self-insured employers. Its remaining four members — two investment experts, a certified public account, and an actuary — were added in the wake of the shake-up that followed the Coingate investment scandal.
By Jim Provance - The Blade, Toledo, Ohio (MCT)
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