Former Josh Mandel Aide Challenges Democrat's Ethics Charge

A former aide to Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) is fighting back against a Democratic lawmaker's charge that he violated state ethics laws in lobbying Mandel's office.

State Rep. Matt Lundy (D-Elyria) sent a letter to the Ohio Ethics Commission requesting an investigation into Joel Riter, who worked for Mandel in the Ohio legislature and in the treasurer's office, then lobbied Mandel's office on behalf of financial institutions a month after he left the office.

Riter worked for Mandel in the state legislature handling constituent issues, and in the treasurer's office from January to June 2011 in a similar capacity. He said his lobbying work did not violate Ohio state law and that when he became a lobbyist for Cap Square Solutions in June 2011, he received clearance from the ethics commission.

Mandel is the Republican nominee challenging Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in the November election.

In his letter to ethics officials, Lundy charged that Riter's lobbying of the treasurer's office on behalf of banks seeking work with state pension funds violated a ban on former state employees doing business with their agency for a one-year period after leaving. But a letter dated Nov. 1, provided by Riter to HuffPost, and addressed to him from the commission said that the job would not violate state law.

"Yes, provided that you do not represent these parties on matters in which you were personally participated while you were employed in the Treasurer's Office," ethics commission attorney Karen King wrote in response to Riter's question regarding representing financial institutions.

The letter from King states that Riter told commission officials that his duties in Mandel's office related to responding to constituent requests, preparing correspondence for constituents, interacting with other state agencies on behalf of constituent requests and preparing commendations that Mandel provided to Ohio residents.

King's letter to Riter said that he could not participate in any matter regarding any financial institutions connected to the constituent issues he was involved with as a state employee.

In his letter, Lundy focused on several meetings Riter had with treasurer's office officials in 2011 and 2012, including one held two days after King's letter was dated and another prior to the date of King's letter, where according to Lundy, Riter was lobbying on behalf of Charles Jordan and Co.

Lundy wrote that the meetings related to state investments and the state pension fund. In March 2012, the state awarded international custodian contracts to JP Morgan and Citibank for the pension funds.

"The facts are all the more curious considering Mr. Riter began lobbying the Treasurer's office only two weeks after he accepted his last payment from the State of Ohio," Lundy wrote. "Combined with the fact that Mr. Riter's lobbying contract with a New York financial services firm was terminated only two days after Treasurer Mandel replaced international custodians with two large New York banks, it seems that Mr. Riter and/or the Treasurer's office may have violated Ohio laws relating to post-employment lobbying."

Riter said his meetings followed all state laws and that he was not involved in work over state investments or the pension funds during his time in the treasurer's office.

"In reading Representative Lundy's allegations, it is amazing how ignorant a member of the House of Representatives can be about the operations of state government," Riter told HuffPost. "Lundy is way off base and should be embarrassed about how little he knows about the procedures for investing and safeguarding state funds. He should focus more on his constituents and less on playing politics. The residents of his district deserve better."

Lundy's complaint comes amid growing debate over Mandel's hiring practices in the treasurer's office, including a Dayton Daily News report earlier this month that Mandel hired political allies and friends after criticizing former Treasurer Kevin Boyce (D) for similar practices during the 2010 campaign. Mandel also declined to answer seven requests for the resumes of 60 appointees that Democrats have filed for in the last year.

Riter stressed that all of his dealings with the treasurer's office as a lobbyist were similar to his work with other state agencies.

"I fully complied with all ethics laws and the advisory opinion I received from the Ohio Ethics Commission," he said.

UPDATE: 12:10 p.m., April 25 -- Lundy, speaking to HuffPost Wednesday morning, said that he talked to Riter briefly about the Ethics Commission letter in a Capitol hallway on Tuesday. He said that while he has not read the letter, except for parts of it published on the HuffPost website, he was surprised by the way the commission had described Riter's ability to lobby on behalf of financial services firms. He said that he believes Riter's lobbying is a "gray area" since the treasurer's office is involved in managing state investments and state funds, issues that would have been raised by constituents.

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