Dems question Secretary of State office move amid LaRose Senate campaign

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Ohio Democrats publicly demanded answers from Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose on Wednesday regarding his recent decision to move the secretary’s office from its longstanding home to an office building connected to LaRose’s campaign for U.S. Senate.

The move came under scrutiny in September when Columbus news channel NBC4 reported that the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office would move from 180 Broad St. in Columbus, where it’s been located for nearly 20 years, to 200 Civic Center Drive — an address that also appears on LaRose’s official federal filings for candidacy for U.S. Senate.

The move would put the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office a few floors below BakerHostetler, a legal firm used by LaRose’s Senate campaign whose suite number matches the address listed for the campaign in Federal Election Commission forms.

Reeves Oyster, a spokesperson with the Ohio Democratic Party, said that the proximity of LaRose’s government office to a suite connected to his Senate campaign raises “serious ethics concerns,” and might intermix political campaigning with government duties.

The secretary of state’s office says the move has been in the planning stages for years and has nothing to do with politics.

Mary Cianciolo, spokesperson for the secretary’s office, said that their current lease was coming to an end, and their current building was “not a viable option due to the upcoming foreclosure of the building.”

Cianciolo also pushed back on the idea that the move could open up ethics concerns, given that the law offices of 200 Civic Center Dr. serve the campaign as a place to get mail, not as a campaign headquarters. Cianciolo said LaRose’s Senate campaign does not have an HQ. Employees of the campaign work from home.

However, videos posted to LaRose’s X account (formerly Twitter) shows that LaRose has participated in several interviews directly involving his Senate campaign in a high rise building overlooking Columbus’ Scioto Mile looking westward, a view that matches that of 200 Civic Center Dr.

Cianciolo and Ben Kindel, spokesperson for LaRose’s Senate campaign, would not answer whether LaRose has officially campaigned from 200 Civic Center Dr. or from what suite those interviews might have come from.

In a letter sent to a Democratic state senator critical of the move, Secretary of State Chief Legal Counsel Paul Disantis explained that the move was in the works as early as 2019. He wrote that the building currently hosting the secretary of state’s office has shown signs of financial distress for years, including building disrepair and a lack of support staff.

Also a longstanding concern for LaRose has been a lack of adequate parking for his 135 employees, most of whom pay for their own parking scattered throughout downtown. Disantis explained that several of those employees have received threats to their lives due to their jobs, which made a move to a building with an adjoining parking garage a necessity.

The office said it explored other options to no avail.

According to the secretary’s filings with the Ohio Controlling Board, it will cost the state an estimated $600,000 to adequately prepare the space at 200 Civic Center Drive for the move — $400,000 up front and $200,000 added over the course of the first year’s rent.

According to Controlling Board filings, the secretary of state’s office will absorb furniture worth about $1.5 million through the lease agreement, too. Disantis said that the move will not be paid for using taxpayer dollars; instead it will be covered by filing fees that the secretary of state charges for a variety of services.

Still, Ohio Democrats say they are frustrated by a general lack of public explanation regarding the move and maintain a suspicion of its motives.

On Wednesday, Armando Telles, a politically active resident of Columbus, revealed a coordinated set of information requests lodged with the state.

“I think Mr. LaRose is not being forthright about the intentions of the move, the timing of the move, let alone the exposures of the integrity of his office coincidentally being in the same building of his U.S. Senate (campaign) office,” Telles said.

The allegations come as Democrats work to undermine LaRose’s odds against incumbent Democrat U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who LaRose hopes to challenge next year. LaRose is running in the Republican primary against state Sen. Matt Dolan of Chagrin Falls and Cleveland businessman Bernie Moreno.

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