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Former aide to Ohio speaker got mortgage from GOP donor

Watchdog says arrangement ‘too cozy,’ raises transparency questions.

One of House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger’s former top aides obtained a mortgage from the same GOP donor who rents out her luxury condo to Rosenberger, Franklin County records show.

Northbank 503 LLC, which is owned by top Republican contributor Ginni Ragan, gave a $209,354 mortgage to Hunter Wright II in April 2016, according to the Franklin County Recorder’s office. Wright purchased a 1,000-square-foot condo unit in downtown Columbus for $210,000, according to the Franklin County Auditor’s office.

“I purchased my condo in April 2016, months and a long time after I left state government. It’s no secret Ginni and I are great friends. Our families have a long tie back in Delaware County. My grandfather knew her dad very well,” said Wright, 27. “I’ve known Ginni for a while now. I couldn’t tell you the timeline of how long I’ve known Ginni.”

The arrangement does not break any ethics laws, according to the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee director. But Catherine Turcer of the good government watchdog group Common Cause Ohio said Ragan’s financial links to Rosenberger and his former aide raise questions about transparency.

“It’s really all a little bit too cozy,” she said. “We have Ginni Ragan, a major donor, with a political operative-lobbyist, and we have the speaker of the House receiving what one can only assume is a good deal. Really, it just leaves Ohioans with more questions than answers.”

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Wright, now a lobbyist with Thomas P. Pappas & Associates, said the mortgage arrangement had nothing to do with his work with Rosenberger. At the Pappas firm he represents 17 clients, including blue chip companies such as Altria, Walmart and Anheuser Busch Companies.

Ragan holds $256 million worth of stock in Greif Inc., an industrial packaging manufacturer based in Delaware County. She could not be reached for comment.

The Dayton Daily News recently revealed that Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, rents a 2,237-square-foot luxury condo in downtown Columbus from Ragan, who has contributed more than $1.5 million to Ohio Republican campaigns since 2010.

Rosenberger has declined to say what he pays in rent, though he says he pays a nightly rate that Ragan and her attorneys set. He has used the condo since early 2014, when he began lining up to run for House speaker, one of the three most powerful political posts in state government.

Northbank 503 LLC purchased the condo for $660,000 in March 2014 — the same month that Rosenberger received an opinion from the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee saying the rental is not prohibited by state law. Rosenberger is a committee member.

Wright spent a year as director of the speaker’s office, served as a legislative aide to Republican state Reps. Gerald Stebelton and Jim Butler, worked as campaign manager for the Ohio House Republican Organizational Committee and interned for the Kasich/Taylor campaign. He also served as Rosenberger’s campaign manager in 2011 and 2012, according to Wright’s resume.

Rosenberger said he only recently found out about the mortgage, had no role in it and it was arranged after Wright left state employment.

“It’s none of my business,” he said.

Wright says on the Pappas website under the tab “How I got here” that he “developed strong relationships with members of the Ohio House through assisting them in their campaigns,” and “served as director of the Speaker’s Office in the Ohio House under Speaker Clifford A. Rosenberger.”

He holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Bowling Green State University, according to his LinkedIn page.

In his October 22, 2015 resignation letter to Rosenberger, Wright wrote: “I am grateful for the many friendships, including yours, that I have made during my time in the Ohio House.”

The job in the speaker’s office paid $28.85 an hour, according to Wright’s personnel file.

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