Official calls for ethics investigation into Butler County lawmaker

The Butler County Democratic Party’s chair wants to see an ethics investigation into a Middletown state lawmaker after she supported a bill that would allegedly financially benefit her if enacted into law.

Rep. Candice Keller, R-Middletown, says she followed "all proper protocols" before co-sponsoring House Bill 297 which would create a refundable tax credit for donations to pregnancy resource centers, but she will abstain from any legislative actions pertaining to the bill.

Keller, who is the executive director for the Community Pregnancy Center in Middletown, said in a statement the Democratic Party “is out creating a diversion.”

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“Here again we find another example of why so many are disgusted with today’s politics,” she said. “(The Democratic Party is) trying to tarnish my reputation simply because I co-sponsored a bill important to my constituents.”

Butler County Democratic Party Executive Director Brian Hester is asking for the state investigation and said there's no proof via the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee she followed the protocols regarding conflicts of interest.

“Given her contradictory public statement over her unethical misconduct, I am officially calling on the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee to open an investigation of State Rep. Keller’s obvious self-dealing in this matter,” he said.

Butler County Republican Party Executive Chair Todd Hall said if Hester has a complaint about Keller’s charitable organization, “Keller is the most qualified to provide the answer.”

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said taxpayers "shouldn't be funding pet projects" for state lawmakers. House Bill 297 is jointly sponsored by Reps. Timothy Ginter, R-Salem, and Jena Powell, R-Arcanum, and Keller is one of 14 co-sponsors, who include Ohio Rep. George Lang, R-West Chester Twp.

“As Republican lawmakers bicker about the overdue state budget, they still find the time to help out one of their own by introducing a bill to cover half of every donation to an anti-abortion charity like the one run by state Rep. Candice Keller,” Pepper said.

“That’s just one of the ways Ohio Republicans are trying to give a helping hand to these fake women’s health clinics. They also voted to boost direct state funding for them by 400 percent.

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Keller, a certified candidate for Ohio Senate in 2020, issued a statement after Pepper’s statement. She declined to expand on her statement.

Though Keller notified Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder she’ll refrain “from further participation” with the House Bill, she did call it “an important piece of legislation, designed to incentivize, and not penalize, charitable Ohioans who believe in the work pregnancy centers do every day.”

Keller earned $58,921 as executive director in 2017, which was $8,000 less than her 2016 salary, according to tax records. Members of the General Assembly earn a base salary of $60,584 per year, and earn bonuses serving in leadership on committees. Keller is the chair of the Higher Education Committee.

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