Ohio Gov. Bob Taft (R), a member of one of the most distinguished families in American politics, was indicted yesterday on four criminal misdemeanor counts for failing to report a series of golf outings, dinners and other gifts in a scandal that has rocked the powerful state Republican Party.
The violations carry maximum penalties of a $1,000 fine and six months in prison, although it is doubtful the governor will face prison time for the ethical lapses. But the damage to Taft's reputation and to the party's fortunes could be far more severe, political analysts said.
Mark Rickel, the governor's spokesman, said Taft will appear in court today and make a statement, but he rejected suggestions that Taft resign over the indictments. "The governor will fill out the remainder of his term," Rickel said.
The more than 50 gifts, made between 2001 and 2004, totaled about $5,800, according to an Associated Press account of the prosecutors' report. Included were two golf outings with a Republican fundraiser, Tom Noe, who is at the center of a scandal over $50 million from the state workers' compensation fund that was invested in rare coins.
About $10 million to $12 million of that amount is missing, triggering an investigation that yesterday snared the governor. As the scandal was unfolding, Taft had angrily defended Noe and denounced the Toledo Blade for its work in revealing the problems with the workers' fund.
Taft's father and grandfather served in the Senate and his great-grandfather, William Howard Taft, served as president and as chief justice of the United States. Bob Taft was elected in 1998 and reelected in 2002. He is bound by term limits, with his current term running until 2007.
The indictments were doubly embarrassing for a governor who preached ethics. In a speech this May, he said public employees could enjoy entertainment with people doing business with the state only if they paid their own way.
"I am disappointed in the governor's failure to report these outings, state Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett said in a statement. "He set a high ethical standard for his administration, and in this case he failed to meet that standard."
Bennett said Taft should get back to work running the state and warned Democrats not to grandstand over the indictments. State Democratic Party Chairman Dennis L. White noted that Taft is the first Ohio governor indicted on ethics charges, adding: "The culture of corruption has even cast a shadow over the Taft name."