Not long after Senate Minority Leader Eric Kearney of Cincinnati was revealed as Ed FitzGerald’s running mate, reports of unpaid back taxes also surfaced.
The numbers were big – in the tens of thousands. Since then, the reported tally has swelled to a million dollars owed in back state and federal taxes. Kearney says the taxes come from a publishing company he and his wife own, though he hasn’t worked for the company since 2005.
“The internet and just the recession and other challenges impacted our small company greatly. Those are things that, quite frankly, any small business who has been around the same length of time that ours has been may sound familiar to them.”
Kearney says he’s disclosed his tax issues to the FitzGerald campaign, but is reluctant to put a total dollar figure on the back taxes owed. He says he thinks his personal tax debt is around $13,000, and is uncertain as to the debt owed by his family business.
“I don’t want to sit here and list a figure that is off by even one dollar or centium or anything and then somebody come back and say, you weren’t completely forthright.”
And Kearney says everything that he knows about his tax problems has been reported.
The issue of unpaid taxes has already been raised in the lead-up to the 2014 elections. Matt Borges was confronted with news of his tax problems in April during his election as chairman of the Ohio Republican Party.
His unpaid taxes totaled nearly $600,000, but Borges got that reduced to around $168,000 and is paying that back. That came up when I sat down with Borges and Ohio Democratic Party chair Chris Redfern for our TV show “The State of Ohio” in October.
Here's the exchange:
Redfern: “And Matt, you are hardly –“
Borges: “When you look at the organizations that endorse this governor’s tax cuts, these are not organizations of the, the Ohio Association of Food Banks endorsed, the $3 billion in tax cuts that help all Ohioans that help make Ohio a better a business environment and help Ohioans get back to work in the inner cities and everywhere else.”
Kasler: “We’re running out of time here. I want to give Chris the opportunity –“
Redfern: “You have no credibility to discuss taxes, both personally and professionally with the liens you face.”
Borges: “Said the state rep who doesn’t live in his district.”
Redfern: “Secondly, Matt, I would put my record and Gov. Ted Strickland’s record up against yours and John Kasich any day of the week.”
Borges reportedly still owes about $80,000. The Ohio Democratic Party is standing behind Kearney, and he says he will stay on the ticket.
“I’ve heard Republicans say that I should, this talk about getting me off. And I think that basically is probably the highest recommendation for keeping me on, because certainly if I were not an asset to Ed FitzGerald, the Republican Party wouldn’t want to keep me on.”
And unpaid taxes won’t necessarily kill the campaign. Steven Brooks is an associate professor at the Bliss Institute for Applied Politics at the University of Akron.
“Whether it’s taxes, whether it’s personal indiscretion or anything like that, it’s been really seen that the best way to recover is to be upfront and honest, because if it keeps trickling out while people keep finding out more things, you end up looking much more dishonest.”
It’s unknown whether the tax issues will come up in next year’s campaigns, but with tax problems for both a Democratic candidate and a Republican party leader, at least one pundit has suggested they might cancel each other out.
In any case, pollsters note that voters on both sides are likely not yet paying attention to an election that’s 11 months away.