Ohio IG Finally Releases Report — Four Years Later — on Lager-Linked Firm Receiving Millions for State Contract

Ohio Democrats Call on IG Randall Meyer to Provide Investigatory Records, Forward to FBI

COLUMBUS — Post-election holiday weeks seem to be popular times to release reports on how the Kasich administration juked the stats on online charter school performance or steered state contracts — all to benefit companies linked to GOP donor Bill Lager.

Just as Auditor Dave Yost delayed an audit examining the “Chartergate” scandal until after the 2018 election, Ohio Inspector General Randall Meyer this week finally released a report prompted by a 2014 complaint of retaliation from a whistleblower who was critical of the performance of IQ Innovations — a company owned by Lager.

“Ohio Republicans think they can hide their Bill Lager dirty laundry by issuing reports when most Ohioans aren’t paying attention,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper. “This is nothing more than a post-election whitewash, but we aren’t going to ignore the culture of corruption in Columbus that coddled Lager for years. We’re calling on Inspector General Randall Meyer to release any documents, interviews or other investigatory records from this probe, so that we can provide them to the FBI — which has already been looking into Lager’s political giving.”

The IG’s report — which doesn’t appear on their website — does not mention Lager at any point.

Under questionable circumstances, IQ received more than $5 million in state money for an online clearinghouse of textbooks and other instructional material. The state called the project iLearnOhio and gave Ohio State University and the Ohio Board of Regents responsibility for it.

When iLearnOhio failed to work properly, the state spent more to try and fix it. State workers who tried to hold IQ accountable for the problems were subjected to what the IG called “credible’’ evidence of “significant retaliation’’ engineered by a former Lager consultant hired to oversee the project.

Although Lager is a well-known Republican Party donor, the IG did not examine whether campaign contributions influenced the administration’s decision to steer the lucrative no-bid contract to Lager’s company. Instead, the state watchdog’s probe focused mainly on questions over blurred lines of authority between OSU and the Regents.

In his first state budget, Gov. John Kasich began the process of steering the clearinghouse contract to IQ when he mandated that it be domiciled at Ohio State but authorized the Chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents to select the winning vendor. The same budget gave the governor enormous power over the Chancellor because it gave him sole authority to hire and fire him.

Kasich’s choice for Chancellor: former Attorney General Jim Petro — who received more than $67,000 from Lager and his employees, as well as a mention in Lager’s book.

Kasich also benefited from Lager’ political giving. In 2010 when Kasich first ran for governor, Lager gave more than $100,000 to the Republican Governors Association and listed his employer as IQ, not the customary Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT). Kasich’s campaign committee also received $30,000 in ECOT-linked donations.

Neither Lager’s donations to Kasich nor Petro’s ties to Lager are mentioned in the IG’s report.

Once installed as Chancellor, Petro hand-picked IQ for the clearinghouse, then put former Lager consultant John Conley in charge of the project. IQ consistently failed to deliver on the platform’s promised functionality, so the Kasich administration spent millions more tax dollars to try and repair it. It still didn’t work properly.

Some OSU employees attempted to hold IQ accountable. In complaints with OSU and the IG, they identified Conley as IQ’s main protector and the person who led efforts to retaliate against them.

The IG concluded that three employees “conveyed credible information that they faced significant retaliation after questioning the performance of IQ,’’ but said he could not draw conclusions about the retaliation “without investigating Board of Regents employees which is beyond the scope of our mandate.”