Columbus -- JobsOhio turned over its financial books to Republican state Auditor Dave Yost March 19 in advance of a midday deadline but said it was doing so voluntarily and maintaining that its private business dealings are not subject to public scrutiny.
Representatives of the nonprofit also said they would return any state funding received over the past two years.
"The auditor's assertion that he can audit any private company, nonprofit or charity that receives public funds will scare off new job creators and cripple economic development in our state," President and Chief Investment Officer John Minor said in a released statement.
Yost indicated in a released statement that he was pleased with the response.
"Gov. John Kasich and I share a love for this great state and a passion to see a vibrant private sector creating jobs," he said. "JobsOhio has already achieved great success in bringing jobs to our state, and I expect that momentum to continue."
But Kasich and the Republican leader of the Ohio House voiced concern about Yost's subpoena, saying the auditor had overstepped his bounds and law changes or a court decision were needed to protect JobsOhio and private businesses.
"The auditor's attempt to rewrite the law to make JobsOhio a slow, bureaucratic public body again will kill JobsOhio and its job creation efforts," Rob Nichols, the governor's spokesman, said in a released statement. "And if companies that accept economic development incentives fear that government auditors will seize and disclose their confidential business records, then that will kill job growth in the state of Ohio."
And Democrats continued to hammer on Kasich and the economic development nonprofit, alleging potential misuse of state funding.
"Gov. Kasich got caught with his hand in the cookie jar, stealing millions from the public to finance his slush fund JobsOhio," Rep. John Carney, a Democrat from the Columbus area and rumored candidate for state auditor, said in a released statement. "Now Kasich wants to shroud JobsOhio in even more secrecy and take away the public's right to see how billions in taxpayer dollars from the sale of liquor proceeds are spent. The governor's push to cover up JobsOhio's finances will only result in the public getting ripped off in the future."
JobsOhio was created by Kasich and lawmakers about two years ago -- it was among their first legislative actions of the new session and the governor's term -- to reach out to existing companies and firms thinking about expanding and negotiate economic incentive packages.
Most of JobsOhio's dealings are conducted outside of the public spotlight, a setup supporters say is needed during business negotiations. However, the nonprofit is required to publish an annual report disclosing its completed deals.
But a private audit of the nonprofit indicated it had received more than $5 million in public funding, and a number of employees received six-figure salaries.
JobsOhio says lawmakers earmarked $1 million to help cover its startup costs. Other grant funds were OK'd by the legislature for a separate nonprofit that JobsOhio has since acquired.
But the public funding caught the eye of Yost, who issued a subpoena requiring the nonprofit to submit financial documents to his office by noon March 19.
JobsOhio objected but complied and announced it would return the $1 million in start-up funds and any other public money it has received directly or through its JobsOhio Beverage System affiliate since 2011.
The nonprofit and Kasich also have called on lawmakers to move legislation clarifying that the private details of private businesses and nonprofits should be kept private and not be subjected to state audits.
House Speaker Bill Batchelder, a Republican from Medina, questioned the need for additional legislation, however, telling reporters existing state law is adequate and JobsOhio should have pursued a court decision on the issue.
"It very plainly says that this is a private entity... and it also says that they are not subject to audit," said Batchelder, who called Yost "erratic" for pursuing the subpoena and audit.
He added later, "I don't know how many times we have to tell him what the law is. … This stuff is very, very clear. The only guy that's confused is the auditor."
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.