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Following ECOT Scandal, Ohio Auditor Race Takes On Higher Profile

Auditor candidates Keith Faber and Zack Space.

The Ohio Auditor is considered the state’s top taxpayer watchdog, reviewing the books and doing efficiency audits for thousands of units of state and local government. The office is up for grabs this year, as are all five of the statewide executive offices.

The auditor’s race has been about more than just the candidates’ money – Democrat Zack Space has outraised Republican Keith Faber for the last five reporting periods, while Faber still has more overall cash. It’s also about more than government money.

Space, a former Congressman from Dover in eastern Ohio, says this election is about preventing the corrupting influence of that money through audits – of the Medicaid department and the opioid crisis, the effect of trade deals on local governments, and revenue lost to charter schools and action taken by state lawmakers.

“They act so differently when they're being watched than when they think they're not being watched,” Space says. “When people are watching they act so much differently, and that's the problem. We need a legislature that's beholden to the people of the state of Ohio, not big donors and not their own political careers.”

Faber, the former state Senate president who’s now a state representative from Celina in western Ohio, says there’s a limit to what audits can and should be used for.

“Certainly we are going to do Medicaid performance audits,” Faber says. “We're going to audit PBMs [pharmacy benefit managers]. We're going to audit all schools. We are going to do all those things because that's the job. Expanding it to other things, that are going to weaponize and use it for political purposes, misses the purpose of the office. Remember, the auditor's office is a partisan election. But it isn't a partisan office.”

Clearly a major focus of this year’s campaign by Democrats, including Space, is the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, the online charter school that closed owing tens of millions to the state for students it claimed were enrolled but couldn’t be verified. Space says Republican legislative leaders – who, like Faber, were the primary beneficiaries of ECOT founder Bill Lager’s campaign donations – are to blame.

“Rather than doing the right thing protecting Ohio taxpayers and watching out for the interests of schoolchildren, they were too busy cashing ECOT checks,” Space says. “And it's infiltration of money that's the problem. And it should be noted… that it's not confined to for-profit charter schools.”

But Faber says Republicans deserve credit for taking down ECOT as soon as the breadth of the scandal came to light.

“To pretend that the legislature was somehow at fault for not knowing something that even the Department of Education didn't know until 2016 is a fake argument,” he says. “Ultimately the Department of Education, led by Republicans, the Attorney General – who’s a Republican – the auditor – who’s a Republican – got that durational data, shut ECOT down because of the money.”

PolitiFact has said Faber’s claims about his role in shutting down ECOT are mostly false. Also false, and admittedly so, is an image on a campaign website set up by Faber that features a smiling U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi photoshopped into a photo next to Space. Space isn’t pleased about that.

“Interestingly enough, that was one lie in a number of, among a number of lies on his website that he rolled out one of his attack ads trying to show that I'm a liar,” Space says. “So he told four or five lies in an effort to prove that I was not truthful.”

Faber defends the photo as a parody picture, and says it just draws a line between Space’s vote for a cap and trade pollution bill in 2009 and a $14,000 campaign contribution from Pelosi – a connection Space has denied.

“What we did was effectively show the close relationship between Zack and Nancy Pelosi,” Faber says. “Don't forget everything on that site is accurate, and let's talk about the fact that that picture represents Zack took $14,000 from Nancy Pelosi on the very day he voted for cap and trade.”

Faber also adds that Space’s campaign manager started the Photoshop battle by first tweeting out an image of Faber coaching his kid’s baseball team wearing an ECOT ballcap. Though it was shared by Space’s campaign manager’s Twitter account, Space denied his campaign created that image.