Ohio Statehouse Press Corps Ignores Statehouse Rules

Ohio Statehouse
Ohio Statehouse

Ohio Statehouse reporters continuously violate Ohio Senate rules by working for members of the Ohio Newspaper Association (ONA) while enjoying the benefits of Ohio Legislative Correspondents Association (OLCA) membership.

OLCA leaders determine who may join the Statehouse press corps and receive special access to legislators, rent-free use of the Statehouse Press Room, and the services of an Ohio Senate clerk whose salary is covered by taxpayers.

Senate Rule 110 requires OLCA members to state in writing “that they are not in any sense the agents or representatives of persons or corporations having legislation before the General Assembly, and will not become either while retaining their privileges.”

The same rule dictates that OLCA members must work for “newspapers of general circulation or magazines” or “daily legislative information services of known standing and integrity” which are “not controlled by or connected with an association, firm, corporation, or individual representing any trade, profession, or other commercial enterprise.”

OLCA’s latest roster includes 7 reporters from The Columbus Dispatch, 2 Dayton Daily News reporters, 2 Toledo Blade reporters, and 1 reporter each from the Cincinnati Enquirer, Cleveland Plain Dealer, and Youngstown Vindicator.

The Dispatch, Dayton Daily News, Blade, Enquirer, Plain Dealer, and Vindicator are all, as members of ONA, part of a trade group that lobbies the General Assembly.

“Government relations, including lobbying, is one of ONA’s most important roles as the trade association for Ohio’s daily and weekly newspapers and their affiliated Web sites,” ONA’s website explains.

ONA publicly acknowledges that “at times, Ohio’s newspaper industry leaders are asked to personally engage in order to achieve critical objectives.”

Changes to government public notice requirements are one issue of importance to ONA, since the mandatory advertisements paid for with tax dollars are a significant source of newspaper revenue.

Refer to an ONA flyer published in 2011 titled “Public Notices: They Belong in Newspapers” to see an example of ONA lobbying materials.

Newspapers employing OLCA members are not passive members of ONA; representatives from the Plain DealerDispatchBlade, and Dayton Daily News parent company Cox Media Group currently serve as ONA trustees.

Likewise, the members of OLCA who work for ONA member papers are not minor figures in the Statehouse press corps. Dispatch and Dayton Daily News reporters are among the current OLCA officers.

The relationship between OLCA and the newspapers’ trade association proves that the whole concept of the Statehouse press corps should be revisited by the legislature. As Media Trackers noted last August, the insulated, pseudo-public OLCA was created in 1893.

Ohio House Bill 262 (HB 262), introduced by Rep. Dan Ramos (D-Lorain) in September, calls for all House committee hearings to be broadcast and archived online. The legislation has not progressed from the House Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee, but HB 262 could potentially be amended to reform OLCA as part of overall modernization efforts.

The legislature could, for instance, convert the Statehouse press room to a space that actually serves the public, require OLCA members to pay for the Senate clerk’s time spent serving the press corps, and end OLCA’s special treatment with regard to House and Senate floor access.