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Ethics Complaint Filed Against Candice Keller Over Crisis Pregnancy Center Bill

Ohio House
State Rep. Candice Keller (R-Middletown)

The Butler County Democratic Party wants an investigation into state Rep. Candice Keller (R-Middletown), saying she potentially violated ethics rules by sponsoring a bill that would directly benefit an anti-abortion health center she runs in Southwest Ohio. 

The bill at the center of the complaint would benefit organizations commonly called “crisis pregnancy centers.” They do not provide abortions or refer women for the procedure, but instead explain other options. Opponents of these centers say they are "fake" medical clinics that shame women from getting abortions. 

Keller is a co-sponsor of the bill, which would provide a 50% refundable tax credit for donations made to non-profit pregnancy centers. After Ohio Democrats accused her of self-dealing, Keller saidshe will recuse herself from the legislative process.

But Butler County Democratic Party director Brian Hester says the horse is already out of the barn now.

“The fact that she, having now been caught and publicly called out on it, says she doesn’t intend to continue to violating the law, doesn’t change the fact that her initial action was a violation," Hester says.

Hester’s group has requested a review by the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee, the state panel that deals with ethical violation of lawmakers. In an afidavit submitted to the committee, Hester charges that Keller, despite having her salary cut recently, still receives nearly a dollar in executive pay for every $3 her clinic makes.

"Keller's decision to co-sponro HB 297 could be motivated by a personal financial interest to protect her salary from further redution or perhaps regain the income she lost in its reduction by supporting legislation to give her organization additional favorable tax treatment to its donors to stimulate its declining revenue," Hester wrote.

Keller calls the complaint a political distraction, in an updated written statement to the Statehouse News Bureau on Monday.

“This is an important piece of legislation, designed to incentivize (and not penalize) charitable Ohioans who believe in the work pregnancy centers do every day to provide for women and children in need, and it must be advanced whether I am involved in the process or not,” Keller wrote.

Federal tax filings showKeller’s center has lost money in recent years. Hester thinks Keller and her pregnancy center, which is one of about 100 around Ohio, would benefit financially from the bill.

Ohio’s Legislative Inspector General Tony Bledsoe says he advised Keller to abstain from voting on the bill after she asked him for his opinion last month.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.