Wednesday, December 4, 2013 at 9:19 PM
The Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor took on his tax problems head-on in a conference call with reporters today. But as Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler reports, the call left many with as many questions as answers.
Senate Minority Leader Eric Kearney of Cincinnati had hoped to settle the questions about the hundreds of thousands of dollars in outstanding federal and state tax liens owed by him, his wife and their publishing business.
“I will be releasing an unprecedented amount of financial information about the company and our plan to repay our portion of the company’s back taxes,” he said in a conference call with reporters.
Kearney was joined by a Democratic spokesman, but not by the man he’s running with, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald. After encountering a little trouble getting a series of spreadsheets to reporters on the conference call, Kearney stayed on the call for more than an hour and a half, going over the details of the back taxes, interest and penalties owed by KGL Media, the publisher of the Cincinnati Herald, and the debts owed by him and his wife Jan.
“This is not, nor has it ever been, a matter of my wife and myself failing to pay our personal income taxes,” he said.
Kearney has blamed his tax problems on the troubles facing the newspaper and media industry.
He said in federal taxes, the business owes just over $561,000, and he and his wife owe more than $83,000 on behalf of their corporation.
He said the maximum owed the state is a little more than $95,000, but some of that is in dispute. And he said he and his wife are on a payment plan for the rest.
And there was new information in this call—Kearney revealed that he owes $86,000 in federal taxes for a company that dissolved nearly 10 years ago.
That potentially brings the tax total to more than $825,000.
Kearney took repeated questions not only about the back taxes and his personal debt with American Express—which sued him for more than $14,000—but also about when Ed FitzGerald, the Democratic candidate for governor, knew about these issues.
“During the vetting period, I provided financial information,” Kearney said. “Today’s information is of unprecedented detail.”
He said several times that the FitzGerald campaign knew about his tax issues, and as he was repeatedly asked when and what the campaign was told, he appeared to be getting exasperated.
“I provided the information to the campaign about my personal financial situation and the company’s financial situation,” Kearney said.
Kearney was careful to say that FitzGerald stands behind him and has not asked him to step down—which Kearney said he has no intention of doing, saying he’s in the race to stay.
And he said he and FitzGerald have not had any discussions about his tax troubles being a liability for the campaign. In fact, Kearney said they may strengthen his case to Ohio voters, especially other small business owners. As expected, Republicans weren’t impressed.
“What we saw today was unprecedented,” said Chris Schrimpf, spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party. “I gather that word was used a lot.
“This ultimately is about Ed FitzGerald,” Schrimpf continued. “It’s Ed FitzGerald’s decision. Ed FitzGerald put him on the ticket. He said that he stands by him. We are happy to have Eric Kearney on the ticket. It shows where Ed FitzGerald’s priorities lie.”
Schrimpf says Republicans plan to use Kearney’s tax troubles in the campaign—even though Ohio Republican Party chair Matt Borges has documented tax problems of his own, which have gotten Borges repeatedly blasted by Democrats as a “tax cheat.”
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