Shakedown Street

Academics spook "economic development" bureaucrats.


When a free market think tank assembles a group of distinguished economists who call for tax relief, you'd think the state's conservative administration would applaud. Not in Ohio.

On September 20, along with state policy organizations from Michigan, Illinois, Nebraska, and Indiana, the Dayton-based Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions released a resolution calling for governments to "end the war between the states." It called on states to stop "economic development" schemes that offer ever-escalating business grants and tax breaks to lure relocating companies. More than 100 economists from nine Midwestern states instead urged governors and state legislatures to cut taxes, spending, and regulations.

"This is the first time there's been a concerted effort [among state free market groups] to question the validity of these programs," says Buckeye Institute President Andrew Little. Ohio Department of Development Director Donald Jakeway expressed his opposition to the plan in a not-so-subtle way: He tried to use the Freedom of Information Act to intimidate the people who signed the statement.

Under the guise of a FOIA request, Jakeway sent a letter to the personnel administrators of the institutions that employ Buckeye's 36 academic advisers and the six other Ohio economists who endorsed the resolution. The letters asked for the résumé of each economist or adviser. It also noted that a copy of the letter had been sent to the development department's legal counsel. After receiving the letters, says Little, personnel directors routinely notified the advisers' department heads, leading to some uncomfortable questions for these academics from their supervisors.

While Jakeway told The Columbus Dispatch he was collecting this information for a "report" on the Buckeye Institute, the letters' targets believe otherwise. "FOIA was not designed so that government officials could intrude on the confidential papers of private citizens," wrote University of Cincinnati political science Professor Abraham Miller to Jakeway. "Government officials who respond to criticism with even the appearance of official intimidation do not encourage respect for their offices."

Jakeway's clumsy attempt to browbeat his opponents ended up giving the institute's plan publicity state officials would rather have avoided. And it may cause Jakeway additional embarrassment. Capital University law professor Bradley Smith, another of Buckeye's advisers, has filed his own Freedom of Information Act request, asking for all of Jakeway's files on the Buckeye Institute and its advisers.