Shontel Brown is the ultimate political insider. She was Chair of the same Cuyahoga County Democratic Party as Jimmy Dimora once was. While she was Chair, she was also a member of Cuyahoga County Council while running for election to Congress. The Cleveland Plain Dealer criticized Brown, but she continued in all three simultaneous roles anyhow. These roles coincided with some ethically suspect conduct.
As Chair of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, Jimmy Dimora used one party rule in Cuyahoga County to create a political culture. Political insiders made and benefited from deals. That culture was often corrupt. It encouraged favoritism. And occasionally it enabled unethical or illegal conduct. Jimmy Dimora went to jail because of his deals.
There still is one party rule in Cuyahoga County dominated by insiders. Insider status helped Shontel Brown raise a lot of campaign money. She spent over $4 million during her last campaign. She presently has almost $480,000 in her campaign account. This gives her the potential to buy influence by giving financial support to other progressives. The deal making culture lives on.
Shontel Brown received large donations from political action committees and from “dark money” sources. This funding effectively prevented real competition from less well-funded opponents. They paid for a sea of media to drown out communications of her opponents. Such large donations create the real potential of the corruption of a public official. Even if they were legal, such large donations should raise ethical questions.
Shontel Brown has claimed in the past that she supports “initiatives to get money out of politics” to “reduce the role of money in politics.” That did not deter her from raising incredible sums of campaign money. There should be questions asked about how such large donations made Brown’s political success possible. And questions should be asked about those large donations she will solicit for the current election campaign.
It should be asked what return on investment (“ROI”) Shontel Brown promises large donors in return. Brown has failed to discuss publicly serious accusations about the ROI made during her last campaign. Using public office to make money and enrich oneself is unethical at least and illegal at most. It was suggested then that she might have used her insider position on Cuyahoga County Council to help steer $17 million in public construction contracts to companies connected to her boyfriend and whose principals donated money to her campaign. These accusations were referred to the Ohio Ethics Commission. The Commission has not issued any reports. Its records are not public. Shontel Brown could ask for disclosure of these records so that her past activities are more transparent. To date she has not done so.
Brown previously pledged to recuse herself from such public contracts “as necessary.” But she did not recuse herself before County Council awarded these construction contracts. Her activities may or may not have been legal. But at the very least, these activities looked bad. What Shontel Brown did had an appearance of impropriety. She should never have voted to award those particular contracts. She should have recused herself. Her failure to do so showed her ethical standards to be suspect.
Such conduct on her part has continued. Shontel Brown recently demonstrated her lack of concern for ethical standards once again. Progressive Democrat Representative Jamaal Bowman intentionally set off a fire alarm in a U.S. Capitol office building while the chamber was in session. His clear intent was to cause chaos in order to stop the House of Representatives at the time from having a vote to fund the government before a shutdown deadline. His act forced an evacuation of a House building for over an hour. Bowman eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge. But when a motion to censure Bowman for such conduct was offered, fellow progressive Democrat Shontel Brown voted no. She voted that way in spite of the admission of Bowman that he had engaged in criminal conduct.
The Plain Dealer once described Shontel Brown as an “undistinguished member of Cuyahoga County Council who has little to show for her time in office.” Nothing about that description has changed since her election to Congress. Shontel Brown has a good attendance record but mostly has been just a reliable vote for progressive causes. And when it came time on occasions to stand up for ethical principles, she has been AWOL.