Newspaper reports actions benefited nonprofit group by more than $800K

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Dayton -- A state senator backed actions in the Ohio General Assembly that resulted in a benefit of more than $800,000 to a nonprofit he helped found, a newspaper reported Feb. 17.

Republican state Sen. Chris Widener of Springfield was in the Ohio House when he supported Senate changes to House Bill 160, the Dayton Daily News reported Sunday. The bill helped the nonprofit Springfield-based Ohio Equine and Agricultural Association get out from under $413,877 in taxes and penalties, and Widener inserted an amendment into the 2009 state budget bill that allowed Clark County to levy a bed tax that generated $412,890 in revenue for Ohio Equine, the newspaper reported.

Widener told The Associated Press in an email Feb. 17 that he spent his "entire career maintaining the highest standards of ethical conduct" and that any "legislative action I have taken has been guided by those principles, and interpretations of Ohio ethics laws I have received from the legislative inspector general."

The Ohio Revised Code allows legislators to rely on advisory opinions from the Joint Legislative Ethics Commission when carrying out their official duties, "which I have done since serving," he said.

There has been no determination that any ethics laws were violated, according to the newspaper.

Widener was a proponent of Ohio Equine's exposition center, which was seen as a tourism draw for horse shows and other events and began serving on the nonprofit's board in 2004.

Widener has said he guarded against any conflict by resigning and canceling a startup loan guarantee he'd earlier provided the nonprofit.

Widener says HB 160 allowed all nonprofit groups to file for real estate tax exemption and wasn't retroactive.

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