A pair of prominent Republicans supporting presidential candidate John McCain urged the Ohio inspector general yesterday to investigate the use of government computers to find personal information about "Joe the Plumber."
Former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani held conference call with reporters seeking the investigation to determine whether the breach was politically motivated or in any way linked to the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.
Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher, a resident of Springfield Township, was thrust into the national spotlight on Oct. 15 when Mr. McCain mentioned him frequently during the final presidential debate with Mr. Obama.
During that debate Mr. McCain cited Mr. Wurzelbacher as an example of an American who would be harmed by Mr. Obama's tax plan after the Springfield Township resident questioned the Democratic candidate during an unplanned campaign stop in the neighborhood days earlier.
The Columbus Dispatch reported yesterday that Mr. Wurzelbacher's driver's license and vehicle registration information were pulled three times within days after the debate.
That information was accessed through accounts assigned to the office of the Ohio attorney general, the Cuyahoga County Child Support Enforcement Agency, and the Toledo Police Department.
"Did these three things happen independent of one another or was this done at the request of someone?" Mr. Giuliani asked. "I don't know if this came from the Obama campaign or not."
The Ohio attorney general's office is investigating whether the access of Mr. Wurzelbacher's Bureau of Motor Vehicle information through the office's Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway computer system was unauthorized, said Jennifer Brindisi, a spokesman with that office.
It has not been determined who checked on Mr. Wurzelbacher or why. Direct access to driver's license and vehicle registration information from BMV computers is restricted to legitimate law enforcement and government business.
At a campaign event in Albuquerque, N.M., yesterday, Mr. McCain lambasted the possible breach of personal information.
"By the way, did you see the way Joe the Plumber was attacked? Isn't that remarkable? We saw this morning where they've accessed into his - into his background. Remarkable. Does that mean Americans can't ask tough questions? Americans have the right to ask whatever they want to ask of our politicians who seek their support," Mr. McCain said to the crowd.
Isaac Baker, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, agreed that such a breach should be investigated and denied any involvement by the campaign.
"Invasions of privacy should not be tolerated. If these records were accessed inappropriately, it had nothing to do with our campaign and should be investigated fully," he said in a statement that also called the claims by the McCain campaign "desperate charges."
Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre said the department received a call from the Ohio Highway Patrol on Friday asking the police to explain why it pulled BMV information on Mr. Wurzelbacher within 48 hours after the debate.
The state patrol will be sending the Toledo police a letter alleging the breach. Chief Navarre had not yet received that letter last night but said an internal investigation would be initiated once that letter is in hand, which likely would be tomorrow.
A call to Mr. Wurzelbacher went unreturned yesterday.