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Published: Wednesday, 7/23/2014 - Updated: 3 months ago

Opponent says DeWine engaged in ‘pay to play’

Attorney general denies contracts went to cronies

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

Democratic candidate for Ohio Attorney General David Pepper, left, and incumbent Mike DeWine, right. Democratic candidate for Ohio Attorney General David Pepper, left, and incumbent Mike DeWine, right.
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COLUMBUS — Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine’s Democratic opponent on Tuesday accused him of engaging in “clearly a massive pay-to-play operation” when it comes to awarding lucrative debt-collection contracts.

But David Pepper, a former Hamilton County commissioner, did not call for an outright prohibition on such campaign contributions to eliminate the appearance of influence peddling that has followed Republican and Democratic attorneys general over the decades.

“This behavior has a real cost to taxpayers,” he said. “Let’s call it what it is. This is Mike DeWine’s corruption tax.”

Mr. Pepper has made alleged pay-to-play one of the cornerstones of his campaign, suggesting that lucrative contracts appear to be doled out to attorneys, law firms, and vendors who contribute to Mr. DeWine’s campaign, the campaign of a son who is a Cincinnati-area judge, the Ohio Republican Party, or a Haiti charity created in his daughter’s memory.

The Dayton Daily News most recently reported that Mr. DeWine’s campaign received $1.38 million since 2010 from 119 outside attorneys doing debt-collection work for his office as well as from their firms and family members. Of that, $215,000 in contributions from attorneys and debt agencies came within two months of his office’s decisions to award debt-collection contracts.

The newspaper also noted, however, that some who contributed nothing to Mr. DeWine’s campaign still received contracts.

“David Pepper has shown again that he has no issue with twisting data in his quadrennial quest for higher office,” said DeWine campaign spokesman Ryan Stubenrauch. “The last three years of collection under Attorney General DeWine are among the highest totals in the history of Ohio. This year he’s on pace to shatter his own all-time collection record again.

“There is no pay-to-play,” he said. “Contributions do not affect who gets work in the office.”

Mr. Pepper noted that collections started trending downward in 2012, suggesting that the firms Mr. DeWine selected weren’t doing as good a job as their predecessors.

Among Mr. Pepper’s proposed reforms is a two-month period before and after major contract decisions are made when such contributions could not be solicited or accepted.

But he did not call for an outright ban on contributions from those seeking to do business with the office, including if he were running the office.

“I don’t believe in that,” he said. “There are a lot of attorneys who work for a lot of firms who support me for a lot of reasons, including the fact that they want to clean up a corrupt system … Most don’t want to get phone calls shaking them down for money during the months of the bid process.”

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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