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Published: Tuesday, 7/22/2014 - Updated: 1 year ago

Challenger accuses DeWine of 'pay-to-play'

David Pepper David Pepper

COLUMBUS — Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine‘‍s Democratic challenger today accused him of engaging in “clearly a massive pay-to-play operation” when it comes to awarding lucrative debt-collection contracts.

Mike DeWine Mike DeWine

But David Pepper again did not call for an outright prohibition on such campaign contributions to eliminate the appearance of influence peddling that have followed both Republican and Democratic attorneys general over the decades.

“This behavior has a real cost to taxpayers,” the former Hamilton County commissioner 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."

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.

He called for the selection for debt-collection vendors to be made by an experienced collections professional rather than a fund-raiser or lobbyist. He called for substituting an objective, data-driven review process for the current subjective scoring system and a prohibition on political fundraisers or lobbyists meeting with the attorney general to influence decisions.

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