In recent weeks, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has come under fire for how his office awards contracts for outside legal work.
David Pepper, a Democrat who is seeking DeWine’s job this November, has accused DeWine, a Republican, of engaging in a pay-to-play scheme in which firms which make donations to his campaign, or a Haiti charity created in DeWine’s daughter’s memory, are favored when it comes winning lucrative state contracts to handle securities fraud and other legal matters.
While the claims may be politically based, and would be difficult to prove, the suspicion cast is damning for DeWine, and he must address them to retain credibility.
One way would be to make the process used to pick outside firms more transparent by documenting why one firm is selected over another.
A committee reviews firms and scores them based on certain criteria. Those receiving the highest scores are considered for hire.
Limited public information about the process was found when The Associated Press did a review. A records request turned up no judges’ notes, scoring sheets, email exchanges on firms’ qualifications, or recommendations made to DeWine.
More troubling was a Dayton Daily News report which found, among other things, that some of the bidding companies made campaign donations just as hiring decisions were being made. In the two months before the most recent selections, the newspaper found attorneys and law firms sent more than $215,000 to the DeWine campaign and the Ohio Republican Party.
One firm seeking work as a collection agency was created just before the bidding started and was formed by a DeWine supporter and longtime contributor to the Summit County Republican Party. Even though it lacked experience and appropriate licensing credentials, it still won a contract.
The timing, if nothing else, is highly suspect.
Pepper has not called for an outright ban on contributions from those seeking to do business with the office. But he has proposed a two-month period before and after major contract decisions are made when contributions could not be solicited or accepted.
Meanwhile, DeWine has denied any connection between contributions and contracts, as have previous attorneys general who have been accused of similar activity.
Still, he needs to put the controversy behind him as soon as possible.
The simplest way to clear the air would be to make the selection of outside firms as public as possible, and refuse to accept political donations from any firm that wants to work for the state.
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