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Lawmakers Propose Conflict Of Interest Safeguards For AG's Office

The Ohio Attorney General often uses private law firms to handle cases on behalf of the state. Two Democratic state representatives want more safeguards to make sure private law firms that contribute heavily to AG candidates don’t end up getting a better shot at those jobs.  Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports.

Democratic State Representative Ron Gerberry says he’s not accusing Republican AG Mike DeWine of rewarding law firms that support him with lucrative legal work.

Gerberry – But the appearance of pay to play obviously is there.

Democratic State Representative Nick Celebreeze says the numbers show firms that gave to DeWine and Republicans are getting a lot of work from the state.

Celebreeze – The Attorney General’s office has awarded lucrative no bid state contracts to campaign donors throughout the state through the state controlling board.  These contracts totaled roughly 24 million dollars in taxpayer funded monies to firms that have given an excess of 1.3 million dollars to the attorney general’s re-election efforts or the Ohio Republican party and their endorsed candidates.

The Democrats are sponsoring a bill that would impose a blackout period for campaign donations from law firms so they couldn’t immediately be awarded state work after giving money to a candidate.  But Dan Tierney of the Attorney General’s office says that could be a problem.

Tierney – Litigants generally don’t go out there and say, “hey, we are going to sue a state agency six months from today.” The lawsuits come up from time to time and if a lawsuit comes up and a state entity needs outside counsel with specific expertise, the attorney general’s office needs to be able to match that expertise when it comes up.  But we do not know when lawsuits are going to happen and that is an issue in general with blackout proposals.

Tierney says he hasn’t yet seen the Democrats’ bill.  But he says there is already a law in place for entities that contribute more than a thousand dollars to a candidate in a two year period.  He says the attorney general’s office requires law firms wanting to do business with his office to prove their qualifications for a job and he says campaign contributions have nothing to do with that process.

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