Columbus— Two Democratic state lawmakers have proposed limits on campaign contributions from law firms seeking special contracts from the attorney general’s office.
Reps. Ronald Gerberry (D-Austintown) and Nicholas Celebrezze (D-Parma) said they plan to introduce legislation on the issue and hope to have discussions with Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine in coming weeks and months to develop a final bill.
The two stopped short of alleging pay-to-play politics by DeWine, who has been criticized for contracts awarded to outside legal counsel that have contributed his reelection campaign.
“I don’t know if he is, but the appearance of pay to play is obviously there,” Gerberry said during a press conference at the Statehouse June 11. “If you look at, this counsel gets a contract and then if you follow the money, it doesn’t look good. ... I’m not saying that the attorney general, that his office is for sale. I’m not saying that in any way, his office or any previous offices. But it’s obvious that those who pay into the process, the election process, are granted counsel status, and those who do not participate in that process… they’re not getting special counsel contracts. You can draw your own conclusions.”
Dan Tierney, a spokesman for DeWine, said the attorney general has a “rigorous” process in place when considering contracts with outside counsel. State law already prohibits those and other vendors contracted by state agencies from donating more than $1,000 to campaigns over any two-year period.
And, Tierney added, “Our office has never used campaign contributions and will never use campaign contributions when we consider awarding outside contracts.”
The legislation being offered by Gerberry and Celebrezze would create a “blackout period” for campaign contributions for law firms seeking counsel contracts.
Violators would face fines and be blocked from future contracts for a year. An online database would disclose details of law firms contracted by the attorney general’s office.
“Without a blackout period, the attorney general can pick and choose whomever he likes, including political allies, to represent our state with no oversight or accountability,” Celebrezze said in a released statement. “Our government was not set up to give any one bureaucrat complete and unquestioned authority, especially when it involves taxpayer’s hard-earned dollars.”
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.