Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is facing criticism from a political rival for his handling of lucrative collection contracts after a report found companies were giving campaign donations while the state was reviewing bids for the work.
David Pepper, the Democratic candidate for the Attorney General's office, called for federal authorities to investigate DeWine's role in awarding the contracts. It followed a Dayton (Ohio) Daily News investigation that found state bid documents were altered to favor a collection agency founded by DeWine's political ally Pete Spitalieri over a longtime collection agency.
DeWine's spokesman Dan Tierney said the allegedly altered bid document was a judge's personal notes.
Spitalieri formed CELCO Ltd. days before collection proposals for the fiscal year were requested, according to the newspaper, and DeWines itinerary showed several meetings with Spitalieri and a Republican county chairman whose party has donated more than $400,000 to DeWines campaign since 2010. DeWine's office said CELCO had done work similar to collections for license bureaus in Ohio and California.
The Attorney General's office hires collection agencies or collection law firms to pursue delinquent student loans, medical bills owed to state hospitals and unpaid taxes. Since DeWine's election, Ohio has tallied its three top collections totals in history. The office ranked collection agencies based on a 100-point system in 2011 before dropping that system.
Pepper, a Cincinnati attorney challenging DeWine in the November election, argues DeWine's record collections year was 2011, using firms hired by Richard Cordray, DeWine's Democratic predecessor, and when Ohio's economic recovery hit its stride.
Pepper said Ohio again needs metrics in place to rank firms on collections success, which should be the criteria used to award contracts. Lobbying should be banned during the bid process and a state collection official should handle the process, he added.
Tierney said DeWine's office considered qualifications and looked for a variety of specialties and locations around the state. The political donations didn't sway the process and some of the campaign money was directed to the Ohio Republican Party and not to DeWine's campaign, he added.