Scandal cuts short Ohio governor’s election partyWritten by Associated Press | | firstname.lastname@example.org
COLUMBUS – The postelection honeymoon didn’t last long for Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.
He was still basking in the glow of delivering Ohio for president-elect Barack Obama when his staff learned his top human services aide had allegedly misused her state computer for political purposes.
E-mails released by Strickland show Helen Jones-Kelley using her state-issued e-mail account to send names of potential contributors to the Obama campaign. Jones-Kelley is director of the state Department of Job and Family Services.
Strickland placed her on administrative leave while an investigation is conducted.
Republicans, stung by election day losses, pounced on the opportunity.
“It’s bad enough that Ted Strickland spent the last six months campaigning instead of doing his job,” said Kevin DeWine, deputy director of the Ohio GOP. “It’s completely unacceptable that his administration has apparently turned state government into a giant political party machine.”
In a series of July 8 e-mails, Jones-Kelley sent names of potential contributors to the Obama campaign. The campaign was looking for people willing to donate $2,500 or $5,000 at a July 11 fundraiser tied to Obama’s visit to Dayton that day.
Jones-Kelley said she could donate $2,500 herself. She also offered to arrange a future event for Michelle Obama.
“This is wonderful,” Obama campaign staffer Michael O’Neil e-mailed in reply. “I appreciate your taking the time to assist our efforts.” A message was left with O’Neil Saturday.
Jones-Kelley has an unlisted number and could not be reached. The Dayton Daily News reported that a state trooper stationed outside Jones-Kelley’s house in Clayton Friday night turned away a reporter.
The e-mails came to light as part of a public records request into another issue dogging Jones-Kelley: why agency computers were used to find personal information on a man who became known as “Joe the Plumber” during the presidential campaign.
Wurzelbacher became a centerpiece in the final weeks of the presidential campaign, and Jones-Kelley has acknowledged that agency records on him were reviewed.
Strickland has asked State Inspector Tom Charles to include the political fundraising matter in his current investigation into the Wurzelbacher records search.
The agency has about 3,800 employees and an annual budget of about $17.1 billion. It manages state unemployment benefits, food stamps and Medicaid, the giant state-federal program that helps pay for health care for poor children and their families.
It’s unclear how much political hay the Republicans can make of the scandal.
After all, Strickland rode to office in 2006 on the fallout from a huge corruption scandal that touched all branches of the then GOP-dominated state government.
More worrisome is how Ohio voters, weary of politicians’ wrongdoing, will react to the issue regardless of party affiliation.
“I don’t think voters are really going to care whether you’re a Republican or Democrat if you engage in these kinds of activities,” said Grant Neeley, a University of Dayton political scientist. “People in Ohio are fed up.”
Human services advocate John Begala said there’s never been a moment when ensuring the integrity of the human services department is more important.
“You do have an agency here that provides health care and cash assistance to literally millions of people in the state that is hard hit,” said Begala, executive director of the Cleveland-based Center for Community Solutions and a former Democratic state lawmaker.
“Trust in that agency is of utmost importance because of the very delicate policy questions that confront us,” Begala said Saturday.
It’s not the first scandal to touch the agency. In 2001, the agency’s then director, Republican-appointee Jacqueline Romer-Sensky, resigned amid revelations that the state illegally withheld millions in overdue payments and income tax refunds from child support recipients.
Tom Charles investigated that scandal, too.