Government is most efficient and effective when it makes transparent decisions based on merit and performance, not based on patronage and a culture of pay-to-play. Unfortunately, there are countless examples in Ohio of wasted money, questionable decisions, and poor service due to a pay-to-play culture. In the competitive economic environment of 2014, such problems will only hold Ohio back. Only with clean, transparent government serving the public interest will Ohio compete and succeed in the 21st century. No office in Ohio is better positioned to clean up government at all levels than the Attorney General. David Pepper is committed to cleaning up the mess, adding transparency, and holding officials accountable. He will create a model of public integrity in the Attorney General’s Office itself and will use the office as a platform to clean up government across the state.
Cleaning Up the Attorney General’s Office
In order to clean up Ohio government, the Attorney General must have credibility that can only be earned by running an office that is a model for public integrity.
- Ending Pay to Play: No office in Ohio has a more egregious and direct connection between who makes political contributions and who gets lucrative state work than the Attorney General’s Office. Pepper has laid out a clear proposal to clean up this problem. For details, go to: www.davidpepper/integrity. Pepper will also end the current practice of requiring that those who wish to do work with the office must hire high-priced lobbyists to get in the door—today, those lobbyists are largely the Attorney General’s personal friends and political cronies who are leveraging their close ties to DeWine to pocket tens of thousands of dollars, and more.
- Hiring for Attorney General Positions: The Attorney General has hired a number of long-time friends and cronies and placed them into key positions in the office. This type of culture can quickly poison the entire structure of the office—and morale in the AG’s office today is very low as a result. From Steubenville to Sandusky County, high profile cases have been mismanaged. Perhaps not coincidentally, one of DeWine’s top lieutenants and longtime cronies was overseeing these cases and was clearly not up to the important role he was given.
Pepper believes Ohioans deserve an Attorney General’s Office led by the best and the brightest Ohio has to offer—not simply the personal friends or political cronies of the Attorney General. Among other changes, Pepper will open up the hiring process so that vacant positions at all levels are publicized and open to Ohio’s best and brightest.
- Ethics and conflicts of interest: On a number of occasions, the Attorney General has refused to recuse or separate himself from cases where he had what appeared to be a conflict of interest. His response displayed a surprising lack of understanding of the definition of a legal conflict of interest. Pepper will demand a review of AG conflict of interest policies, and enact reforms to establish what circumstances require recusal either of the entire office or individuals in the office, and the creation of ethical walls to assure the highest level of integrity.
- Transparency: Today, the Attorney General’s Office is involved in divisive political cases across the country, but Ohioans would never easily know it. Law firms and vendors who make millions by doing work for the state Attorney General’s Office are hidden from sight. If the Attorney General is going to demand transparency from the rest of state government, the office itself must be a model of transparency.
Pepper has proposed numerous ways in which the office can and must be more transparent in its operations, so that citizens can see what the Attorney General is doing on their behalf, including:
- Posting all out-of-state cases online so that citizens know what cases the office is bringing on their behalf and with their taxpayer dollars; and
- Posting all special counsel and other outside vendors to the office online
Cleaning Up Government Across Ohio
Ohioans’ have had little reason to have much faith in their state government in recent years, and many Ohioans are equally frustrated with local government. Recently, officials have been caught doing special favors and handing out lucrative contracts to major campaign donors. Senior staffers for a top official have been collecting pay while not showing up for work. Operators of failing charter schools have walked away with millions in taxpayer dollars while public schools face major budget cuts. A culture of pay-to-play seems to pervade Columbus. Add it all up, and citizens correctly suspect that the primary concern of too many elected officials is not the public interest. Pepper will restructure the Attorney General’s Office to be far more effective and proactive than it is today in taking on corruption and protecting taxpayers from this type of waste, fraud and abuse.
- Public Integrity Unit: Attorneys General in other states have created Public Integrity Units to investigate and crack down on corruption, and Pepper will do the same. The Unit will provide a central, secure office where citizens or whistleblowers concerned about potential corruption or other malfeasance have a place to bring their complaints forward. The Unit will conduct direct investigations and special prosecutions, work with local or neighboring jurisdictions to assist with special prosecutions, and coordinate with the bipartisan Organized Crime Investigation Commission and federal authorities as the need arises. The Unit will have public integrity officers in every region of the state so constituents can come forward wherever they happen to be. But bottom line: Ohioans will have a place to turn when they see or suspect corruption in government. They will have an independent Attorney General who will pursue their complaints thoroughly, and take action when warranted.
- Taxpayer Protection Unit: Pepper will restructure the Attorney General’s office to create a Taxpayer Protection Unit, focused like a laser on protecting taxpayers, pensioners and recovering funds owed to the state. This Unit will take on a variety of activities that cost taxpayers millions every year: officials who embezzle public funds, contractors and those who receive taxpayer funds who defraud the government or misspend public funds, fraudulent bidding practices, large-scale tax cheats, schemes that defraud the pension and workers’ compensation fund, and other activities. The Unit will not only take aim at those who have defrauded the state or owe funds—and partner with other officials such as the State Auditor in doing so—but will push for legal and policy reforms to current practices that allow waste, fraud and abuse to take place.A perfect example where this Unit is needed has been the recent calamity of charter schools closing down at an alarming rate. $31 million is owed to the State from these failed schools, yet the Attorney General has only collected $500,000 of the amount owed. The Taxpayer Protection Unit will not simply go after those funds, but will also make recommendations on what changes need to be made to avoid such problems going forward.
- Model Ethics & Transparency Policies: Pepper will create model legal and ethical policies that state agencies and local governments can adopt to assure their citizens they are running high integrity, transparent operations that protect taxpayers and residents. He will push for more transparency in key areas, such as tax incentives, charter schools and other uses of tax dollars where there is not enough transparency or accountability today.