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Ohio IG Report: Joe the Plumber's Records Were Improperly Searched

By Mary Pat Flaherty
The director of an Ohio human services agency has been suspended for a month without pay and faces review by a county prosecutor for using confidential state databases to find personal information on "Joe the Plumber." She will also face review for using her state e-mail address to help Barack Obama's fundraising by identifying potential contributors and offering her own $2,500 donation.

Helen E. Jones-Kelley, head of Ohio's Department of Jobs and Family Services, authorized the searches within days of Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher gaining national attention during a presidential debate in which both candidates took turns pitching their tax plans as best for "Joe the Plumber," as Wurzelbacher became known after a chance run in with Obama at an Ohio campaign stop.

Ohio's Inspector General concluded in a report that Jones-Kelley had wrongly authorized searches of Wurzelbacher through records kept on child support payments, temporary aid to families and unemployment benefits. A state employee concerned that privacy rules had been violated initially disclosed the breaches.

The report said that while the searches "were done in the midst of a political campaign," there was no evidence the information was released "in an effort to support any political activity or agenda."

Jones-Kelley told investigators that it was agency practice to check the backgrounds of someone "thrust quickly into the public spotlight," but Thursday's report from Inspector General Thomas P. Charles said there were "no policies or procedures to support her."

In a statement issued through her attorney, Jones-Kelley said, "I accept the content of the Inspector General's report and should not have allowed the Wurzelbacher searches to move forward." She continued, "There is a disagreement as to whether those searches were done for legitimate business purposes," and also asserted that "no confidential information was released."

Wurzelbacher did not reply to messages at a plumbing firm where he has worked. His home voicemail was full and he did not respond to a page left there.

In the wake of media reports, Wurzelbacher cleared a $1,200 lien for back taxes that a state official had said he may not have been aware of.

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D) issued Jones-Kelley's unpaid suspension yesterday, although the director already had been on paid leave since Nov. 7 over the use of her government e-mail for political fundraising. Strickland said he "accepted" the report's findings about the searches and the e-mail violations and issued a directive to all state agencies about proper use of databases.

A copy of the Inspector's Report was sent for "review and consideration" to the Franklin County prosecutor's office in Columbus. Jones-Kelley's attorney, H. Ritchey Hollenbaugh of Columbus, noted that the report did not specifically ask for a review for criminal prosecution.

Searches of Wurzelbacher's driving history also were made using an account through the Toledo Police Department, which is investigating those actions, the report stated. A former information technology contractor for the Ohio Attorney General's office conducted a review of driving records for Wurzelbacher and others, without the office's knowledge, yesterday's report said. Those searches are being investigated by the Ohio State Highway Patrol for possible criminal charges, the Inspector General report stated.

The searches of government records involving "Joe the Plumber" have become hotly debated in Ohio. "Ohioans expect and deserve better from Governor Strickland and his team," said Republican Party Deputy Chairman Kevin DeWine.

By Web Politics Editor  |  November 20, 2008; 8:33 PM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama , Battlegrounds  
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Comments

There should be no way that any of you or me should know anything about Joe the Plumber because of his question to a candidate. Some of the comments on this story make absolutely no sense, i.e. attacking JTP. When is adoration too much?

Posted by: lynneburke | November 22, 2008 5:20 PM | Report abuse

The Democratic Party in the State of Ohio is no better than the Republican Party in the time of Richard Nixon!

I hope the courts in Ohio treat the malfactors in this outrage the same way that the courts handled Nixon's cronies.

Posted by: JoeJankovic | November 22, 2008 6:45 AM | Report abuse

Sure would love to be on this Jury, bankrupt Ohio. Put these fools in jail for a long as possible.

These people are ELECTED OFFICIALS NOT WAR LORDS IN SOME THIRD WORLD COUNTRY.

Posted by: tusseyrobert | November 21, 2008 6:01 PM | Report abuse

At least Joe can sue the pants off the Dem. Administration in Ohio.

It's a bit of "spread the wealth" in reverse!

Posted by: pgr88 | November 21, 2008 4:40 PM | Report abuse

I disagree with the search of Joe the Unlicensed Plumber's records, but the fact remains that he was a hack. He's yet one more symbol of a tragically flawed campaign.

As if it needed another one ...

Posted by: jnewkirk77 | November 21, 2008 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Gator-ron wrote of Hillary, "...Her cunning in this position will be an asset not a liability. With Obama setting the course and her finding the way to implement it, with her access to foreign leaders and Obama's word to back her up she will be great."

Amen, and I hope she Kicks International A** and Takes Names! She has great potential to be an outstanding Secretary of State and I wish her well!

Posted by: skiloypet | November 21, 2008 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Joe the Plumber was not an innocent victim in this drama, he positioned himself to be McCain's front man in an attempted distraction of the electorate.

Though there may well be a crime here, there was no victim.

Posted by: Gator-ron | November 21, 2008 12:24 PM | Report abuse

When you voted for Obama what you get is Obama. He is a man with far greater political skills than most people can even imagine. Hillary for SoS is not Hillary for President or VP. Her cunning in this position will be an asset not a liability. With Obama setting the course and her finding the way to implement it, with her access to foreign leaders and Obama's word to back her up she will be great.

Just because she was not right for President does not mean she will not be a good SoS.

Posted by: Gator-ron | November 21, 2008 12:21 PM | Report abuse

"Joe the Plumber" was a McBush ''plant'' to 'trap' Obama; but unfortunately for the Repugnants, it all ''BACK-FIRED'' !!!!!!!

Posted by: mewindows | November 21, 2008 11:08 AM | Report abuse

I find it intriguing that someone "thrust quickly into the public spotlight" can "quickly" lose their privacy rights. What's the difference between a campaign digging into his background and a bureaucrat? I wonder if he'll "quickly" appear on the IRS' list of taxpayers "due" for an audit. If he's audited, it'll be prima facie evidence (as if we needed more) of the IRS' role as a political cudgel.

Posted by: srpinpgh | November 21, 2008 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Of course, both Repubs & Demos do this kind of unethical sleuthing (remember Watergate? Ellsberg?), but whoever does it should be held to account, and this should not be laid at the feet of Obama, who was not responsible for the actions of the Ohio employee.

Posted by: arussell91 | November 21, 2008 9:54 AM | Report abuse

Thanks to the Post for running this item. The Democrats are as dumb and corrupt as they accuse the Republicans of being (check out the state of the health of the most strongly Democratic-controlled districts of the country), but are sufficiently convinced of their own virtue and intellect that they feel justified in their own dirty tricks. I can only guess that this has something to do with being composed disproportionately of the Mandarin classes of teachers, academics, lawyers,etc. The mainstream media unfortunatly tends to think like the Democratic Party, in its vocabulary and framing devices, being also part of that urban-oriented culture. Democrats make 'mistakes', whereas Republican missteps are seized upon as metaphors, etc. . . . zzzzz . . . Let's have more reporting that makes this clear to the consumer. Journalism has been pretty gutless so far looking askance at Obama's 'Chicago style' political team.

Posted by: MarkR1 | November 21, 2008 9:49 AM | Report abuse

Joseph Wurzelbacher, who was just a voter at that time, asked a question of Obama and the answer did not reflect well on the candidate.
The Obama campaign and the media then went overboard to look into his background and invade his privacy.
The campaign and the media owe him an apology!

Posted by: mwhoke | November 21, 2008 8:08 AM | Report abuse

Joe Wurzelbacher, who just a voter at that time, asked a question of Obama and the answer did not reflect well on the candidate.
The Obama campaign and the media then went overboard to look into his background and invade his privacy.
The campaign and the media owe him an apology!

Posted by: mwhoke | November 21, 2008 8:04 AM | Report abuse

....So What about JTP is is not a plumber and he is on welfare....

Posted by: AlexP1 | November 21, 2008 7:04 AM | Report abuse

HEY OBAMA
I want my vote Back.
IF WE WANTED CLINTON YOU WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ON THE BALLOT.

DO NOT APPOINT HER OR BILL TO ANY POSITIONS!!

Posted by: movette | November 21, 2008 6:19 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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