Medicaid providers challenge Ohio campaign contributions law

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Sep 8, 2010


CLEVELAND (Legal Newsline) - A group of Ohio doctors are suing Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner for their right to make campaign contributions to candidates running for Ohio Attorney General and Cuyahoga County Prosecutor.

In a complaint filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, the nine plaintiffs -- all Ohio Medicaid providers -- say they have been "thwarted in their ability" to make contributions, "and in particular by the refusal of a candidate to accept their contributions in light of the statute's criminal characterization of this benign, constitutionally protected conduct."

Their suit, brought under the Civil Rights Acts of 1871, contests on First and Fourteenth Amendment grounds the constitutionality of a state statute that prohibits candidates for attorney general and prosecuting attorney in any Ohio county from accepting campaign contributions from recipients of Medicaid funding and those with an ownership interest in such recipients.

"Plaintiffs seek a declaration that the statute impermissibly violates their right to make campaign contributions, and thus to engage in political expression protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments," according to the complaint.

In Ohio, the attorney general maintains and oversees a Health Care Fraud Office, which investigates and oversees, among other things, compliance by individual contractors with the requirements of the Medicaid program.

The doctors argue because of the attorney general's "crucial" role in the state "no Ohians should be denied a voice in the selection of the officeholder, much less be faced with the prospect of a criminal taint for doing so."

The group makes the same argument for a county's prosecuting attorney.

The "plaintiffs are all physicians who have deeply held beliefs about the kinds of candidates that they would like to see prevail in contests for the offices of attorney general and prosecuting attorney," the complaint says.

"As physicians, plaintiffs have experienced first hand what a broken health insurance system has wrought on patients who need quality care without interference from insurers. As a consequence, they have well-informed and deeply held beliefs about the need for health insurance reform, played a significant role in obtaining such reform, and would like to be free to contribute to candidates for these offices who share their beliefs on these and other issues."

The plaintiffs said they were shocked to learn that making financial contributions to either campaign could be viewed as "aiding, abetting, participating, and/or conspiring in a criminal act and that such contributions would be refused accordingly."

The doctors are seeking a preliminary and a permanent injunction that prohibits the defendant, Brunner, from enforcing the state statute.

One of the doctors is Arthur Lavin, who is described in the complaint as a licensed physician and Ohio Medicaid provider. Lavin's practice is located in Beachwood, Cuyahoga County.

According to the complaint, Lavin, a pediatrician, has an ownership interest in Advanced Pediatrics, an Ohio corporation that provides goods and services under contract with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services under the Medicaid program.

The other doctors listed as plaintiffs include: Jason Chao of Cleveland Heights, Michael W. Devereaux of Shaker Heights, Patricia J. Kellner of South Euclid, Jerome Liebman of Cleveland, Eric R. Schreiber of Cleveland Heights, Constance D. Magoulias of Cleveland, Peter A. DeGolia of Cleveland Heights, and Nathan R. Beachy of Shaker Heights.

The doctors are suing Brunner because, as secretary of state, she serves as the chief elections officer of the state and is charged with enforcing state election laws and investigating and referring for prosecution any violations of those laws, the complaint says.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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