Brunner supporting campaign contributions law

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Sep 13, 2010


CLEVELAND (Legal Newsline) - Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, in response to a federal lawsuit filed earlier this month by a group of Cleveland-area doctors, says she supports the state ban on Medicaid providers contributing to certain candidates' campaigns.

Last week, Brunner told The Columbus Dispatch she sympathizes with the group of doctors, but believes the ban is necessary.

"As a question of principle, I believe that the law in question provides a valuable safeguard against corruption in government," Brunner told the newspaper.

Nine doctors are suing Brunner for their right to make campaign contributions to candidates running for both Ohio Attorney General and Cuyahoga County Prosecutor.

In a complaint filed Sept. 3 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, the nine plaintiffs -- all 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.

But Brunner told the Dispatch that the doctors are not the only Medicaid providers operating in Ohio, and that striking down the law would put the attorney general in a position of accepting contributions from providers of services paid for with public funds.

Brunner, who heard Medicaid-fraud cases as a Franklin County Common Pleas Court judge, said those cases were prosecuted directly by the attorney general, and she said lifting the ban is not "in the best interests of the public" -- especially after a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision relaxing restrictions on corporate spending in political campaigns.

Because the attorney general normally represents the secretary of state and is part of this lawsuit, Brunner told the Dispatch she will have special counsel advise her.

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

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