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GOP foes both did no-bid deals: Blackwell denied it, but he takes money he rips Petro for taking
[March 12, 2006]

GOP foes both did no-bid deals: Blackwell denied it, but he takes money he rips Petro for taking

(Columbus Dispatch (Ohio) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Mar. 12--Despite one-sided charges, both Republican candidates for governor have taken campaign cash from those they awarded no-bid state contracts, records show.

J. Kenneth Blackwell has criticized rival Jim Petro repeatedly in recent weeks for using lawyers who received unbid specialcounsel work from the attorney general's office as a "fundraising ATM."

But a Dispatch analysis shows Blackwell has taken thousands of dollars in contributions over time from vendors who got no-bid work from the secretary of state's office under his control.

After saying Feb. 20 that he didn't take such contributions, Blackwell said Friday they are "nominal" and pale in comparison to Petro's -- and that he hasn't used the "strong-arm tactics" he accuses Petro of employing.

Blackwell also said he would return all of his contributions from vendors who got unbid work if Petro did the same, but a Petro spokesman said Blackwell is trying to avoid being labeled a hypocrite.

"His offer doesn't change the facts: Ken Blackwell still says one thing and does another," said Bob Paduchik, Petro's campaign manager.

Blackwell has accused Petro of using heavyhanded tactics to get $1.6 million in contributions from lawyers or their associates who receive unbid work from the special-counsel program that Petro runs.

The FBI reportedly has made inquiries into allegations that Petro threatened to cut specialcounsel work unless contributions were made. Petro denies that happened and blames a vendetta by a Summit County political enemy for the accusations.

"I have not had an aggressive campaign- fundraising scheme that made getting the business and keeping the business through unbid contracts conditioned upon a campaign contribution," Blackwell said, adding that he thinks unbid contracts should be "the exception rather than the rule."

In fact, when asked Feb. 20 about his fundraising, Blackwell said, "I have not received any money from anybody who has an unbid contract.

"Now, I will give every dollar that I have received from an unbid contract back tomorrow, if (Petro) will give it back," Blackwell said. "I will give it back tomorrow even if he doesn't give it back, because I haven't received any."

Blackwell modified his statement two days later in a published report by saying he has taken contributions from people doing work with his office but that he received it "without arm-twisting."

A review of Blackwell's campaign-finance reports and the personal-services contracts or other unbid work from the secretary of state's office since 2002 shows Blackwell has taken at least $38,000 from those vendors.

For example, Blackwell has awarded no-bid personal-services contracts to Bostonbased Keane Inc. for computer-related work and has taken $6,300 from company officials and their spouses in Ohio since 1999.

Blackwell also has gotten at least $35,000 from vendors who have state contracts that, although not competitively bid, are negotiated by the Department of Administrative Services.

Besides those contributions, Blackwell has accepted more than $23,000 from specialcounsel lawyers representing his office and thousands more from other members of their firms through the years.

In all, Blackwell has requested 30 special-counsel assignments from 12 lawyers who have billed the state $832,152 since 1999, records show.

But Blackwell insists he doesn't control those appointments because the attorney general has the power to hire and fire them, and because some of his requests for specific lawyers have been rejected.

Even so, Blackwell also has awarded unbid contracts to individuals who now are part of his campaign.

Blackwell gave contracts worth up to $99,000 to Gene Pierce for work in 2004 and 2005 serving as project manager for federally funded votereducation campaigns, and Pierce now is Blackwell's campaign spokesman.

Norm Cummings, a campaign consultant, received a $45,000 contract in 2001 to consult on the state reapportionment process, and Blackwell also has given state work to Michael Hernon, who now is his campaign manager.

Blackwell defended the moves, saying all three "got paid for the value they brought the state."

Blackwell spokesman Carlo LoParo also said Hernon was considered an employee of the office and that James Nathanson, now a Petro campaign consultant, was a subcontractor for Cummings on his contract.

Critics have complained that the voter-education campaign Pierce managed -- which featured Blackwell prominently in television and print ads -- gave Blackwell free publicity in advance of his run for governor.

Blackwell paid the New York public-relations firm Burson-Marsteller nearly $2.5 million for the campaign from the $138 million in federal and state Help America Vote Act funds he controls.

It is the second-largest expenditure of such money so far behind new voting machines, records show.

When asked about such criticism, Blackwell replied: "Hogwash. I think that sums it up."

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