Ohio Investment Scandal Critic Now in the Middle

September 12, 2006

The Democrat who has been the hardest charger in criticizing Republicans over the $300 million investment loss at the state’s workers’ compensation program for injured workers finds he is being criticized as well.

State Sen. Marc Dann, running for attorney general largely on a platform of cleaning up the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, announced last week he’d return $60,000, 11 percent of his campaign bank account, to contributors from the Lucarelli family and its business, Cleveland-based 1-888-OhioComp, a managed health care organization. The company and its parent have received about $29 million in business from the bureau since 1997.

Payments from the bureau’s investment fund to companies that manage cases have jumped more than 40 percent since the arrangement began, though the state is seeing about half as many claims, records show.

The campaign of Dann’s opponent in the Nov. 7 election, Auditor Betty Montgomery, wasted no time turning the scandal back on him. Dann, of all people, should understand that his contributions were problematic, Montgomery spokeswoman Jen Detwiler said.

Other Republicans, however, passed on the chance to pounce on Dann, perhaps because many of them accepted contributions from the same sources. They think Dann’s role as critic-in-chief has bit him back.

“This isn’t a situation where these funds came from illegal sources,” Ohio GOP Chairman Bob Bennett said. “I think Marc Dann has a separate problem with it because of what he’s been doing all year.”

Democrats were treading lightly too. The top of their ticket, Ted Strickland , has accepted $300 from a Lucarelli family member in his campaign for governor.

“I think Ted Strickland understands that we need to build a firewall between these decisions and politics,” Ohio Democratic spokesman Randy Borntrager said. “Dann and Strickland are not going to be beholden to anybody.”

Dann said Friday that no one demanded he return the money, as Democrats did of Republican candidates who accepted contributions from coin dealer Tom Noe, who faces trial beginning Oct. 10 on theft and other charges in the scandal. Dann said he first heard of the bureau’s managed care performance in a newspaper.

“There’s no allegation that anybody did anything wrong, but there are serious questions about the management of the MCO system,” Dann said. “I want to avoid even the appearance of a conflict.”

He immediately took the offensive, demanding that Montgomery conduct a performance audit of the bureau’s managed care system and the companies with which it has contracts. The bureau hasn’t asked for an audit, though Montgomery would assist if it does its own, and she has no authority to audit private companies, Detwiler said.

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