Tuesday, October 26, 1999

Prosecutor defends employees' donations




BY JANICE MORSE
The Cincinnati Enquirer

holcomb
John F. Holcomb
        HAMILTON — Critics and supporters of Butler County Prosecutor John F. Holcomb on Monday offered starkly contrasting views of a Cincinnati Enquirer report Sunday that revealed most of the Democrat's campaign chest comes from his own employees donating 2 percent of their salaries.

        “I think the evidence of pressure to contribute at that office is overwhelming,” Joe Statzer, political director of the Butler County Republican Party, said Monday.

        “John Holcomb should be called "Boss Holcomb' because what he's doing represents old-time, back-room politics — and that, he should be ashamed of.”

        But Don Daiker, chairman of the county Democratic Party, interpreted the facts differently.

        While the story showed 80 percent of Mr. Holcomb's employees last year were giving periodic checks or bank account debits to his campaign, that means 20 percent didn't donate, Mr. Daiker noted. Yet the non-givers kept their jobs and apparently suffer no negative consequences, Mr. Daiker said. “That's absolute proof that it's not required. ... Employees are doing this willingly and enthusiastically.”

        While several current employees told the Enquirer they didn't feel pressured, some ex-employees said they felt they had no choice but to give. One received a “balance unpaid” notice from the Prosecutor John Holcomb Committee.

        Mr. Holcomb said Monday he detected little reaction to the article, but his political opponent, Robin Piper, said he sensed community outrage.

        “People in Oxford, Middletown and Union Township all contacted me, and they were in disbelief that this was going on,” Mr. Piper said. “Some of the taxpayers were saying they don't like knowing that their tax money is being funneled through Mr. Holcomb's employees and into his campaign fund. That bothers them.”

        Mr. Holcomb called concerns about public money being diverted to his campaign “sheer ignorance,” saying that employees can do anything they want with their own mon ey once they've been paid.

        Mr. Piper said Mr. Holcomb's comments are meant to divert attention from the real issues.

        “Bob and weave, duck and step, that's how he operates,” Mr. Piper said. “Everything he's saying is trying to minimize the truth that's ringing loud and clear. He's trying to muffle that sound.”

        Ohio law changed in 1995, prohibiting political deductions from employees' paychecks, and Mr. Piper charges that the bank deduction process among Mr. Holcomb's employees “is a way around the law.”

        Mr. Holcomb, however, says he's following the law, and if people don't like it, they should expressly forbid the procedure.

        “The way we look at it is, if this is legal, then what's this all about?” he said, referring to the debate about political fund raising among public employees.

        Ohio Rep. Jeff Jacobson, R-Dayton, has proposed legislation that would forbid county politicians from accepting money from their own employees. Such contributions have already been banned for state officeholders.

        Mr. Holcomb notes that, at least if he gets money from his own employees, he's not beholden to big-money interests, such as real-estate developers.

        “I'm not in anybody's pocket. Never have been, never will be,” Mr. Holcomb said. “Nobody ever asked me for anything because I don't owe them anything.”

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