Sunday, November 05, 2000

Piper blasted over donation

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — The political opponents of Robin Piper, the Republican candidate for Butler County prosecutor, have accused him of accepting illegal campaign contributions.

        Assistant Prosecutor John M. Holcomb, son of deceased Prosecutor John F. Holcomb, said Mr. Piper broke Ohio law by accepting contributions from physicians who are Medicaid providers.

        The contributions involve $375 from four doctors.

        But Mr. Piper, who is running against Prosecutor Dan Gattermeyer, a Democrat, denied any wrongdoing and called the allegation “just more last-minute dirty tricks and distortions.”

        “People have to see through this political noise,” he said, “and vote for a person who wants to serve the public with professionalism and positive ideas, not with an attitude of constant negativity.”

        A state law prohibits an attorney general or county prosecutor's campaign from “knowingly” accepting money from doctors who receive Medicaid payments for services. The law exists to prevent a conflict of interest in investigations of Medicaid fraud.

        Judy Hoffman, chief elections counsel for the Ohio Secretary of State's Office, said a violation of the law is difficult to prove because those accepting the contributions must know the physicians are Medicaid providers.

        She said her office doesn't press charges under that section of Ohio law. That would be up to the county prosecutor or a special prosecutor.

        J. Curtis Mayhew, campaign finance administrator for the Secretary of State, said this section of law is “not very well-known.”

        “It's not something we get a lot of phone calls on,” he said.

        But Ms. Hoffman pointed out that the law is mentioned in her office's campaign finance handbook, which is widely distributed to political campaigns.

        Mr. Piper and his campaign treasurer, Don Stewart, said they had no idea the four doctors were Medicaid providers.

        Mr. Stewart said he was unaware of that particular law.

        Mr. Piper said the doctors made the contributions from their personal accounts, and the secretary of state's office told his campaign staff that there's been no legal ruling against that kind of contribution.

        “It's political noise to drown out my message,” Mr. Piper said. “It's a sign that they know I'm ahead in the polls.”

        Mr. Holcomb said that Mr. Piper's contention that he didn't know the four physicians were Medicaid providers is a weak defense.

        “That's rather disingenuous because the vast majority of doctors are Medicaid providers,” he said. “All they had to do was ask before they took the money.”

        Mr. Holcomb said the Ohio Revised Code and an Ohio Attorney General's opinion clearly show that it was illegal for Mr. Piper to accept the contributions from the four doctors.

        “I don't know how they could imagine that it's not against the law,” he said.

        He said he discovered the doctors' donations when reviewing a campaign finance report Mr. Piper filed with the Butler County Board of Elections Thursday.

        Mr. Gattermeyer could not be reached for comment.

        Mr. Piper said if the secretary of state's office determines that the $375 from the four doctors violates state law, he will return the money to the doctors.

        Janice Morse contributed to this report.

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