AG needs to avoid what looks bad to voters

Lawyers seem to be substantially more involved than people in many other fields when it comes to supporting candidates for political office. Look on most candidates’ campaign finance filings and you probably will spot several contributors who are lawyers.

So, when state government hires attorneys, the law of probabilities indicates there is a good chance some of them will have made donations to candidates.

That said, it should have been no surprise that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is being criticized in some circles for action his office has taken.

DeWine’s office wants to hire 63 law firms to represent various state agencies. Among those on the list are lawyers who have contributed nearly $360,000 to DeWine’s political campaigns, according to a published report.

State attorneys general usually are the official representatives of government agencies. But when specialized expertise is needed, outside law firms often are hired.

As matters stand in Ohio, it is up to DeWine’s office to make that call. He and his staff are well aware of particular needs of state agencies and of specific expertise available at various law firms.

Still, appearances count in politics. When DeWine’s office hires a firm where lawyers have contributed to his campaign, eyebrows go up. The words “pay to play” come to many minds.

DeWine’s office already has objected to such characterizations. “Whether someone gives campaign contributions plays no part in it,” said Lisa Hackley of the attorney general’s office.

A better system – one in which someone outside the attorney general’s office plays a part in such decisions – could lay conflict-of-interest accusations to rest.?Perhaps in consultation with other attorneys general who have devised such safeguards, DeWine should propose an alternate system to select outside law firms.