In October 2008, during the height of the presidential race between then-Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain, the Columbus Dispatch revealed that state databases had been searched in Ohio for information on Joe “the Plumber” in the days after he was mentioned by McCain during a debate. Republicans across the country freaked out over the incident. “It’s outrageous to see how quickly Barack Obama’s allies would abuse government power in an attempt to smear a private citizen,” said Paul Lindsay, Ohio spokesman for the McCain campaign, after the incident in.
It’s now nearly six years later to the day, and Plunderbund has uncovered evidence that similarly questionable searches have been conducted on the records of Edward FitzGerald, the Democratic candidate for Governor. But this time around, Republicans don’t seem to be in such an uproar. Instead, Governor John Kasich and his administration appear to be actively working to cover up the incidents, or at least working to delay them from becoming public until after the election in November.
Records obtained by Plunderbund show that John Kasich’s Campaign Manager Matt Carle sent a very specific request to the Ohio Department of Public Safety (DPS) on June 6th, 2014. Carle’s email to Robin Mathews, a lawyer at DPS, asked for “documents relating to specific dates of when Mr. FitzGerald’s drivers license expired and was renewed over the past 5 years.” Carle received the documents a few days later. Those documents showed what Carle likely knew already: that Ed FitzGerald had, gasp!, been driving on a temporary Ohio license.
Carle sat on the information for a few months. And then, on the morning of August 4th, 2014, two months later, Joe Vardon of the Columbus Dispatch suddenly requested FitzGerald’s driving record . Vardon received the files the same day and “broke” his story on the Dispatch’s website at 7:54 AM the next morning. Within hours, every statehouse reporter in Ohio had made a similar request to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV), a division of DPS.
It’s clear that Matt Carle’s record request was no fishing expedition. He knew exactly what he was looking for. And it seems fairly obvious that Carle later leaked his findings to Joe Vardon, whose article sparked a media feeding frenzy.
But the big question no one seems to be asking is this: who leaked that information to Matt Carle? And, more importantly, could that leak have come from someone inside the Ohio Department of Public Safety or the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles?
Plunderbund obtained access log records from the BMV showing FitzGerald’s records were accessed four times by someone inside the BMV/DPS network in 2012 and 2013. Those records were accessed:
- once on 01/30/12 at 7:44 AM
- twice on 09/11/13 at 11:38 AM and
- once on 11/22/13 at 12:15 PM
There are only a handful of people at the BMV who have access to these records and their user names are included on most of the access log entries associated with the 2014 public record requests. For the searches made in 2012 and 2013, no user name is included in the access log, however the IP addresses associated with the 2012 and 2013 log entries match the IP addresses of some of the 2014 entries, indicating the same individual or computer may have been involved with both.
It’s important to note that these four earlier searches were not associated with any public record request. And they were made after FitzGerald, already a elected official, had announced he was running for Governor.
So who was searching through Ed FitzGerald’s driving records in 2012 and 2013 and why? BMV and DPS officials have been ignoring our emails asking for details for over a week now. Here are the four questions they need to answer about the mysterious access log entries:
1. Do you know who accessed the records in 2012 and 2013, what was searched for, and what information was returned?
2. Who at the BMV has access to the system storing these records? It is just the two or three staff members with user names? Or can IT and other staff access the records without their user names being logged?
3. Do you have a policy in place to “flag” records of public officials such that inappropriate accesses to their records can be identified?
4. Has an investigation been opened by the BMV, Public Safety, or any other group to determine if Mr. FitzGerald’s driving or license records were inappropriately accessed?
This is the second such inquiry we have made with the DPS, and the second that lawyers for the Ohio Department of Public safety have attempted to quash. Back in August we asked for similar access log information from LEADS (the Law Enforcement Automated Data System), the same system used to access the driving records of Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher (aka Joe “The Plumber”) back in 2008. In that case, a LEADS audit was performed and investigations were opened. The findings resulted in at least one state employee losing her job.
In the case of Republican Joe “The Plumber,” DPS was happy to provide information to Dispatch Reporters about who accessed LEADS records and when. But when we requested the same information about Democrat Ed FitzGerald’s personal data being accessed suspiciously, we were told these were not public records and could not be released.
It’s clear someone used state equipment access private information about Ed FitzGerald at least four times in 2012 and 2013. These mysterious searches need to be investigated immediately, just like they were in 2008.
It’s also clear that Kasich’s campaign manager knew exactly what he was looking for when he requested Ed FitzGerald’s records. If it turns out these two events are related, then someone broke the law while assisting John Kasich’s reelection campaign.
A copy of the access log records is available here: DLVR Logs-Fitzgerald_Redacted (note: this is a 16GB file)