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ACLU's chief: Treatment of 'Joe the Plumber' raises questions

Tom Jackson • Mar 23, 2010 at 6:27 PM

I've been following the news stories about how state databases were accessed to try to find incriminating information about "Joe the Plumber," aka Samuel Wurzelbacher, the suburban Toledo man who John McCain has turned into a 15-minute celebrity.

I wondered if the incidents raised civil liberties questions about whether Joe had been treated fairly. (I'm not a fan of Joe's insights, but it rather looks as if Democratic officials were trying to dig up dirt to make him look bad, as this PD editorial notes.) So I called the state American Civil Liberties Union, and the group's executive director, Christine Link, kindly called me back.

I asked her about news accounts about how the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services' director, Helen Jones-Kelley, had authorized a database search to see if Joe owed child support.

Link said the ACLU generally favors releasing as much government information, but said the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services needs to follow a written policy to make sure everyone is treated the same.

She noted a key sentence in this news story: "Dennis Evans, a spokesman for the family services agency, acknowledged there is no written policy on checking people thrown into the public spotlight."

"This is not good," Link said. "Now it does raise these issues, why are they picking on this fellow?"

Link also mentioned that the prospect of making everything in state databases public is frightening.

"There are so many government databases that keep information on us. A good amount of it is not correct," she said.

If, say, a neighbor accused you of child abuse, and an investigation proved the charges were unfounded, your name might still stay on a government list, she said.

Link spoke last week to an Elder College class at BGSU Firelands.

"We have a fair amount of members in your area," she said.

ACLU membership costs $20.

Update, 10/30: The Columbus Dispatch reports that Job and Family Services also checked to see if Joe was getting welfare or owed taxes.

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