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

Tom Jackson
Mar 23, 2010

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.

Comments

Anonymous

This is really interesting. I never thought about this until I read your blog, which was very insightful.
Thanks for bringing this to light, and keep up the good work!

Anonymous (not ...

Big Brother is watching.

Joe is a thought criminal, should he expect anything less?

Anonymous

Are you a dues paying member of ACLU? I tried to speak by telephone with Christine Link over some free speech concerns. She was too busy to speak with me so I canceled my membership in the ACLU. The ACLU is a big farce. They want membership money but refuse to help out members in time of need.

Anonymous

I use to support the ACLU through membership and periodic, monetary donations. However, I've found it against my better moral judgement to support/defend any organization that will support the EXPLOITATION OF CHILDREN! I find this story rather ironic, only because I know someone who just went for a job interview with a local Govt. Organization. You know, our tax dollars help to fund it. During that interview, one of two interviewers commented to this person that, "I see you've been charged w/an underage and an open-container". The interviewee just couldn't believe it, as they're 5o+ yrs. old! Not to mention the fact, they were then asked who so-and-so is, another individual with the same name, but different middle initial, as if they should know! Yeah, we can go to a particular site and look up pretty-much anyones' HISTORY, otherwise known as doing a BACKGROUND CHECK! Better hope you don't have the same name as someone else! Welcome to the NEW WORLD/NEW PATRIOT ACT/USA, Joe the Plumber! He is no different than Joe-Schmoe across the street! As well, look how quickly the Rep. Party jumped on that and used it as a tool for their campaign! I won't mention the facts regarding severl of the Civil Liberties trampled upon since the enactment of the infamous Patriot Act!

Anonymous

Joe the plumber was right to be suspicious of Obama's tax
plans. Once Obama and Pelosi have taken all the rich
people's money and driven the economy into the ground, they'll
come after the middle class looking for more.
Welfare and the dole can only be supported by working
people in the end. After all it's patriotic to pay higher taxes!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1...

Anonymous

Take Obama away from a scripted setting and we get a terrifying of him.Joe the plumber's invasion of privacy and the rigorous attempt to intimidate or SILENCE him or any American Citizen is beyond terrifying. Had this been an even quasi racial or sexist issue, the ACLU would have been all over this outrage. The Democrats are running a well hiden ghost for president. GOD HELP AMERICA!!!