COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Republican candidates for attorney general in Ohio and West Virginia have pledged to run their respective offices with a greater degree of transparency and accountability.
Republicans Mike Crites of Ohio and Dan Greear of West Virginia have pledged to adopt the American Tort Reform Association's "Attorney General Transparency Code" if they are elected Nov. 4.
The five-point pledge calls for, among other things, greater oversight of contingency fee-based contracts and disclosure of contracts with the attorneys general offices, including agreements for outside counsel.
"Ohio and West Virginia have both seen their share of political corruption," Crites said in a joint statement. "With the crisis on Wall Street only compounding voters' distrust, now is the time to elect leaders who will put the needs of the taxpayers before their own political interests."
Crites, a former U.S. attorney, is running for Ohio attorney general against state Treasurer Richard Cordray, a Democrat. They are vying to complete the two years remaining on former Attorney General Marc Dann's term. Dann resigned under pressure in May amid a sexual harassment scandal.
Greear, who signed the American Tort Reform Association's pledge in July, is challenging Attorney General Darrell McGraw, who is seeking a fifth term as West Virginia's chief legal officer.
"Conducting business in a fair and open manner is good basic government in its simplest form. We need to return the attorney general's office to its intended function and end the practice of abusing the office for political gain," Greear said.
Throughout his campaign, Greear has hammered McGraw for his handling of a lawsuit in which he used outside counsel to sue Perdue Pharma over the deceptive marketing of its painkiller OxyContin.
The case settled for $10 million, a third of which went to the private attorneys who litigated the case on behalf of the state's Medicaid program.
The remaining money went to the attorney general's Consumer Protection Fund. As a result, the state may lose more than $4 million in Medicaid funding for not sharing the lawsuit's proceeds with the federal government.
West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse praised the reforms proposed by Greear and Crites.
"Both Mr. Greear and Mr. Crites will put an end to the practice of hiring campaign contributors to no-bid contracts as Darrell McGraw has done to seemingly reward his financial backers with millions of dollars in legal fees from public funds," WV CALA Executive Director Steve Cohen said. "And both Mr. Greear and Mr. Crites will put an end to essentially converting lawsuit settlement dollars into a political slush fund for shameless self-promotion."
Cohen noted that the conduct of both McGraw and Dann was called into question two years ago when former Virginia attorney general Jerry Kilgore wrote in the Legal Times that "elected officials (taking) contributions from those who benefit under these litigation arrangements" leads to "the public's trust in our system of government (being) further eroded."
Kilgore was critical of McGraw's structuring a 2004 lawsuit settlement "to pay the outside lawyers first before giving any money to the taxpayer-funded state agencies that are the actual plaintiffs."
WV CALA echoed Kilgore's questioning McGraw's hiring of private lawyers "to conduct work that should be done by the attorney general's office," as he stated in the Times piece. Cohen notes that McGraw already employs a legal staff of 200 funded by West Virginia taxpayers.
Cohen said WV CALA has supported a Sunshine law -- like that in Texas, Kansas, Colorado, North Dakota and Kilgore's state of Virginia -- to make the attorney general accountable and open to public scrutiny.
"As a former legislator -- as Dan Greear has been -- and as a former prosecutor and U.S. Attorney -- as Mike Crites has been -- both of these candidates will put a stop to unethical activities in the attorney general's office," Cohen said. "Taxpayers in both states will benefit by the service as attorneys general."
Chris Dickerson contributed to this story.