Ohio's governor placed an agency director on leave Friday, saying the step was necessary because a state computer or state e-mail account may have been used to assist in political fundraising.
Helen Jones-Kelley, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, had been questioned over records checks made on a man who became known as "Joe the Plumber" during the presidential campaign, but a spokesman for Gov. Ted Strickland said that was not the reason she was put on paid administrative leave.
Strickland said in a statement that Jones-Kelley was placed on paid administrative leave because of the possibility a state computer or state e-mail account was used to assist in political fundraising. The Democrat provided no details on the political fundraising in question. He said Cabinet Secretary Jan Allen has been asked to serve as acting director of the agency.
A home telephone listing for Jones-Kelley could not be found in the Columbus area.
Ohio Republican Party Deputy Chairman Kevin DeWine said in a statement released Friday night that the governor's administration has apparently turned the state government into a "political party machine."
"The Strickland administration has already demonstrated a profound and reckless disregard for personal privacy, and now they're apparently abusing government resources to raise political contributions," DeWine said.
Jones-Kelley has acknowledged that she approved a records check on Samuel J. Wurzelbacher just after the Oct. 15 presidential debate where he became known nationwide as Joe the Plumber. Wurzelbacher, a Toledo-area man, ultimately endorsed GOP presidential nominee John McCain and campaigned with him in Ohio.
The records were never made public or released to the media. Jones-Kelley has said such checks were routinely conducted when someone suddenly emerges in the limelight. State Inspector Tom Charles is investigating whether she improperly authorized the search.
Strickland said he has asked Charles to include the political fundraising matter in his current investigation.
Republican lawmakers — including state Senate President Bill Harris — have questioned Jones-Kelley's actions. State Rep. Bill Batchelder urged Strickland, a Democrat, to put Jones-Kelley on leave until Charles' investigation is complete.
"No Ohioan should be subject to a 'witch hunt' on the whim of a public official," Batchelder said in a statement.
Wurzelbacher, meanwhile, has paid a nearly $1,200 tax bill, according to court documents filed in Toledo on Thursday. Wurzelbacher has said he didn't know he had a tax lien against him until reporters looked into his background.