Associated Press records request finds close contact between Ohio AG, antiabortion-rights group leader
February 5, 2016 — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) and Ohio Right to Life president Mike Gonidakis have been in close contact regarding antiabortion-rights efforts in the state, AP/Ohio.com reports (Carr Smyth, AP/Ohio.com, 2/3).
Last December, DeWine announced that an investigation into Planned Parenthood found that the organization improperly disposed of fetal tissue. The investigation, which came on the heels of misleading videos targeting the organization, did not find evidence that Planned Parenthood in Ohio had profited from the donation of fetal tissue (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/15/15).
Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against the state over the allegations regarding fetal tissue disposal. In the lawsuit, Planned Parenthood contends the state violated the organization's due process and equal protection rights by modifying the interpretation of the state's rules on the matter without notice and then targeting Planned Parenthood unfairly.
DeWine later said he would not enforce the vaguely worded statute. He said the decision reflected a ruling by a federal judge that temporarily barred the state from taking legal action against Planned Parenthood over the matter (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/22/15).
DeWine, Gonidakis Contact
According to records obtained by the Associated Press, Gonidakis contacted DeWine's communications chief, Lisa Hackley, shortly after DeWine announced the investigation's findings. They discussed media coverage and interviews in which he and DeWine were participating, and Gonidakis requested copies of DeWine's national interviews "so we can send them to our people." The records request did not find evidence that Gonidakis had received the report in advance.
In addition, the records reveal that DeWine and Gonidakis exchanged emails directly. Following a deadly shooting at an abortion clinic in Colorado, Gonidakis provided DeWine with comments he gave to a local newspaper with DeWine and said the attorney general could use the same talking points.
According to AP/Ohio.com, the investigation also found that Gonidakis was in close contact with Gov. John Kasich (R). Gonidakis' organization was involved in crafting language targeting abortion providers that was included in the state's 2013 budget.
Catherine Turcer, of the progressive government watchdog group Common Cause, noted that, during "a time period of high volatility," DeWine should avoid close collaboration with outside groups, even those he openly supports, so that he does not give the impression that he is using the government to attack political opponents. Turcer said, "A government official has to draw some pretty clear lines between those who are trying to influence the process and the money that's spent by the public and decisions that are in the public benefit" (AP/Ohio.com, 2/3).