Database plumbed about ‘Joe’

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From combined dispatches

A government database was plumbed for information about “Joe the Plumber,” according to an Ohio newspaper.

The Columbus Dispatch reported Saturday that government computer accounts in Ohio pulled personal information about Joe Wurzelbacher from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles database three times shortly after the 34-year-old blue-collar worker became a national political figure.

Information about Mr. Wurzelbacher’s driver’s license or vehicle was requested by accounts assigned to the office of Ohio Attorney General Nancy H. Rogers, the Cuyahoga County Child Support Enforcement Agency and the Toledo Police Department.

State and local officials in Ohio are investigating whether the accessing was illegal.

According to the Dispatch, the information was pulled shortly after an Oct. 15 presidential debate during which Republican presidential candidate John McCain repeatedly cited Joe the Plumber as an example of a potential small businessman who would be hurt by Sen. Barack Obama’s tax policies. Mr. Wurzelbacher had a few days earlier questioned Mr. Obama during a visit to Ohio by the candidate.

On the campaign circuit in New Mexico, Mr. McCain called the reports worrisome.

“Does that mean Americans can’t ask tough questions? Americans have a right to ask questions,” he said.

On a conference call arranged by the McCain campaign Saturday, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said there should be an official and quick investigation to determine whether there are any ties to the Obama campaign.

“The answer to this should not be given three to four weeks after election day,” he stressed, though he said he wouldn’t jump to conclusions about whether Obama allies were involved. “If this is the way an Obama administration is going to conduct itself, the American people have a right to know this before the fact.”

The Columbus paper could not determine who checked on Mr. Wurzelbacher, or why. Ohio law restricts government officials’ access to driver’s license and vehicle registration information to matters of law enforcement and government business.

Isaac Baker, an Ohio spokesman for the Obama campaign, told the Dispatch that his team had nothing to do with any illegal accessing.

“Invasions of privacy should not be tolerated. If these records were accessed inappropriately, it had nothing to do with our campaign and should be investigated fully,” he said.

The attorney general’s office, the child-support agency and the state highway patrol all told the Dispatch that they were investigating the charges.

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