From The Vaults

To Transform Its “Political Boss” Structure, The Ohio Democratic Party Needs A New Constitution 

This morning I made the comment below on a two month old article posted on Plunderbund.  This builds on my post yesterday addressed to David Pepper, ODP Chairman and Nina Turner, ODP Leadership Team Chair : Invite All Ohio Democrats Too Become Voting Members Of The ODP

Ohio Democrats need bold leadership and we will soon find out if Pepper and Turner have the right stuff. They have promised to deliver their “Blueprint to Victory” in early spring. I will be reading that document carefully to see if it addresses the big changes needed in the ODP organization itself. If they fail to address the accusations made by Sharen Neuhardt in her letter withdrawing herself from the ODP Chair election (see below) — then I’ll be worried.

The ODP, according to its current constitution, is structured to be a “political boss” organization. The ODP needs to be re-structured via a new constitution. In her letter Neuhardt claims that the Executive Committee, that according to the ODP is supposed to act as the ODP governing body, in fact has “little or no power or authority.” This revelation is shocking. I feel like Bob Dole: “Where is the outrage?” But even if the ODP Executive Committee had been fully engaged, in a larger sense it wouldn’t have mattered. The ODP is a tiny organization of only 148 voting members. Only 66 of these members are chosen through an election process where every Ohio Democrat can participate — a man and a women elected from each of the 33 senatorial districts — the rest are appointed.

We need to remember what the only Democratic member of Ohio’s Supreme Court, William O’Neil, said about this group of 148: “As a matter of honor, all ‘appointed’, not elected, members of the ODP Executive Committee who approved the debacle known as candidate selection in 2012 need to quietly, politely, stand up and resign. Remember folks, is was the ‘appointed’ Executive Committee who ran my lawyer Jennifer Brunner off when she expressed an interest in running for Governor, and it was the Executive Committee who endorsed in my primary. They need to follow their leader out the door.”

The biggest impediment to the success of the ODP is the structure of the ODP itself. The ODP needs to be transformed from a oligarchic structure to a democratic structure. The political boss system harkens back to a horse-and-buggy era when members from around the state had to make their way to Columbus in order to participate in the ODP Executive Committee. In this internet era, if the party chose to do so, all Ohio Democrats could be connected and voting members of the ODP.

We will know if Pepper and Turner will provide the leadership that Ohio Democrats need, if they address the charges in Neuhardt’s letter and if they outline a proposal for transformational constitutional changes to the ODP organizational structure.


Sharen Neuhardt’s Withdrawal Letter:

Dear Fellow Democrat:

Since November 4, Democrats around this state have been engaging in spirited conversations about the future of our party and how best to move us forward and take the Ohio Democratic Party to the next level. I have been proud to be part of that conversation, along with David Pepper, Janet Carson, Antoinette Wilson, and Bob Hagan, the four other fine candidates who expressed an interest in being the next Chair of the party. We have participated in listening tour meetings held throughout the state, including two held yesterday in Dayton and Cincinnati, and there have been countless personal conversations and emails about the best way forward for our party.

Each of the five candidates for party Chair has written about his or her vision for the party, and our statements are in large part perfectly consistent with what we have been hearing on the listening tours and from fellow Democrats, including each of you on the Executive Committee. Just yesterday, David Pepper and Nina Turner released a statement of their vision, which I thought was an extraordinary document.

Apart from our vision, however, I have also wanted to discuss why the party desperately needs to adopt good governance policies – the kind of governance policies that any well-respected business or nonprofit entity would have had in place for years, but which the ODP has neglected to adopt. As a result, we hear again and again about situations like these:

Over the last several years, contracts for consulting, campaign, and other services worth hundreds of thousands of dollars being entered into between the party and companies owned directly or indirectly by party officials or members of the Executive Committee.

The party being burdened with nearly $2.0 million of debt that few, if any, Executive Committee members even knew exists.

Salaries and other benefits being paid to party officials without prior authorization or approval by any governing body, including questions about what financial arrangements will be put in place for any past Chair, our new Chair, and any other leadership team members.

Referral fees, commissions, or other payments being made to employees or officials of the party or their affiliates by vendors who provide services to the party or to candidates of the party.

No annual audit or oversight of the party’s books and records despite the requirements of the Constitution and Bylaws of the party.

An Executive Committee with little or no power or authority and who fails to receive any important information as to the actual operations of the party.

Many of us might agree that there was nothing improper about any of the situations described above if we knew of the facts surrounding them. The simple truth is that we don’t and that the culprit here is the party’s failure to have an ethics and conflicts of interest policy, procurement policies, and financial controls that are commonplace in virtually every other respected entity in this state. It’s also concerns like these that are partially responsible for the fact that significant parts of organized labor, as well as major donors to the party, have been reluctant to invest further in our party.

David and Nina’s vision for our party includes what they refer to as “Organizational Integrity.” However we describe it, the situations highlighted above need to be addressed. Speaking for myself and the parts of organized labor and the many Democrats who have steadfastly supported me in this endeavor, we trust that David and Nina will do the right thing and address these matters.

We have much to accomplish in a short time and we need to unite our party. I am so grateful to all my supporters who have advocated on my behalf and fought this good fight; however, on this day before the election, we need to accept that the majority of members of the Executive Committee believe that David Pepper is the right person to lead our party. The most important thing is not who leads our party, but what they believe.

Because we need to unite our party, get on with the business of winning the Democratic convention for Columbus, and implementing our shared vision for moving the party forward and winning elections, I want each of you to know that I am withdrawing my name as a candidate for election as our next party Chair.

Let’s get ready for 2016 and 2018, my friends!


Sharen Neuhardt



Note To David Pepper: Go For the Big Win — Invite All Ohio Democrats To Become Voting Members Of The ODP

To: David Pepper, ODP Chairman and Nina Turner, ODP Leadership Team Chair:

Congratulations on being selected as leaders of the Ohio Democratic Party.  Thanks for producing your document: “Turning The Tide: Our Vision.” It gives Democrats a lot to think about. I like the “five basic principles” you outline — that you indicate will be the foundation for a “Blueprint to Victory” document that will be published in early spring.

The principle that most stands out to me is:

ENERGIZING OUR INFRASTRUCTURE: The Party needs to touch voters where they are, and do so with passion — not just in the weeks prior to an election, but on an ongoing basis. This means firing up and empowering the entire Democratic infrastructure so it’s not simply a long list of names in a database, but and ACTIVE, WORKING infrastructure, fueled by passion and energy at every level of the Party.

Screen shot of the cover of John Pepper's book, "What really matters"

Screen shot of the cover of John Pepper’s book, “What really matters”

This principle is all about passion and motivation. Democratic candidates lose elections when Democrats are not motivated to pitch in and help — or, at least vote. John Kasich would not have been elected, if Democrats would have come out and voted. Without an actively engaged base, Democratic candidates will continue to lose. How to get Democrats motivated is a big question.

Every leader of an organization — church, school, club, business, or political party —  asks himself or herself: What can I do to motivate individuals to make their maximum contribution to the success of this organization?

There are many books that deal with the question of how to make organizations successful. I looked up the book, “What Really Matters,” written by the former CEO of Procter & Gamble, John Pepper — David’s Dad — to read the advice John Pepper may be offering to his son, the new “CEO” of the ODP (according to the ODP Constitution). What I get from the snatches of the book I read on Amazon is that John Pepper has a lot of good advice. He emphasizes that the success depends a lot on whether, or not, an organization builds a sense of  “community” within itself.   He tells about the enduring loyalty and camaraderie of P&G employees and says, “This unique sense of community is P&G’s least tangible, yet most distinctive and difficult-to-match competitive advantage.”

The “Turning the Tide” quote presents a dreary view of  the Democratic infrastructure as it looks right now — a “long list of names in a database.” Most people on this list have little or no meaningful connection with others on the list and certainly don’t think of themselves as being part of a Democratic community.

The ODP is a political institution consisting of only 148 voting members. This small group stands apart from the Democratic base. In the 2014 May Democratic Primary, there were 1,307,000 Democrats who voted. These active Democrats are the ODP “Infrastructure” and success for the party depends a lot on whether this group is “energized.” Very few of these Democrats feel they have any voice within the Democratic Party. To energize this base we need to expand opportunity.  We need to reimagine the Ohio Democratic Party as an extended Roberts Rules online community of Democrats who commit to working together, to listening and communicating with each other, and to making positive impacts in their local communities. Even a participation of only 10% of those voting in the last Democratic Primary would bring 130,000 Democrats into community, but even a start of only 10,000 would be very energizing. I’d like to see changes in the ODP Constitution so that:

  • Any Ohio citizen that votes in two Democratic primaries is invited to become a voting member of the ODP and a full participant in the ODP website.
  • Every four years the state leadership, the state party chair, via an online convention, is elected directly by the entire expanded ODP membership.
  • An “Executive Committee,” chosen through election, determines many issues but for some key questions, the entire expanded ODP membership is invited vote.

Chapter Three of John Pepper’s book is entitled “Going for the Big Win.” It begins with a quote from John Kennedy: “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” David and Nina, we need dramatic and drastic change in the Ohio Democratic Party. Please take a risk. Buck the status quo. Dare to go for the big win. Use your talents and energy to transform the Ohio Democratic Party.


Ed FitzGerald At Dayton Town Hall: “How Can Common People Understand Complex Issues?”

Enjoyed attending the Dayton “Town Hall” meeting last night with Democratic candidates for governor and lieutenant governor— Ed FitzGerald and Sharen Neuhardt.FitzGerald denounced his opponent, Republican Governor John Kasich, for his refusal to debate. He said that this refusal rests on a Republican calculation that most of the public won’t care. In this short video excerpt, FitzGerald’s deals with the profound question of how a democracy can function so that citizens have the information they need to make reasoned choices.

Earlier in the day FitzGerald met his Republican opponent with the editors of the Northeast Ohio Media Group — in the only meeting of this type scheduled for the whole campaign. Even in the informal format of this editor’s meeting, Kasich refused to answer FitzGerald’s questions. The headline from that meeting read — “Gov. John Kasich ignores Ed FitzGerald in their only meeting of election season. ” An hour video of the meeting is posted on the Columbus Dispatch.

In the Dayton meeting, FitzGerald paraphrased a quote an early twentieth century journalist that, “The vitality of our democracy depends on the common people understanding complex issues.” FitzGerald didn’t identify the journalist who made that statement, but it sounds like something H. L. Mencken would write. I found this quote from Mencken that seems similar:

When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental — men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand.

FitzGerald asked: “How can the common people understand complex issues?” He said three entities have responsibility:

  1. The common people have a responsibility as a citizens to do that research whether served to them or not.
  2. Journalists have a responsibility to force public officials to talk about issues and to report on substantive issues, not silly issues — substantive issues in a substantive way.
  3. Candidates who ask for your support have to show kind of respect by meeting with you and taking all questions like I tried to do tonight.

FitzGerald said that all three of these entities are failing and made the point that Kasish’s refusal to debate is an outrageous insult to our democracy.

The Dispatch reports that “Kasich has $4.6 million for re-election and FitzGerald has $248,000.” Much of Kasich’s money is going into 30 second TV ads. FitzGerald noted:

People cannot understand the complex issues and challenges facing this state by watching 30 second commercials. Would you ever make a an important decision in your life based on 30 commercials? If someone else came to you and had a big crisis in their life — medical or financial — and said “I know what to do because I saw a 30 second commercial.” And you’d say, “Are you crazy? Talk to an expert, do research, look at your options.”

The FitzGerald / Kasich contest — with its propaganda, misinformation and with the power of big money to shape public opinion — illustrates that the very infrastructure of our democracy is in very bad shape.


How Josh Mandel, “Misused The Treasurer’s Office In Exchange For $100,000 From A Crooked Businessman”

In Ohio’s State Treasurer’s contest the Democratic challenger, Connie Pillich, has a tough ad accusing the incumbent, Republican Josh Mandel, of “misusing the treasurer’s office in exchange for $100,000 from a crooked businessman.”

The businessman in question is Ben Suarez, owner and founder of Suaez Corporation Industries, a direct marketing company. The Cleveland Plain Dealer published an article in June describing Suarez’s schemes —selling hundreds of products that include:

  • weight-loss and dietary supplements, jewelry, collectible coins, cleaners and space heaters,
  • diet aids that the Suarez company claimed could prevent heart attacks, cancer and other diseases,
  • a get rich book
  • “unclaimed funds” from government accounts

In 2011 Suarez was in trouble in California. This article reports, “District attorneys there sought $4 million in civil penalties plus $2 million more in restitution, alleging false and misleading advertisements on the labeling of 17 Suarez Corp. Industries (SCI) products and the distribution of misbranded foods, drugs and medical devices in the state. One product in particular got special attention Suarez’s“Foot Choice Infrared Heat Massager.”

The conclusion of the letter Mandel sent to Bill Lockyer,  the Treasurer of the State of California. Lockyer replied to Mandel: "It has been my experience that California prosecutors give the highest priority to putting an end to unfair business practices, preventing future abuse and where possible, recovering monies for consumer victims."

The conclusion of the letter Mandel sent to Bill Lockyer, the Treasurer of the State of California. Lockyer replied to Mandel: “It has been my experience that California prosecutors give the highest priority to putting an end to unfair business practices, preventing future abuse and where possible, recovering monies for consumer victims.”

Suarez wanted to find some political influence to make the California District attorneys to back off of their prosecution and so he turned to Josh Mandel. Laua Bishoff in her DDN article explains: “Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel wrote two letters advocating for Suarez Corporation Industries’ business interests in California at the same time that company founder Ben Suarez was raising $100,000 for Mandel’s campaign for U.S. Senate, according to records released by Mandel’s office to the Dayton Daily News.”

Joe Vardon & Darrel Rowland of the Columbus Dispatch in their article explain:

When longtime GOP donor Benjamin Suarez needed help from the Ohio treasurer’s office, he turned to Scott Guthrie to get it.

Only Guthrie wasn’t employed by Josh Mandel, treasurer of the state of Ohio. He was the campaign fundraiser for Josh Mandel, candidate for the United States Senate.

So why is a major businessman asking for favors from Treasurer Mandel through a fundraiser for candidate Mandel? That is one of the central questions remaining from the federal trial of Suarez that ended this week in Cleveland.

A spokesman for Mandel says it is “common throughout Ohio and America that constituents contact an official office for something unofficial or contact someone outside the official office for something official.” However, two legal experts say Guthrie’s interactions with Suarez and the treasurer’s office are suspicious and merit further investigation.

While Suarez was found not guilty of making illegal campaign contributions in 2011, no one is questioning that he gathered $100,000 for Mandel’s Senate campaign. And no one is questioning that Mandel took up Suarez’s cause in a California legal battle at the same time. …

It was Guthrie who executed the two favors Suarez sought from Mandel: two letters on the state treasurer’s official letterhead written to help Suarez Corp. Industries of North Canton fight its legal troubles in California.

And Guthrie twice helped Mandel solicit campaign money from Suarez: $30,000 in one instance, $100,000 in another. Guthrie personally picked up an envelope containing the $100,000 in checks after hours at Suarez’s company.

Guthrie’s actions don’t prove the existence of a quid pro quo — politicians trading favors in exchange for money — and in court Guthrie and others denied that there was any link between the letters and the campaign contributions.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that (the letters and the contributions) had nothing to do with each other,” he testified on June 19.

But the question of quid pro quo remains, according to legal experts, because of another central question raised by Guthrie’s testimony: If there is no link between the letters and the Suarez donations, why was Guthrie — and not a treasurer’s office employee — tasked with writing the letters Suarez sought?

“Certainly ordinary people would look at that and say it stinks,” said Ohio State University law professor Daniel P. Tokaji, an election-law specialist who read the 86-page transcript of Guthrie’s testimony.


Outrageous Republican Ad Smears Dee Gillis With Outright Lies — Where Is The Public Backlash?

The Republican ad smearing Dee Gillis shows her as a cigar smoking, martini swilling politician who voted herself a big raise. The DDN article points out her vote "would actually cost her $13,078 annually in lost compensation."

The Republican ad smearing Dee Gillis shows her as a cigar smoking, martini swilling politician who voted herself a big raise. The DDN article points out her vote “would actually cost her $13,078 annually in lost compensation.”

I loved The Sunday DDN article written by Laura A. Bischoff and Lynn Hulsey — Law’s limbo means gloves off in hot race — about the outrageous lies told by the Republicans in the contest for the Ohio Senate’s fifth district.

Four years ago Republican Bill Beagle become senator for the fifth district by pouring money into negative ads against Democrat Fred Strahorn. Beagle raised only about $12,000 but the Republican Party and the Republican Senate Campaign Committee poured in over $900,000 more. Strahorn had only $341,089 to spend and couldn’t keep pace in the TV war. Beagle won 49,339 to 47,681.

Now seeking reelection Beagle has a strong challenger in former Tipp City mayor, Dee Gillis. The 1976 Ohio law that prohibited outright lies in political campaigns has recently been ruled unconstitutional and any restraint the law may have provided is now gone. The DDN article points to an ad produced by the Republicans that is almost funny in demonstrating how far a political party will go to slime an opponent. It is funny and also shameful — and in a democracy with any validity would cause such a howl of protest, it would backfire and work to hurt the Beagle campaign.

The DDN article says:

“Democrat Dee Gillis is a retired beauty salon owner and grandmother who served side by side with Republican Bill Beagle on the Tipp City Council. But their race for the 5th District Senate seat in Ohio has been anything but congenial.

An Ohio GOP-backed ad that hit mailboxes last week uses a doctored photo to paint Gillis as a cigar-smoking, martini-swilling politician who snatched a whopper pay raise at taxpayer expense as the city’s mayor. 

Gillis doesn’t smoke, isn’t keen on martinis and didn’t really vote herself a city pay raise. In fact, if she is re-elected and still on the council in 2016, her vote would actually cost her $13,078 annually in lost compensation.”

See my recent post: