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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
In a 55 second video that he recorded for the Dayton Daily News, Rob Klepinger, the Democratic candidate seeking election to congress to represent Ohio’s 10th District, says he decided to oppose the incumbent Republican Mike Turner, because he “got tired of yelling at the TV.” Klepinger has taught chemistry in a local public high school for 20 years. He is 46 years old. Here is a transcript of his video:
Hello. My name is Robert Klepinger and I’m running for congress. I won the Democratic Primary of May 6 and I’m your candidate for Ohio’s 10th Congressional District. I’m running for congress because I got tired of yelling at the TV. I have no money to spend. I don’t even have the support of my own teacher’s union. I have no corporate sponsors. I’m just here to support the 720,000 people who live in our district. If elected I will work tirelessly to bring in better and higher paying jobs. I will work to reduce the interest on college student loans and I also will want to fight to increase the minimum wage. When the government was closed this last time, my opponent couldn’t even cooperate with the speaker of the house from his own party to reopen the government. I will work to cooperate. You must cooperate to legislate. Please vote for Rob Klepinger on November 4.
The 10th District includes all of Montgomery and Greene Counties and part of Fayette County.
In Ohio’s Attorney General Contest, challenger David Pepper is accusing the incumbent Mike DeWine of unfairly rewarding contributors with valuable contracts. In her DDN article this morning — Charges fly in spirited AG race — Laura Bischoff reports about Pepper’s “pay to play” accusation and cites a great article that she wrote in July that somehow I had missed.
Bischoff’s July article — Vendors gave big to DeWine, GOP — deserves a lot of attention and discussion. The article obviously was the result of many hours of research and outlines a strong a strong case that Mike Dewine, Ohio’s current Attorney General, used his office inappropriately.
Bischoff summarizes her research in the first paragraphs of the article:
In doling out lucrative collections contracts, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine passed over more experienced vendors in favor of a friend’s new collections agency.
His campaign and the state Republican Party received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from collectors as they sought work from the state.
And DeWine involved his former fundraiser and other politically connected people in a process that is supposed to independent from political influence.
Debt collection generates a lot of money for the state and a lot of money for the collectors. The Attorney General decides who to hire to do the collection and the work pays very well. The article reports, “The DeWine administration hires between six and eight third party vendors and between 74 and 118 attorneys each year to handle debt collection work. The state paid those agencies and attorneys a total of $137.9 million between 2011 and 2013.”
The right to hand out contracts worth millions of dollars provides a big opportunity for corruption. We can be thankful that Bischoff spent the effort to do the research which involved “reviewing hundreds of pages of state documents, campaign finance reports and other records relating to the attorney general’s role in picking outside attorneys and collections agencies that go after back taxes, defaulted student loans and other money owed to state government and public universities.”
Bischoff reports, “Of the 30 collections attorneys who contributed more than $10,000 to that total, the average annual earnings on debt collection work was $796,500 between 2011 and 2013. Of the 89 who contributed less than $10,000, the average earnings during that time period were $192,000.”
The article focuses on Dewine’s friend, Pete Spitalieri, who landed a contract to collect debt worth millions regardless that his brand new company had no experience in doing the work. Bischoff shows that Spitalieri gave money to the Republican party — $35,000 to the Ohio Republican Party, plus $23,000 to the Summit County GOP — which has sent Mike DeWine’s campaign $405,500 since 2010.
Spitalieri formed CELCO Ltd. on April 11, 2012 — just two days before DeWine’s office put out a request for proposals from collections agencies for the upcoming fiscal year. Three weeks later, CELCO turned in a proposal that acknowledged the company had no experience handling collections accounts.
Nonetheless, CELCO beat out several bigger, more established bidders, including ones that had a national footprint and licensing.
“We were absolutely flabbergasted,” said Barry H. Fromm, chief executive of Columbus-based Value Recovery Group, or VRG, which was founded in 1993 and had worked for the past five attorneys general. His firm got edged out by CELCO.
District Judge Timothy Black was appointed to his position by President Obama in 2009. Judge Black ruled that a key portion of Ohio law that outlaws deliberate lying in political campaign advertisements is unconstitutional
In this campaign season with negative ads in full attack mode filling our TV’s, I’ve been wondering why there have been no reported complaints to the Ohio Election Commission (See Below). An article in this morning’s Columbus Dispatch explains that on September 11, U. S. District Judge Timothy Black declared unconstitutional a key part of Ohio’s campaign law that prohibited campaign lying and provided for complaints to the OEC. (See Judge Black’s ruling here.)
This law protected the public via an independent commission. To me, it seems that revoking this Ohio law is a step backward for our democracy and a green light to the worst possible campaign advertisements.
Judge Black was appointed by President Obama is 2009. I’m sort of amazed that judge appointed by a Democratic president would take such action and I’m amazed that the American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) filed a brief urging him to do so.
The ACLU in its amicus brief urged Ohio Revised Code 3517.21 (10) be ruled unconstitutional. It equated the OEC with “the government” and argued, “It is not the government’s place to pass judgment on what political speech is acceptable, and certainly not in the context of criticizing a public official. Political speech cannot be so flagrantly encumbered.”
Judge Black seems lost in a hopeless fog when he approvingly quotes the Supreme Court (and Frank Underwood):
“The remedy for speech that is false is speech that is true. This is the ordinary course in a free society. The response to the unreasoned is the rational; to the uninformed, the enlightened; to the straight-out lie, the simple truth.” United States v. Alvarez, 132 S. Ct. 2537, 2550 (2012) (emphasis supplied). The more modern recitation of this longstanding and fundamental principle of American law was recently articulated by Frank Underwood in House of Cards: “There’s no better way to overpower a trickle of doubt than with a flood of naked truth.”
Michael Smith at his law blog takes Black to task for quoting Frank Underwood. Says Smith, “The true meaning of Underwood’s quote is probably the last thing the court wants to espouse.”
Judge Black seems hopelessly naive. Black writes, “In short, the answer to false statements in politics is not to force silence, but to encourage truthful speech in response, and to let the voters, not the Government, decide what the political truth is.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the forces for truth had a lot of money so that lies and misinformation could be revealed for what they are. But our political system doesn’t work that way. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we lived in a society where voters had easy access to truth? Black gives no clue as to what could “encourage truthful speech.”
Lies have no place in the political arena and serve no purpose other than to undermine the integrity of the democratic process. The problem is that, at times, there is no clear way to determine whether a political statement is a lie or the truth. What is certain, however, is that we do not want the Government (i.e., the Ohio Elections Commission) deciding what is political truth — for fear that the Government might persecute those who criticize it. … Here in Ohio, there is no reason to believe that the OEC is positioned to determine what is true and what is false when it comes to political statements. In fact, it is entirely possible that a candidate could make a truthful statement, yet the OEC would determine a few days before an election that the statement is false, penalizing the candidate for speaking the truth and chilling further truthful speech.
We know speech isn’t free and the more money one has, the more speech one has. The assertion that, “we do not want the Government (i.e., the Ohio Elections Commission) deciding what is political truth,” to me seems unreasonable. We believe that there is a role for government in assuring citizens that the integrity of their food, drugs and water are maintained at an acceptable standard. Why does it make sense to think that there is not a role for government in assuring citizens that the integrity of their political processes also meet a reasonable standard?
Black has destroyed the Ohio law that gives a government agency (The OEC) some authority to check the most outrageous outright lies in political advertisements. Thanks to the ruling by Judge Black, the role for government in Ohio has been greatly diminished in assuring safety or assuring a fair playing field in our democracy. His thinking seems in the clouds and not grounded in the reality of our political world. His thinking makes no practical sense.
Judge Black Ruled Unconstitutional: Ohio Revised Code 3517.21(B)(9)-(10):
No person, during the course of any campaign for nomination or election to public office or office of a political party, by means of campaign materials, including sample ballots, an advertisement on radio or television or in a newspaper or periodical, a public speech, press release, or otherwise, shall knowingly and with intent to affect the outcome of such campaign:
(9) Make a false statement concerning the voting record of a candidate or public official;
(10) Post, publish, circulate, distribute, or otherwise disseminate a false statement concerning a candidate, either knowing the same to be false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not, if the statement is designed to promote the election, nomination, or defeat of the candidate.
The Ohio Elections Commission
The OEC, originally established in 1974, was reformulated as a seven member body in 1995, and reestablished as an independent government agency. Membership consists of six members (three members from each major political party in Ohio), appointed by the Governor upon recommendation by the Democratic and Republican caucuses of the General Assembly. By statute, the seventh member cannot be affiliated with either major political party and is appointed by the six partisan members of the Commission.