“I’ve known Ken for a long time. I think he will make an excellent statewide candidate”
– Norman Cummings, Ken Blackwell’s Campaign Manager, 1994.
In 1994, Candidate Blackwell did not look like an excellent candidate for anything- especially not for statewide office.
His only political success had been at the local-level fifteen years earlier. Since then he had switched parties, lost a primary and was defeated by Charlie Luken in his run for US Representative from Ohio’s 1st District.
But George Voinovich and the Cummings Family were about to change that.
Norm Cummings spent the late 80’s and early 90’s moving up the national party ladder: from Bush campaign staffer to Chief of Staff for the RNC.
In 1990, as director of political operations at the RNC in Washington, Norman began laying the groundwork for his return to Ohio Politics.
National political organization were closely monitoring state-wide races because the winners would be responsible for the redistricting that was planned for 1991.
In early October, 1990, Norman Cummings is quoted in an article about key Gubernatorial races: “this is the first time since 1968 that the GOP candidate for governor was ahead on Labor Day.”
He was, of course, talking about George Voinovich.
But Norm was doing more that just monitoring Ohio’s races. He was providing direct financial support.
In June of 1990, George Voinovich’s campaign received a ” $50,000 donation from Norm Cummings in Washington, D.C.” “The large donation actually came from the Republican National Committee, where Cummings works. But you wouldn’t know that from reading the
It would be Voinovich who would give Blackwell his big break back into Ohio politics four years later.
Grace served as Chief of Staff and Campaign Manager for Louisiana Congressman Jim McCrery from 88 to 94.
But during the 1994 election cycle, Grace (using her maiden name Wiegers) served as director of fund-raising for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).
And she picked a great year to do it.
1994 was the year Newt Gingrich and Tom Delay “set in motion a historic shift in campaign giving” that they called “the revolution”.
“The revolution,” said Delay, “has established a formidable money machine.”
This machine, fueled by the un-divided financial support of corporate and private donors, could supply unprecedented (and generally unregulated) funds for republican campaigns around the country. In return, it promised to churn out pro-business, deregulatory legislation favorable to those corporate donors.
Gingrich’s revolution completely turned around the NRCC.
“Gingrich was for my purposes the whole ballgame when we wanted to raise money,” said Grace Wiegers (Norm’s Wife).
And she wasn’t just kissing up to her boss. In 1993, the NRCC had been millions of dollars in debt. By June of 1994, the NRCC had raised a record $18.7 million- four times as much as the Democrats.
In August of 1994, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) gave $35,000 to the Ohio’s Republican National State Elections Committee (RNSEC).
From September through November the RNSEC, in turn, made three substantial contributions to the Blackwell campaign: $15,000 on 9/22/94, $10,000 on 10/14/94 and a whopping $50,000 on 11/02/94.
When Governor Voinovich announced his appointment of Ken Blackwell as state treasurer in January 1994, he gave Ken the advantage of incumbency for elections that fall.
By the time Blackwell was sworn-in to office in March, everything was in place for his successful re-election campaign.
Norm Cummings was officially announced as Blackwell’s campaign manager on February 1st.
Later that month, Voinovich got John Damschroder to withdraw from the Treasurer’s race, leaving Blackwell unopposed in the primary. Damschroder accepted an offer from Voinovich to return to his position as deputy director for the Ohio Department of Development after
“We think John has done a real service to the party . . .It will save us some money and let Ken concentrate on the most important aspect, the office itself,” said Norm Cummings, Blackwell’s campaign manager.
In 1994, Ken Blackwell’s campaign for State Treasurer, under the direction of Norm Cummings, received an “unprecedented level of backing” from Voinovich and the Republican Party- including $100,000 directly from the Voinovich campaign.
Blackwell outspent his opponent $1.27 million to $216,158. He won by 370,000 votes.
Moving the Money
The following is from an article in the Akron Beacon Journal in September, 1995.
GOP CASH FINDING WAY BACK HOME? REPUBLICANS ACCUSED OF LAUNDERING VOTE FUNDS
You might call it the million-dollar shuffle.
In 1993 and 1994, as Ohio Republicans drove toward dominance of state government, almost $1 million in contributions from corporations and top GOP givers went outside the state to a national party campaign fund.
The Ohio money went into national “soft money” accounts operating outside federal contribution limits and untouched by state restrictions on direct corporate giving, which is illegal under state law.
During the same election cycle, almost exactly the same amount flowed from the Republican National State Elections Committee, formed by the national party to support state and local politics, to the Ohio Republican Party or directly to campaigns in Ohio, according to a computer analysis of Federal Election Commission records requested by the Beacon Journal.
A total of $750,000 went from the Republican National State Elections Committee to the Ohio Republican Party, which worked closely with the Republicans in the Ohio House to take control from Democrats for the first time in 22 years.
Virtually all the rest went to campaign committees of Republican statewide candidates.
Ohio Treasurer J. Kenneth Blackwell, who had been appointed to the office and was running for a full term, received by far the most: $60,000 in the primary and general elections, records show.
“It’s not a sinister thing,” said Blackwell campaign manager Norm Cummings of the activities of the National State Elections Committee.
“The people who raise the money have nothing to do with spending it,” said Cummings, a former chief of staff and former political director at the Republican National Committee and now a consultant in Virginia.
“There is no direct in and out.”
Cummings said the pursuit of soft money by both major national political parties is the result of “ill-thought out” reforms in the 1970s, particularly what he called “ridiculously low” contribution limits at the federal level. Those limits, $1,000 for individuals and $5,000 for political action committees per election, he argued, infringe on free speech.
Cummings said he lobbied vigorously on behalf of Blackwell, the first African American to hold statewide office in Ohio.
“I’m proud the national committee ponied up in a race they might not normally have been interested in,” Cummings said.