Here’s the second glaring error in Tim’s post on Sunday:
For example, suddenly, it required a background check to get paid to canvass. I cannot think of a single practice more certain to alienate you in the black community, where the vast majority of the people who need this type of work have criminal records. Then, they paid in checks, which required a trip to a check cashing joint that charges insane fees.
Gang (and Tim), meet Grassroots Solutions, the Ohio Democratic Party’s GOVT paid canvassing vendor that has been overlooked in this entire Lancer Group mess.
Had Tim bothered to look into Grassroots Solutions, he know that paid canvassers have been paid by checks and subjected them to background check screenings starting in Ohio in 2006. What Tim portrayed as a “sudden” departure instead has become standard operating practice for paid canvassing in Ohio Democratic campaigns in the last four years. Not only was paid canvassing done in this fashion for the Ohio Democratic Party’s GOTV efforts in 2006 and 2008, but the campaign to raise the State’s minimum wage, the Ohioans for a Fair Minimum Wage used them using the same standards in their statewide campaign in 2006.
And apparently such a change was made so smoothly, that Tim wouldn’t have even noticed it had the Lancer Group handled it nearly as well as Grassroots Solutions had done in the past. If you’re one of the people who wait every campaign cycle to get money doing paid canvassing that Tim writes about, then you’d know this to be the case, too.
According to Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern and confirmed by another Ohio Democratic Party source familiar with the situation, the decision to have paid canvassing itself was not a “last minute” decision that was created from “scratch.” Grassroots Solutions was involved as early as August in setting up paid canvassing to chase the Early Vote which was successful in giving Strickland a 55,000 vote lead before the ballots cast on Election Day were counted.
As the election drew near, fundraising picked up with Strickland’s polling fortunes. Redfern told Plunderbund that a decision had to be made with what to do with the additional money ODP was raising. Because they felt that they had done enough with direct mail and all television advertising was booked solid, they went to expanding the paid canvassing GOTV operation for the final weekend of the campaign. This is hardly a surprising move given that most GOTV operations focus on the final 72-hours of the campaign to get the vote out on election day.
However, according to Redfern, Grassroots Solutions indicated that they felt they couldn’t take on a much larger organization, so it recommended the Lancer Group, which is headed by Harold Gist. Mr. Gist’s biographical data shows he was well experienced in African-American community outreach and GOTV:
Gist held senior positions in the Clinton Administration, DNC, and the 1992 and 1996 Clinton-Gore campaigns. He is currently Managing Principal of the Lancer Group, a public affairs consulting firm. Prior to co-founding the company, he was Senor Advisor to the Chairman and Director of African-American Outreach Strategies at the DNC in the 2002 campaign cycle.
He also previously served as DNC White House Liaison and coordinated its African-American voter turnout. Gist served as Acting Director and Associate Director of Intergovernmental Affairs in the Department of Transportation under President Clinton, working closely with elected officials at all levels. He also has extensive campaign experience, serving as Deputy Campaign Manager for Clinton-Gore 1992; Associate Deputy Campaign Manager for Clinton-Gore 1996; and Arkansas Field Director for both the Al Gore 1988 campaign and later the Dukakis/Bentsen 1988 campaign.
He is an Arkansas native and holds Masters of Public Administration and Bachelor of Arts degrees from Arkansas State University.
Based on Grassroots Solutions’ recommendation and Mr. Gist’s remarkable credentials, Chairman Redfern told Plunderbund ODP agreed to hire the Lancer Group. An Ohio Democratic Party source familiar with the situation described the relationship as the Lancer Group would be in charge of mostly payroll while Grassroots Solutions implemented the GOTV program (both early vote and election day voting.) Keep in mind that this is on top of the volunteer driven effort by Organizing for America as well.
To date, there has been no evidence, none, that Grassroots Solutions/Lancer Group failed to carry out the best turnout operation possible given the political environment. None. The only problems we’ve seen was in the Lancer Group’s handling of the payroll.
Chairman Redfern acknowledged that the Lancer Group apparently wasn’t aware of the various local rules of the check cashing businesses the paid canvassers used to cash their checks. As a result, people had a difficult time being paid. In some instances the same people would be issued three checks to try to resolve the matter.
One common problem they found is that several Lancer Group checks were handwritten, but most check cashing businesses will only accept a computer generated check (really, I would think the opposite would be true.) Another common problem is that check cashing businesses require the check to be drawn on a local bank. Lancer Group, as an out-of-state business, took time to figure out how many different bank accounts it needed to set up in order to get everyone paid.
Coupled with that, according to Redfern, was the fact that the Lancer Group had a major software issue that corrupted the data. Whether it was truly a software issue, or a data entry problem, Redfern says the problem was that once the data was used to pay people, some people who worked half days got paid for two days work, while people who got paid for two days only got a half day, and all sorts of similar problems.
Redfern is left holding a bag in a problem that, all evidence seems to suggest, was a direct result of problems with Lancer Group’s software or process and procedures.
But Redfern said, emphatically, that there was no way you’d see the return of the “street money” system, even after he was no longer chair. “The use of cash is against federal and state campaign finance laws.” Redfern noted that the FEC has been cracking down on the practice. (Through 2004-2005, then Secretary of State Ken Blackwell audited a number of state lawmakers’ campaign finance reports looking for evidence of unreported “street money” income.)
In end, all we have is that the Lancer Group screwed up the payroll for roughly a few hundred paid canvassers. We don’t have a story that explains the results of the election. We don’t have an indictment against the crusade against “street money.”
A spokeswoman for the Lancer Group, in response to this story, reiterated that the Lancer Group is committed to working with the Ohio Democratic Party to resolve any and all outstanding issues in getting the paid canvassers, well, paid. She’s indicated that her own follow up on people calling to report they haven’t been paid has found that most have now been paid, and it appears that the complaints are finally starting to trickle off as these issues get resolved.
The notion that this story will affect ODP’s relationship with the Obama campaign ignores the fact that the entire Ohio GOTV operation was coordinate with and executed by the Obama-led DNC and OFA. While nobody is happy with what happened with the Lancer Group, it’s silly to suggest that this episode is going to strain the relationship between the ODP and the Obama campaign.
After all, it was the Obama campaign that ran in 2008 on trying to create the very permanent party infrastructure to end “street money” in Ohio. As a result of these efforts, the Ohio Democratic Party was built into the third largest Democratic Party organization in the nation, with fourteen regional party coordinators on the ground in 2009—over a year before the election.
Again, absent some new evidence, all we’ve seen in the Lancer Group is a payroll snafu that left hundreds of paid canvassers delayed in getting paid what they were owed. Nothing in this tale justifies recalling for the reinstitution of “street money.” Or the notion that had we used “street money”—illegality be damned—we’d been better off on Election Day.
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