New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was given a rude and potentially devastating awakening last Friday, when Judge Susan D. Wigenton presented the conspiracy involving three Christie confidants involved in a political retribution case know as “Bridgegate.”
David Wildstein, a buddy of Gov. Christie’s from high-school who was appointed by him to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, pleaded guilty to orchestrating a 2013 traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge as political payback against the Democratic Mayor of Fort Lee who declined to endorse Gov. Christie, a Republican, for reelection in 2013.
Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer said “evidence exists” that Christie knew about the closings when they occurred. Gov. Christie has maintained all along that he knew nothing about the closure, leaving his inner circle of subordinates, including Wildstein and others, to take the legal heat now rolling down.
New Jersey Whale Tale
The political drama airing in New Jersey and involving Gov. Christie, a Republican who aspires to be president, won’t have its equal in Ohio, not yet. But that could change. A complaint filed by the Ohio Libertarian Party—alleging campaign finance violations by and between a long-time confident of Ohio Gov. John Kasich and certain officials working for and with his reelection campaign last year—is guaranteed to spice up the governor’s peek-a-boo campaign for president that now includes a couple confidants from last year named in the complaint
On May 21st, the second item on the agenda for the Ohio Election Commission will be LPO’s complaint, filed on April 15, that offers hard evidence showing how a “guileless dupe” was used by Kasich allies to keep LPO’s candidate for governor last year, Charlie Earl, off the ballot. With Earl off the ballot, the governor had no opposition to reelection other than a Democratic opponent whose early missteps and on-going fumbles doomed any real challenge to the incumbent Kasich. In his unannounced campaign for president, Gov. Kasich crows about his big 2-1 winning margin last year, but had Mr. Earl been on the ballot, Kasich’s confident stroll to a second term would have taken a couple turns not to his liking.
I asked OEC’s Executive Director and Staff Attorney, Philip C. Richter, what to expect on the 21st. Richter said commission members could dismiss it, or set a date for a formal hearing. A special investigator could be assigned, but that’s only happened twice in OEC’s nearly 20 year history. Another option, one that would make the governor and his political team squirm, is to refer the case to Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien. Mr. O’Brien could take it up or drop it, Richter told me. A further option, should LPO want to appeal OEC’s decision, would be to appeal to Franklin County Common Please Court, where other stricter laws could possibly come into play.
Mr. Richter said notification of the meeting was sent on April 17 to Terry Casey, Kasich/Taylor for Ohio, Gov. John Kasich, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, Matt Carle of Kasich/Taylor for Ohio, Jeff Peloesovsky of Kasich/Taylor for Ohio and Dave Luketic of Kasich/Taylor for Ohio. Failure to respond to the charges—Prohibited Solicitation of Campaign Contributions, Failure to File Complete and Accurate Statements, Exceeding Campaign Contribution Limits, Concealment and /or Misrepresentation of Contribution and/or Expenditures—is generally interpreted by the OEC as admission of guilt.
Mr. Carle will take on leadership duties at Gov. Kasich’s new national political committee, New Day for America, a nonprofit organization allies of Kasich started last month, a report notes. Mr. Polesovsky, deputy to Carle on the governor’s 2014 re-election, is also on the new group’s team roster.
Of Bulldogs And ‘Self-Starters’
In the complaint filed with the OEC. the Ohio Libertarian Party alleges that it’s candidate for governor last year, Charlie Earl, was denied a spot on the ballot by collusion between John Kasich’s campaign and Terry Casey, a Republican fundraiser and the Kasich-appointed Chair of the Ohio State Personnel Review Board. Mr. Casey, a long-time political friend of Gov. Kasich who served as Executive Director of the Franklin County GOP when Kasich was a congressman, is alleged to have agreed to pay the Columbus law firm of Zeiger, Tigges & Little more than $250,000 for orchestrating a procedural challenge to Earl’s signature petitions.
“Because Casey worked closely with Kasich campaign staff, including campaign manager Matt Carle, to hire the firm to convince a Libertarian primary voter to sign their challenge against Earl’s candidacy, the cost of legal services should have been declared as contribution to Kasich’s campaign, according to Earl’s complaint, which asks that the OEC fine both Casey and the Kasich campaign for breaking Ohio campaign contribution limits and for failing to disclose an in-kind contribution,” the complaint says.
U.S. District Judge Michael H. Watson, former chief legal counsel for Ohio Governor George Voinovich, a Republican, wrote in a ruling that upheld the decision to keep Mr. Earl off the primary ballot last year that the person Mr. Casey found, Gregory Felsoci, was a “guileless dupe” who showed in testimony that he “lacks even a basic understanding” of the challenge he made. Judge Watson opened the door to RICO when he said evidence exists that indicates the Ohio Republican Party was behind the challenge to Earl’s petition signatures.
“To state the obvious, Felsoci’s testimony, as well as the other evidence in the record, supports an inference that operatives or supporters of the Ohio Republican Party orchestrated the protest that Felsoci signed,” he said.
When citizen Kasich was narrowly elected governor in 2010, he immediately set out to topple the leadership of the Ohio GOP so he could install a confessed and convicted influence peddler, Matt Borges. With rough and tumble team players like Casey, who described himself as a “self-starter,” and Borges, who pleaded guilty to public corruption , the Kasich mafia machine knew it had loyal linebackers who would bulldoze Democrats and any challengers to the throne like Charlie Earl.
According to testimony given by Mr. Felsoci, his lawyers failed to disclose to him before the March 13, 2014 hearing that Terry Casey was paying his quarter-million dollar legal bill. The lawyers, Zeiger, Tigges & Little, “also failed to disclose to him that the Kasich Campaign for Governor was involved in recruiting him to protest Earl’s candidacy.” Earl argued that if Felsoci’s benefactors were state actors or the functional equivalent of state actors, theirs and Felsoci’s actions would also violate the First Amendment.
Charlie Earl attempted to depose Felsoci to ask him questions that he did not appear to answer during the preliminary injunction hearing. Mr. Felsoci’s lawyers, however, refused to allow him to sit for that deposition.
During the course of discovery, which was vigorously contested by Felsoci and Ohio’s Secretary of State, Mr. Earl learned that Terry Casey, appointed by Gov. Kasich to Chair of the State Personnel Board of Review, and the Kasich-Taylor campaign for governor had sponsored Mr. Felsoci’s protest. Both Mr. Felsoci and Secretary Husted refused to cooperate in or allow the discovery needed to uncover Casey’s and the Kasich Campaign’s involvement. Pursuant to the court’s order of August 12, 2014, Mr. Felsoci’s lawyers produced an e-mail showing that Terry Casey was paying Felsoci’s lawyers.
In his deposition, Mr. Casey denied that the Kasich Campaign was involved in any way with his plan to recruit someone, ultimately Felsoci, to protest Earl. Subsequently discovered documents that were introduced into evidence at the preliminary injunction hearing on September 29-30, 2014 establish that Kasich Campaign agents, including Kasich’s campaign manager, Matt Carle, as well as Jeff Polesovsky and Dave Luketic, were deeply involved in Casey?s plan to recruit Mr. Felsoci to protest Earl. The documents included exchanges between Terry Casey, Dan Mead (Felsoci’s and Casey’s lawyer), John Zeiger (Felsoci’s and Casey’s lawyer), Jeff Polesovsky (Kasich Campaign official), Dave Luketic (Kasich Campaign official), and Matt Carle (Kasich Campaign manager), as well as others, court documents show.
“Not only did Kasich’s agents, Polesovsky and Luketic, know about Casey’s plan, the Kasich Campaign’s manager, Matt Carle, was deeply involved and personally responsible for locating and recruiting persons to protest Earl, including Gregory Felsoci,” the LPO complaint said. At the federal hearing on September 29, 2014, Terry Casey authenticated the e-mails.
As troubling, it seems, is Sec. Husted’s lack of curiosity. Although he has been aware of all of the facts in the complaint, the Secretary has chosen not to investigate Casey’s and the Kasich Campaign’s activities under Ohio’s campaign finance laws. Terry Casey said he didn’t find Mr. Felsoci, but it now seems that Matt Carle, Kasich’s campaign manager, did with help from a mutual friend, John Musca.
“The Kasich Campaign, Casey and the Zeiger law firm, agreed that someone, ultimately Felsoci, would be recruited to protest Earl and that the Zeiger law firm would handle the protest. This is established by the fact that all three stakeholders in the discussions played a significant role in the plan to protest Earl: the Kasich Campaign carefully studied Earl’s signatures and actually located Felsoci; Casey coordinated efforts and agreed to pay the Zeiger law firm; and the Zeiger law firm took charge and made contact with Felsoci after he had been located by the Kasich Campaign,” according to the complaint.
In the meantime, the Kasich Campaign has not reported any payments to the law firm of Zeiger, Tigges & Little and has not reported any payments to Terry Casey, whose activities could constitute an “in kind” contribution to the Kasich Campaign. It’s legal in Ohio to use campaign funds for such activities, but it is illegal to not report them.
The Kasich Campaign’s activities in recruiting Felsoci and having him protest Earl were “coordinated” with Terry Casey within the meaning of Ohio?s campaign finance laws, the complaint says. Charlie Earl argues in his complaint that “The Kasich Campaign’s misrepresentation for concealment of the contribution, through its agents, Carle, Polesovsky, and Luketic, is illegal under Ohio law, which carries a potential fine of $10,000 and the possible forfeiture office by John Kasich and Mary Taylor.
“The Kasich Campaign and Casey should be fined $10,000 for misrepresenting and concealing Casey’s ‘in kind’ contribution…moreover, if Governor Kasich and Lt. Governor Taylor knew they should be removed from office,” Earl wrote, adding, “Assuming their knowledge, Kasich and Taylor would be guilty of criminal solicitation.”
Earl wants the OEC to investigate these allegations and “fully investigate the Casey-Kasich Campaign joint venture to determine whether violations of Ohio law have taken place and to penalize the appropriate parties.”
Congress passed the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly known as RICO, in 1970 out of a concern over rising mob infiltration of unions and corporations. Prosecutors like RICO laws because they carry tough penalties and make it easier to get at top officials or leaders.
As Gov. Kasich tries to boost his image and rating with Republican base voters, pushing a federal balanced budget amendment along with his largely debunked story on how he turned around Ohio, the news about what’s happening with Gov. Christie should be a lesson of caution. Ohio’s governor could find himself in the wrong spotlight, one that would dash his hopes to be a candidate for president and potentially lead to a discredited second term. and maybe worse if the OEC determines a former hearing is necessary. Kasich’s political machine could be further upended if, as some say, sterner statutes are warranted.