An Ohio watchdog agency charged with enforcing state campaign finance laws not only didn’t bark Thursday morning, it went to sleep on the job. In a 5-2 decision, the Ohio Elections Commission dismissed a complaint filed in mid-April by the Ohio Libertarian Party [LPO] alleging collusion and coordination between a long-time friend and political operative of Gov. John Kasich, top officials in the governor’s campaign for reelection last year, and a powerful attorney whose law firm was paid $300,000 by the Ohio Republican Party [ORP] to represent a man whose embarrassing testimony in federal court showed he was used as a “guileless dupe” in order to help Gov. Kasich go unchallenged in the 2014 primary election by removing LPO’s candidate for governor from the ballot.
Partisanship At Play?
In a statement on today’s decision, LPO spokesman Aaron Keith Harris said, “I think the partisan make-up of that board had a lot to do with it, and an appeal is being considered. More importantly, the LPO will continue to fight for more transparency and for free and fair elections in Ohio, especially when a corrupt GOP is always trying to strengthen their grip on our state’s political process.”
Harris wasn’t present today, but his theory about political partisanship playing a role today wasn’t off track in light of the OEC member who actively challenged Mr. Earl’s case, and whose motion to dismiss prevailed. Kimberly Allison, who along with her co-members earns $25,002 per year, charged that the complaint offered no proof that direction came from Kasich/Taylor for Ohio campaign officials to Terry Casey. Brown could only point to emails between and among them, and to who was included as recipients.
Commissioner Allison led the charge for Team Kasich Thursday, saying there wasn’t any proof to uphold the allegations made by Earl with the help of Mark Brown, who holds the Newton D. Baker/Baker & Hostetler Chair at Capital University Law School.
Reliable sources informed this reporter that Allison’s husband is none other than Jon Allison. For those who don’t know or don’t recall Mr. Allison’s track record in state government, back in 2004, in the midst of a hotly contested Presidential campaign with Ohio as the big battleground state, and a Senate campaign with George Voinovich seeking re-election, he became aware of a $200 million dollar loss in a leveraged bond fund investment by the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation.
When the loss became public knowledge in the spring of 2005, as part of the much smaller Coingate loss, then-Gov. Robert Taft claimed that Mr. Allison, his chief of staff, never told him of the loss. Mr. Allison kept his job despite the giant loss, which was later found to be driven by fraud, that subsequently put Mark D. Lay behind federal prison bars, where he resides today. Mr. Allison was the key figure in concealing that financial loss, but it was swept under the rug then and is largely forgotten today.
Brown Talks LPO Options
Following today’s decision, Mark Brown was asked why OEC members couldn’t connect the dots he presented? Brown was at a loss for words. Will the decision to dismiss make the slope more slippery, as Maria Armstrong, the attorney representing Kasich/Taylor for Ohio said it would if the case was continued, Mr. Brown said, “I think, yea…let’s let the opinion, that’s what the confusion suggests … it’s really, really going to be hard to show in-kind contributions,” referring to what actions qualify as an “in-kind contribution.”
Brown said he and co-counsel Mark G. Kafantaris would talk to Mr. Earl, and that in a couple weeks they’ll have a better sense of which options to pursue. He said they can ask for judicial review, or take it to Common Pleas Court, where he will be able to force discovery that could turn up information from Kasich players who have escaped scrutiny so farfor the roles they played in bouncing Earl off the ballot. Brown, lead counsel for LPO and Earl, said he said he wasn’t in a position to say whether the county prosecutor should look at it, but did say it was his hope that the OEC would want to pursue it further.
“We brought it to OEC because we figured that’s something they would want to look into, and obviously OEC doesn’t,” he said outside the hearing room in downtown Columbus today. His hope, he said, was that the commission would have investigated the matter further, and as to whether they used a prosecutor or another counselor, “there should be more investigation.” Asked if he thinks there’s a conspiracy, he said, “Yes, I believe there is a conspiracy and I think … we don’t have all the evidence.”
Asked if ORP Chairman Matt Borges, in his testimony before the court, perjured himself by saying one thing then saying the opposite, Mr. Brown declined to comment. Brown made the assertion in his presentation that the Kasich Campaign was an active player, since through it a challenger was found.
Asked if he had ever seen an email from Matt Carle that Carle had found a protester, Mark Brown said, “We do not have that email if it exists.” He also said he has not done a public records check of Mr. Carles’ emails. “No, once we had all the emails between Casey and the Kasich Campaign, that’s all we needed. We didn’t need to go any further … that’s way beyond … that’s a completely different matter,” he said.
OEC’s Grimshaw Explains Vote To Dismiss
Lynn A. Grimshaw occupies the independent seat on the OEC. His term expires December 31, 2016. He spoke to me about why he voted to dismiss the complaint.
“My concern was, in the complaint itself, if you didn’t have any proof this campaign helped the Kasich Campaign, there was the one paragraph that speculated that it would have, that’s why I was curious as to whether or not, in all materials represented with, there was any polling data that said where that 8-10 percent would go; whether it would go six percent one way or two percent the other way or whether the split was 50-50.”
A former Scioto County prosecutor who won elections as a Democrat, Grimshawsaid he was interested in the actual protester, Gregory Felsoci, what was his motive? Grimshaw said Mr. Felsoci said he was upset with the party of Earl buying votes with Democratic help, so that gave some credence to what Casey said in his deposition as to what his motives were.
“Bottom line is, I don’t think there was more than a 50-50 presentation of the case here today, and that’s why I voted the way I voted.
Mr. Grimshaw said he’s convinced that the parties will continue to litigate this matter in other venues, as LPO’s attorney Mark Brown said he’ll talk with Charlie Earl about soon. Even if the OEC had pursued the case, he said it’s not the commission’s obligation to investigate and gather evidence, that would be up to the parties, like in a civil case, they would continue to depose each other. He explained that in coming before the OEC, it’s up to parties to gather the evidence and present it.
“Think of us as just judges up there, and a prosecutor and defense counsel, it’s up to the parties to gather evidence,” he said. “My votes are hard to predict. Had I been presented with a more compelling case, my vote would have been different.”
Asked if Ohio’s RICO law would applied to this case, Mr. Grimshaw said it’s a tool of last resort, only to be used in certain kinds of cases. Even though teachers in Atlanta were convicted of changing grades through RICO, he thought it was not the right tool in the case, too. “All decisions by all prosecutors are not wisely thought out beforehand,” he said, adding, “I cringe at what some prosecutors are doing in some parts of this country.
Nonetheless, for today’s case, he said that although there clearly were some emails between Casey, and members of Kasich’s staff, “None of those emails were specific enough to say that ‘this is what we want you to do.'” Grimshaw was also curious about the underling intent.
“What was the intent of this protest, was it to help Casey, or was it to help the Ohio Republican Party to the detriment of the Ohio Democratic party? If it’s just 50 50 out there, there’s not enough to go forward. I’m not saying it wasn’t a close cade to me; I certainly didn’t have my mind made up before I came in here today, but after hearing the arguments of both sides, then responses to my questions, I felt the threshold just wasn’t made.”
Watch Attorney Mark Brown make his case today at OEC