Secretary of State Ken Blackwell made an embarrassing announcement Monday: He accidentally bought stock in Diebold Inc., a voting machine maker that benefited from decisions made by his office.
In a required filing with the Ohio Ethics Commission, the GOP gubernatorial hopeful said his hefty portfolio included 178 shares of Diebold stock, which sold for a loss.
"While I was unaware of this stock in my portfolio, its mere presence may be viewed as a conflict," Blackwell wrote in a letter that accompanies his annual financial disclosure statement.
As the Blackwell camp attempted to downplay the controversy, rivals from both parties pounced.
Blackwell "has a pretty unique history with this company," said Bob Paduchik, spokesman for Attorney General Jim Petro, who is also seeking the GOP nomination for governor. "This should be investigated."
Blackwell spokesman Carlo LoParo called the request for an investigation "absurd" and said county boards of election determine which machines to use.
In his duties as secretary of state, however, Blackwell's staff narrowed the list of companies eligible to replace Ohio's antiquated voting equipment with more modern technology. The Green-based Diebold made the cut, and a rival firm accused Blackwell of improperly favoring the Ohio company.
Diebold also drew the ire of critics after then-CEO Wally O'Dell sent a fund-raising letter in which he committed to deliver Ohio's electoral votes to President Bush in 2004.
LoParo maintains that Diebold's machines are safe and reliable and he described Blackwell's Diebold holdings as an honest mistake.
According to Blackwell's letter, he does not approve individual stock selections but has instructed his money managers to avoid all conflicts of interest.
"Those instructions were not followed by the new financial manager" that took over the account last year, he said. This unidentified woman bought 178 shares of Diebold at $53.67 per share in January 2005, then sold 95 of them for a loss of $15.68 per share.
On Saturday, while reviewing his annual ethics filing, Blackwell said he learned that he owned the remaining 83 shares and also sold them for a loss.
Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Brian Rothenberg could hardly contain his glee.
"If Ken Blackwell didn't know how his own money was being spent, why would the people of Ohio think he would be a good steward of their checkbook?"