More On Ohio Voter Suppression

August 15, 2006

More information from Salon, on how Ken Blackwell continues to attempt to suppress voters most likely to vote against him in the upcoming elections…

The secretary of state, Kenneth Blackwell, now the Republican candidate for governor, is using some new vote-suppressing tricks and, this time, he’s got a sweeping if confusing law, HB 3, to back him up. A coalition of voting-rights groups filed suit last month to overturn the law as unconstitutional.

Infamous for such schemes as initially demanding that all voter registration applications be submitted on 80 lb. stock paper, Blackwell also presided over what most investigators regard as the worst election meltdown of 2004. While the allegation that Blackwell helped “steal” the election from John Kerry is debatable, the view that he intentionally suppressed voting by Democratic-leaning groups is less controversial. That the Ohio election was a mess is almost universally acknowledged, although not by Blackwell’s office. His spokesman, James Lee, says, “The critics were wrong then, and they’re wrong now.”

This time around, the law that took effect in May allows the state to pursue felony prosecutions of workers for voter registration groups who turn in registration cards past a 10-day deadline. They face up to 12 months in prison and a $2,500 fine; late returns on less than 50 forms merit a misdemeanor prosecution. At first, Blackwell implied that the workers couldn’t even send in the forms by mail. Each registration worker also has to return the forms personally to the local elections board, which prevents voter registration groups from combining and checking large numbers of forms. “It’s made registration far more difficult,” says Teresa James, Project Vote’s election administration coordinator. In fact, Ohio ACORN, the Project Vote-allied group that focuses on low-income neighborhoods, suspended virtually all voter registration activities for two months. Now it’s gathering less than 20 percent of the 7,000 registration applicants it signed up monthly before the law was implemented.

Even if people do manage to register, most Ohio election boards don’t know that voters are entitled to vote using regular ballots even if their driver’s licenses list old addresses. It’s a confusion created by a series of misleading or opaque directives from Blackwell.

“I think we could very well have a meltdown in November because of these confusing election rules and poll workers not knowing what to do with the new electronic machines,” observes Peg Rosenfield, the Ohio League of Women Voters election specialist. That’s already been shown by the voting crack-up in Cuyahoga County, home of Cleveland, where the sudden switch to electronic machines in May led workers to lose 70 memory cards from touch-screen terminals and a six-day delay in counting 15,000 absentee ballots.

Key races: Democrats could take the governor’s mansion and unseat Sen. Mike DeWine and four House incumbents.


Blackwell Screws Poor Ohio Voters Again

August 10, 2006

From The New York Times:

For Tony Minor, the pastor of the Community of Faith Assembly in a run-down section of East Cleveland, Ohio’s new voter registration rules have meant spending two extra hours a day collecting half as many registration cards from new voters as he did in past years.

Republicans say the new rules are needed to prevent fraud, but Democrats say they are making it much harder to register the poor.

In the last year, six states have passed such restrictions, and in three states, including Ohio, civic groups have filed lawsuits, arguing that the rules disproportionately affect poor neighborhoods.

But nowhere have the rules been as fiercely debated as here, partly because they are being administered by J. Kenneth Blackwell, the secretary of state and the Republican candidate in one of the most closely watched governor’s races in the country, a contest that will be affected by the voter registration rules. Mr. Blackwell did not write the law, but he has been accused of imposing regulations that are more restrictive than was intended.

Under the law, passed by the Republican-led state legislature in January 2006, paid voter registration workers must personally submit the voter registration cards to the state, rather than allow the organizations overseeing the drives to vet and submit them in bulk.

By requiring paid canvassers to sign and put their addresses on the voter registration cards they collect, and by making them criminally liable for any irregularities on the cards, the rules have made it more difficult to use such workers, who most often work in lower-income and Democratic-leaning neighborhoods, where volunteers are scarce.

“In Washington, D.C., Congress may have passed the voting rights bill to extend voter participation,” said Katy Gall, organizing director of Ohio Acorn, an advocacy group that focuses on poor neighborhoods. “But out here at the grass roots, things are headed in the opposite direction.”

Ms. Gall said the group had collected fewer than 200 new voter registration cards in the last month, down from an average of 7,000 a month before the regulations took effect on May 2.

“Quit whining,” said the Rev. Russell Johnson, the pastor of Fairfield Christian Church, who chuckled while shaking his head. “We work with the same challenges that everyone else does and we’re not having trouble.”

Surrounded by cornfields and middle-income homes, Mr. Johnson’s 4,000-member evangelical church in Lancaster, Ohio, is part of a coalition of conservative groups that aims to sign up 200,000 new voters by November, he said.

In the past several elections, Republicans have been effective in registering voters and getting them to the polls. Mr. Johnson said conservatives were better able to depend on voter registration volunteers because the conservatives had a message that attracted people who were willing to work free.

But Republicans are in an uphill battle in the face of investigations involving Gov. Bob Taft, who has pleaded no contest to charges of failing to report thousands of dollars in gifts given to him, and of Representative Bob Ney, who has been linked to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

Backers of the new regulations say they were needed, pointing to the fake names that appeared on voter registration cards in 2004, like Jive Turkey Sr.

“The new regulations have everything to do with preventing Jive Turkeys from showing up on cards the way they did last time,” said John McClelland, a spokesman for the state Republican Party. “They’ve got nothing to do with suppressing voter participation.” But elections experts and liberal grass-roots organizations say the new rules go too far.

“All this flak about Jive Turkey is a red herring,” said Catherine Turcer, the legislative director for Ohio Citizen Action, a nonpartisan government watchdog group in Columbus. “Yes, his name showed up on a voter registration card along with Dick Tracy, Mary Poppins and Michael Jordan. But none of them showed up at the polls, which is really what matters, and cases like theirs were a total rarity that did not justify such restrictive new measures.”

Back in East Cleveland, the copier machine at the Community of Faith Assembly church was overheating, and Mr. Minor was about to do the same. One new rule requires paid canvassers to return signed registration cards within 10 days to county boards of elections or the secretary of state’s office, rather than to the group paying the canvassers.

To comply with the rule, Mr. Minor has created an elaborate system so the cards do not leave the possession of the canvasser, and so he can make copies of them to get reimbursed by the People for the American Way, which is financing his voter registration drive.

Another rule requires that all paid workers take an online training course. “The problem there is that we’ve got a computer that freezes up every time we try to load the online program,” Mr. Minor said.
Politics have also ratcheted up the debate. In 2004, Mr. Blackwell was a co-chairman of President Bush’s re-election committee, and while the new law would prevent him from holding such a position in the future, his dual role as electoral overseer and candidate for governor has become a favorite target of his opponents.

On July 10, at an Acorn event in Columbus, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton accused Mr. Blackwell of a conflict of interest. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee followed suit with a letter to Mr. Blackwell, calling for him to relinquish his election duties as secretary of state. That sentiment has been echoed by Representative Ted Strickland, a five-term Democrat who has an 11-percentage-point lead over Mr. Blackwell in the governor’s race, according to a Rasmussen Reports survey released Aug. 1.

Mr. Blackwell, who did not respond to requests for an interview, has said he is only carrying out the law that was handed to him by the legislature. If he has any conflict of interest, Mr. Blackwell’s campaign has said, so do the Democratic secretaries of state in Iowa and Georgia, who also ran for governor.

Wendy R. Weiser, a law professor at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law and a lawyer in several of the suits opposing new voter registration regulations, said Ohio must be considered in a national context.

In Florida, the League of Women Voters and other groups are suing over a new law that imposes heavy fines for candidates if they submit forms late or if there are errors on the forms, Ms. Weiser said. In Georgia, the legislature passed a voter-identification law last year requiring citizens to purchase a government-issued ID card to present at the polls, but it was blocked by a federal judge as being a modern-day poll tax.

“I do believe,” Ms. Weiser said, “there is a national trend of using the straw man of voter fraud as a way to impose restrictive regulations on voting and voter registration.”

But what, then, is to be made of Jive Turkey Sr.?

Ohio state officials have said that such names appeared because voter registration groups were paying their workers per registration card, which created an incentive to submit fake names. The new regulations forbid this type of payment, a move that all grass-roots organizations seem to agree is for the better.

As for the level of threat posed by Mr. Turkey: a report compiled in 2005 by Mr. Ney, the Ohio congressman, cited news media reports of “thousands” of cases of voter registration fraud being investigated by local officials. But a separate study last year by the League of Women Voters found that voter registration fraud did not necessarily result in fraud at the polls. Out of 9,078,728 votes cast in Ohio in 2002 and 2004, the report said, only four ballots were fraudulent, according to statistics provided by officials from the state’s 88 county boards of elections.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – Ohio Election Stolen

June 4, 2006

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.  writes in this months Rolling Stone magazine that the Republicans "epublicans prevented more than 350,000 voters in Ohio from casting ballots or having their votes counted — enough to have put John Kerry in the White House."

The full Rolling Stone article can be found here

A cached copy of the article can be found here, in my Furl archive. 

Noe Pleads Guilty

June 4, 2006

From The Toledo Blade:

More than two years after investigators began probing Tom Noe’s vaunted political fund-raising ability, he admitted yesterday that he used friends and colleagues to illegally pour thousands of dollars into the effort to re-elect President Bush.

Noe, whose fund-raising acumen earned him star status as a Bush “Pioneer” and helped him secure coveted federal and state political appointments, pleaded guilty to all three felony counts he faced.

Noe said he wanted to “spare my dear family and friends … further embarrassment.”

The 51-year-old is facing between 24 and 30 months in prison and a substantial fine according to federal sentencing guidelines, assistant U.S. Attorney John Pearson said. However, he said he would seek an even stiffer penalty because of the “potential loss of public faith” in the presidential election.

For more than a year, Republicans in Ohio and Washington have been subjected to continued revelations about a man who had constant access to Gov. Bob Taft’s office and who was a guest at the White House. The President won a second term on the strength of a narrow victory in Ohio.

With his guilty plea, Noe will go from a well-connected Republican who led the Bush effort in northwest Ohio to a convicted felon, adding a permanent stain to his political career.

His guilty plea also acknowledged implicitly that he illegally obtained the cachet typically bestowed upon the biggest political fund-raisers. Hundreds of the Bush “Pioneers” and “Rangers” — those who raised more than $100,000 and $200,000 respectively — were rewarded with coveted ambassadorships, favorable policy changes, and friendly legislation. Noe himself was appointed to a key committee of the U.S. Mint.

State Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) said most people are “shocked and angered and disappointed all at once as to the magnitude” of the accusations against Noe.

“It’s beyond anyone’s comprehension,” Mr. Gardner said.

U.S. District Judge David Katz accepted the guilty plea and said a sentencing date would be scheduled after the federal probation office can produce a presentencing report. Noe will begin providing information for that report tomorrow.

By accepting responsibility and avoiding a trial, Noe is eligible for a reduced prison sentence.

Noe still faces more than four dozen other felony counts in Lucas County Common Pleas Court on allegations that he stole millions of dollars from two rare-coin funds totaling $50 million he managed for the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. An August trial has been set in that case.
24 alleged ‘conduits’

During the hearing yesterday, federal prosecutors painted a picture of a man who knew it was wrong to give $45,500 to 24 alleged “conduits” to boost his fund-raising totals at a fund-raiser in October, 2003.

Noe duped them and the presidential campaign he sought to help, assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Uram said.

Noe turned to deceit, Mr. Uram said, after his pledge to raise $50,000 for the Bush campaign foundered when friends claimed they couldn’t attend the $2,000-a-plate event or couldn’t afford it.

“It was then that the defendant [decided] that they could use his own funds to pay for their $2,000 tickets,” Mr. Uram said.

But Noe, who had already given the maximum contribution a few months earlier, should have known it was wrong. Mr. Uram said investigators obtained memos given to Noe about conduits. One memo, which would have been used in a trial, clearly said: “It is illegal to give money in the name of another.”

He was formally charged with conspiracy to violate federal campaign laws and with violating them. He was also charged with causing the Bush-Cheney campaign to file a false campaign finance report.

Donor cards signed

All of the conduits signed donor cards that acknowledged they were the source of their donations when all knew Noe was responsible, prosecutors said.

But for all of the details that were revealed, the hearing left many questions unanswered: Why did Noe agree to raise $50,000 for the Bush campaign? Did anyone pressure him to raise money? Did he hope to curry favor with the Bush White House? His plea leaves those questions open to speculation.

Noe rose to prominence in the Republican Party over the last 15 years as a willing fund-raiser and political confidant and planner.

He secured high-profile gubernatorial appointments to the Bowling Green State University Board of Trustees and the Ohio Board of Regents, and for a time was chairman of the regents — despite being a college dropout. He also was appointed to the Ohio Turnpike Commission, where he also was chairman.

Noe and his wife, Bernadette, both former chairmen of the Lucas County Republican Party, have given more than $200,000 to politicians over the last 16 years. Their giving increased substantially after the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation in 1998 gave him the first of two $25 million payments to invest in his rare-coin funds.

In May, 2003, he secured a federal appointment to an important committee of the U.S. Mint, a panel that advises the U.S. Treasury secretary on themes and designs for coins and congressional gold medals. He was named its chairman.

Before The Blade began reporting in April, 2005, about Noe’s coin deals with the state, he and his wife owned three waterfront homes, including two in Ohio. Since then they’ve sold their condo along the Maumee River in Maumee and their $1 million Catawba Island home on the shore of Lake Erie.

The former GOP power couple retreated to a palatial home in the Florida Keys, which has been used to secure more than $1 million in loans to pay his attorneys.

All of the 24 alleged conduits cooperated with the probe and were willing to testify, Mr. Uram said. Four acknowledged they knew it was illegal at the time. Because the alleged conduits were not charged, Mr. Uram said he was precluded from identifying them.

But court records show that many of them were some of the people closest to Noe: his brother-in-law Joe Restivo; local politicians Maggie Thurber, Betty Shultz, Sally Perz, and Donna Owens; two former aides to Governor Taft; and other political and social friends.

Ms. Thurber, Ms. Shultz, Ms. Perz, and Ms. Owens all face potential state ethics charges for failing to disclose the money from Noe. A special prosecutor appointed by Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates is considering charges.

Ms. Thurber and Ms. Shultz yesterday declined to comment about their roles in Noe’s contributions to President Bush’s campaign. Ms. Perz and Ms. Owens did not return phone calls.

Mr. Uram said prosecutors would have relied on memos, records from the Bush campaign, information gleaned from Noe’s trash, and the testimony of the alleged conduits.

Loans claimed

The alleged conduits told investigators that Noe told them to claim the money was a loan if anyone ever asked, and he gave varying amounts to them — only three got the same amount as they would later give the Bush campaign — “so that the payments would look less suspicious,” Mr. Uram said.

Then, in April, 2005, as word of the federal investigation filtered to Noe, he called some of the alleged conduits and asked for payment on the “loans.” Some did send checks and some told investigators the money was a loan. They later changed their stories.

At one point, well after the event, Noe even created a “loan folder” to further disguise his fund-raising, Mr. Uram said.

Throughout the 45-minute hearing, Noe was calm and responsive with Judge Katz, acknowledging questions with “yes, your honor,” and “no, your honor.”

Then, after hearing all of the evidence Mr. Uram outlined, Noe said he voluntarily agreed to change his plea “to accept responsibility to spare my dear family and friends the further embarrassment of any additional court proceeding. Therefore, I plead guilty.”

He was joined in the courtroom by his sister, Beth Noe June of Clark Lake, Mich., and her husband.

Noe remains free on $350,000 bond pending the sentencing hearing. He will undergo drug testing as part of the presentencing report and a complete background check will be done.

Both the federal prosecutors and Noe’s defense attorneys will be able to review and question the report before Judge Katz sentences Noe.

Mr. Pearson said he anticipates Noe’s attorneys will ask that any federal sentence be delayed until the state charges are resolved.

Mr. Pearson asked Judge Katz to treat Noe like any other defendant.

The judge said he would answer those requests later.

No one in state government has been harder hit by the Noe case than Governor Taft, whose administration and legacy have been ravaged by his association with Noe and the scandal that has enveloped Columbus. Yesterday, Mark Rickel, the governor’s press secretary, said “this is a serious offense in the hands of a capable judge and prosecutors.’’

At the time of Noe’s indictment, a senior Justice Department official said the Noe case represented the largest campaign money-laundering scheme prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department since new campaign-finance laws were enacted by Congress in 2002.

Noe To Change His Plea

May 12, 2006

From The Columbus Dispatch:

Admission on campaign-finance charges may affect coin-fund case

Indicted coin dealer Thomas W. Noe wants to change his not-guilty pleas to federal campaign-finance charges to resolve the case, according to a court filing yesterday.

A Noe attorney and a federal prosecutor filed a joint request for a hearing "as soon as possible" to change Noe’s plea to three charges that he illegally funneled $45,400 to President Bush’s re-election campaign.

U.S. Attorney Greg White in Cleveland declined to comment, and Noe’s attorneys could not be reached last night. But the filing suggests that Noe has agreed to accept responsibility and possibly cooperate in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Noe was set for trial July 24 in Toledo and was facing up to 15 years in prison and fines up to $950,000 if convicted on all counts.

He also has been indicted on 53 state charges related to his handling of a $50 million investment in rare coins for the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. It’s unclear what effect a change of plea in the federal case could have on the state case.

Law-enforcement sources speculate that Noe’s willingness to change his plea in the federal case gives him incentive to resolve the state case as well so that he wouldn’t face other charges later if new in- formation surfaces.

A federal grand jury in Cleveland is still hearing evidence related to the bureau’s loss of $215 million in a hedge fund handled by MDL Capital Management of Pittsburgh and other investment issues.

On the other hand, Noe could decide to fight the state charges despite a guilty or no-contest plea in the federal case, others have speculated.

Noe faces 172 1 /2 years in prison if convicted on all state charges. He is scheduled for trial Aug. 29, but there often are delays in such cases as pretrial motions are filed.

It’s also unclear what cooperation or information Noe would be able to provide if required. Noe was a major Republican contributor and socialized with many public officials — including Gov. Bob Taft and four former members of his administration convicted of ethics charges for not divulging their gifts from Noe.

The drama is unfolding as Ohio Democrats are pushing to reclaim the governor’s office and other statewide posts, in part by arguing that the Republicans have presided over a "culture of corruption" in the state.

Democrats said Republicans will bear the stigma of Noe’s misdeeds regardless of whether he stands trial before the election.

"Tom Noe is the poster child for one-party rule and a pay-toplay system that exists in Columbus and Washington, D.C.," said Chris Redfern, Ohio Democratic Party chairman.

But Ohio Republican Chairman Robert T. Bennett said Noe’s legal problems won’t hurt GOP candidates this year.

"Voters understand this is not a one-party problem, but a problem for both parties," he said.

"I think they’re going to judge us on how we’ve dealt with the problem. … The way you send that message is to prosecute them to the fullest extent of law, and put ’em in jail under the maximum penalty allowed."

Noe was indicted last October on the federal charges after authorities said he circumvented the $2,000 federal limit on individual contributions by giving $45,400 of his own money to 24 people to contribute illegally to Bush in their names.

Noe carried out the scheme to fulfill a pledge to raise big money for the Bush-Cheney campaign, officials said. The contributions came at an Oct. 30, 2003, fundraiser for Bush at the Downtown Hyatt Regency in Columbus.

The former Maumee coin dealer was listed by the Bush-Cheney campaign as one of 19 Ohio "Pioneers" — someone who raised at least $100,000 for the campaign.

In the state case, the charges against Noe include theft, forgery and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity. Auditors determined more than $13.5 million was misspent.

Noe has pleaded not guilty to those charges and is free on bond.

Bob Ney’s Career Nearly Over

May 8, 2006

From The TPM Muckraker:

Neil Volz, a former chief of staff to Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) who went to work for Jack Abramoff in 2002, is pleading guilty at 10:30 this morning. Volz is expected to help prosecutors advance their investigation into possible bribery schemes between Abramoff and Ney.

Volz's plea is thought to include admissions of "conspiracy to commit fraud and to violating the one-year ban on lobbying after leaving congressional employment," according to Reuters.

Update: Here is the "Criminal Information" for Volz's plea – the facts to which he's pleading guilty.

Ohio Rep Jean Schmidt Violated Campaign Law

April 30, 2006

From CBS News:

Commission Reprimands Ohio Congresswoman

The Ohio Elections Commission on Thursday reprimanded U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt for claiming on her Web site last year that she had two college degrees when she had only one.

The commission in a unanimous ruling said Schmidt had violated campaign law.

The Republican went to Congress last year in a special election to replace Rob Portman, whom President Bush appointed U.S. trade representative and is set to take over the White House budget office.

Schmidt obtained a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Cincinnati in 1974. The Web site said she also had received a bachelor's in education from Cincinnati in 1986.

After a media call to the university revealed she had not, she said she had completed the course work for an education degree but had not received one, said her lawyer, William Todd.

Todd said Schmidt wasn't involved in the creation of her Web site and did not know its contents.

Schmidt campaign spokesman Allen Freeman said the ruling would be appealed.

Schmidt was booed on the House floor in November for her comments criticizing Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a decorated Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam and is an opponent of the Iraq war.

She said: "Cowards cut and run, Marines never do." Schmidt later sent Murtha a note of apology and said she never intended to attack Murtha personally.