Monday, October 10, 2005

 

We need an X-Files for actual conspiracies.

Okay, this is probably pretty obscure for those of you whose primary source of news is this blog. Which, come to think of it, is nobody. Anyway, here's what's going on:

For the past several months, the Republican party of Ohio has been rocked by a money laundering scandal known as "Coingate" in which a Toledo based operative has apparently been taking money from state pension funds, investing it in some stupid rare coin deal, and giving the proceeds to the effort to win Bush for Ohio last year. He won by less than 120,000, a relative drop in the bucket that ended up proving the difference in the Electoral College.

With me? Good.

Okay, well, Salon on Thursday published a story detailing the possible role of a the Toledo Blade's chief political columnist, Fritz Wenzel, in basically covering up the story back when it could have had a significant impact on the election. Oh, by the way, Wenzel was a Republican operative in Oregon before he came aboard the Blade and worked for Zogby polling during the election (even reporting on Zogby polls without letting Blade readers know he was in the pollster's employ), and then as soon as he left the paper, hooked up with (of all people) Jean Schmidt(!) who just beat Paul Hackett in the special congressional election outside of Cincinnati. Wenzel got a cool 60G for that effort.

Oh, and Wenzel is friends with Tom Noe, who is the guy in the middle of all this.

I strongly encourage you to read the whole Salon story. You have to get a day pass, but it's worth it. Not only because of the corruption, ethical lapses, and lies lies lies, but because of the messy divorce that helped tip this story. It's hot stuff.

There's one thing that was elided a bit in the story that I think is an important thread to keep in mind: The messy divorce in question involved an allegation that Diebold, the electronic voting machine company that has become synonymous with conspiracy-mongering about Republicans and stolen elections, was offering kickbacks to Joe Kidd -- then the Lucas County director of elections. An investigation even opened into the allegation, but it's unclear if it's continuing, given the possibility that Kidd will turn state's evidence against Tom Noe.

But the allegation itself is huge, and needs to be fully investigated if there is even a sliver of truth about it. Because if it happened, Diebold should be barred by every state legislature from participating in any selling of election machines.

This has been blogged about before, I know, months ago by people much more heavily into the whole case than me.

There's a lot more dirty stuff that goes with this. I Googled me some "Joe Kidd" and "Diebold" and came across this little story from 2003 written by, wait for it, FRITZ WENZEL! It reads as a beautiful press release, comparing the machines to being comparable to ATMs without mentioning the company's ethical questions, it's ties to the GOP (and the Dems in some places) or, more importantly, the critical issue of the lack of a paper trail in such machines, which is the basis of most complaints about electronic machines. To wit:
The Significant Other tells you there is no milk in the fridge; so you stop at a neighborhood convenience store late one October evening. You don't have any cash; so you go to the ATM in the corner.

After entering your PIN and making your withdrawal, you complete one more transaction - you cast your vote for mayor.

Though that may seem a little far-fetched today, industry insiders say it is the direction that elections are quickly moving as technology merges with a desire among voting advocates to boost citizen participation.

Diebold Elections Systems of North Canton, Ohio, is already moving down a path toward elections where people could vote almost anytime, anywhere. Joe Kidd, Lucas County elections director, is expected to release a report tomorrow recommending the company get a contract worth millions to supply Lucas County with new electronic voting machines.

The article, it goes without saying, quotes no opponents of the move.
Diebold is developing a track record in the elections business. Last year, the state of Georgia purchased 22,000 Diebold machines to replace all voting equipment statewide. Michael Barnes, a top assistant to Secretary of State Cathy Cox and the manager who directed the purchase and installation of their new system, said they worked well in November's election.

He said that not only were election results more reliable with the new machines, once polls closed they were transmitted from the precincts to the central tabulation center much quicker compared to earlier elections.

Diebold's only weakness, Mr. Barnes said, was in its training program for people who work at the polls on Election Day. But he said his office worked with the company to revamp the program, and that, in the end, it worked well.

Fast forward to two months ago -- allegations from another part of the state of bribery by Diebold employees. With the money quote:
Matthew Damschroder, director of the Franklin County Board of Elections, was suspended for 30 days after admitting he accepted a $10,000 check in January 2004 from Pasquale "Pat" Gallina, a Diebold representative who made out the check to the county Republican Party. The donation came the day the county was opening bids for new
voter-registration software. Prosecutor Ron O'Brien and sheriff's detectives are investigating.


And don't forget this gem: "[Diebold] chief executive Walden O'Dell wrote a 2003 Republican fund-raising letter vowing to help "deliver" Ohio for President Bush in 2004."

There is some seriously corrupt shit going on in Ohio. Through last year, it seemed to benefit on person more than any other - George W. Bush. That makes this a national story. I anxiously await the book, miniseries, and feature film about the Ohio Republican Party of the past 2 years. Remember: just because conspiracy theories are completely outlandish and in the fevered brains of confirmed nutjobs doesn't mean they're not actually true.

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