Did an ACORN-friendly Ohio elections chief who previously defied federal election law improperly boot a Tea Party candidate off the Republican primary ballot for state attorney general?
The disqualified candidate, attorney Steve Christopher, would have been going up against former U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), a member of the Ohio GOP establishment, in the May 4 vote. Christopher is a life member of the National Rifle Association and founder of the Hardin County Tea Party.
Christopher's campaign claims legal funny business is preventing him from participating in the Republican primary for Ohio state attorney general in May. The dispute hinges on approximately 2,000 signatures on nominating petitions that, according to Christopher, vanished into thin air after being filed with the office of Jennifer Brunner, the state's liberal Democratic secretary of state.
"At first we felt it was a mistake or an oversight and that the petitions were misfiled or lost," said campaign spokesman Mark Lucas. "We weren't sure what to think and none of the explanations we got made any sense."
"At this time we have strong suspicions that the petitions were not lost or misplaced and there may be more to it," Lucas said.
Brunner's office categorically denies any wrongdoing.
To Republicans, Brunner, who herself is seeking the Democratic nomination for retiring GOP Sen. George Voinovich's seat, isn't exactly known for fairness. The longtime ACORN ally defied federal law in 2008 by refusing to enforce provisions of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) that required her to use a database to allow verification of 600,000-plus registrations from new Ohio voters.
During that election cycle Brunner admitted there were "discrepancies" on about 200,000 of the new registrations, but she didn't care. She refused to give local election officials the registration data they needed to verify the validity of the registrations. Chaos was avoided on election night in Ohio because President Obama beat John McCain in the Buckeye State by over 262,000 votes -- well beyond what John Fund has called the "margin of ACORN."
When she ran for secretary of state, Brunner was funded by a below-the-radar non-federal "527" group called the Secretary of State Project. The entity can accept unlimited financial contributions and doesn't have to disclose them publicly until well after the election. Funded by George Soros and other leftists, the group claims more Democrats are needed as secretaries of state across the nation in order to "protect" elections from eeevil, racist, vote-suppressing Republican monsters like former Florida secretary of state Katherine Harris and Kenneth Blackwell, Brunner's African-American predecessor.
It must be emphasized that none of this proves Brunner did anything improper in the Christopher case, but her devil-may-care conduct in 2008 is enough to make conservatives and Republicans suspicious.
As for Christopher, his odyssey began Feb. 18 when his campaign claims it filed 2,750 signatures from qualified Ohio voters -- well over the required 1,000 signatures -- with Brunner's office. After paying the $150 filing fee the campaign received a receipt from chief elections counsel Brian E. Shinn a few hours before the 4 p.m. deadline.
Then on March 5 the campaign was shocked to learn Christopher was disqualified for presenting only 638 valid signatures. Brunner took the position that Christopher had filed only 788 signatures and that 150 of those were not valid.
Both parties stuck to their stories and the dispute ended up in the Supreme Court of Ohio where it boiled down to a case of "he said, she said."
It's not clear where the 1,962 signatures Brunner's office claims it never received actually went, assuming they were filed.
Brunner spokesman Jeff Ortega told me the fact Christopher has a receipt from the secretary of state's office date-stamped Feb. 18 doesn't prove the candidate actually presented 2,750 signatures, valid or otherwise.
Even the fact that Brunner's office sent out notices to local officials indicating Christopher filed 2,750 John Hancocks doesn't prove that many signatures were actually filed because the office hadn't at that point counted the signatures, Ortega said.
Brunner deputy David Farrell said previously that his office doesn't actually verify the signature count at the time of filing.
"We rely on candidates to have a good idea of the number of signatures they are filing, and out of respect for their busy schedule, we don't delay them with our own count at filing, especially when the filing is made near the deadline, and there are a number of candidates who may yet have to file," said Farrell, whose title is Director of Elections for the Secretary of State.
Strangely, even though only one other person was seeking the Republican nomination to run against incumbent Democratic Attorney General Richard Cordray, the court denied Christopher's request for an expedited hearing in order to ensure his name would be printed on the official ballots.
After losing in court, Christopher withdrew the case.
"He dropped it because it was our understanding it would have been impossible to get a hearing in time to get his name on the ballot," said Lucas. "The ruling makes no sense because they almost always rule on the side of caution when it comes to writs like this."
Lucas speculated the all-Republican state supreme court was acting to protect DeWine, whom conservatives frequently deride as a Republican In Name Only (RINO).
Sour grapes? Who knows. We may never solve the mystery of the missing 1,962 signatures.
It's possible the Christopher campaign really didn't file enough valid signatures, but surely the court should have at least given him a speedy hearing on the merits to settle the issue.
Does any of this mean Brunner or possibly ethically compromised members of the state supreme court deliberately scuttled Christopher's candidacy?
Of course not, but the Christopher case is a cautionary tale about what can go wrong in the nominating process.
It's a strange story about which people of all political persuasions acting in good faith can disagree, but one thing's clear: somebody is lying.
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