Friday, July 22, 2005

Political donations from a Diebold consultant in Ohio stirs controversy

Last week it was reported that a Diebold consultant in Ohio sought the advice of Franklin County's director of elections in making a $10,000 donation at the time bids were being taken for new voter registration software. Franklin County, where Columbus is located, is one of the jurisdictions listed in my Top 25 E-Voting Places To Watch list, which I compiled for the November 2004 election.

More revelations about other questionable donations made to support Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, now a candidate for Governor, have come out this week. Today's editorial from the Akron Beacon Journal provides a good summary of what's known so far. Here it is below.


A nasty scandal has been brewing at the Franklin County Board of Elections. It involves a stunningly blatant encounter between a paid consultant for the Green-based Diebold Corp., a supplier of electronic voting machines, and the director of the county elections board, Matt Damschroder.

The day bids were opened for voter-registration software, Diebold representative Pasquale ''Pat'' Gallina showed up in Damschroder's office. According to Damschroder, Gallina said he wanted to deliver a $10,000 check. To whom? The director, in violation of board policy and state law, told Gallina to make the check out to the Franklin County Republican Party. Damschroder will rightly lose 30 days' pay.

Gallina says he just wanted to make a donation to the party. Such an experienced operative goes to the elections board? Damschroder notes Diebold didn't get the contract. He adds that he should have booted Gallina. Diebold says it had nothing to do with the Gallina donation, citing a policy against political giving adopted after a boneheaded pledge by the company chairman to ''deliver'' Ohio for Bush in 2004.

The hugely complicating issue is that Diebold is the only vendor certified by J. Kenneth Blackwell, the secretary of state and Republican candidate for governor, to provide electronic voting machines in Ohio. A competitor, Election Systems & Software, has taken Blackwell to court.

When county prosecutors arrived, Damschroder related Gallina's description of a deal between himself and Norm Cummings, a Blackwell campaign consultant, in which Gallina wrote a $50,000 check to Blackwell's ''political interests.'' In exchange, Diebold would lower the price of its machines, if it got all the Ohio business. Blackwell, Cummings and Diebold all deny this. Gallina says he has long been a Republican supporter. A $10,000 contribution from another of Gallina's firms, to Blackwell's anti-tax group, was made after the Diebold certification. That smell of pay-to-play hangs very heavy in the air.

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