While Athens slept, OUCD Communications Director Chris Mullen issued a press release denying any wrongdoing in what has been dubbed the Cash for Votes scandal. In the statement, Mullen insisted that any money promised had not yet been distributed and that the money was promised as incentive for volunteers involved in canvassing rather than directly for votes. He also confirmed that this program was sponsored by the Athens County Democratic Party and directed all further questions to indicted Athens County Democratic Party Chair Susan Gwinn.
My favorite part, though, was when Mullen tried to intimidate the media:
Any implication that any member of our organization has been involved with paying voters is false, unfounded and potentially libelous, as it incorrectly asserts illegal activity on the part of the College Democrats. These kinds of assertions, reported by the media, have no factual basis, and are based on statements misunderstood and taken out of context.
Emphasis is my own. Watch me school Mr. Mullen on the meaning of libel and the role of both the political opposition and a free press in our political process beneath the fold…
To be absolutely clear, no one — aside from OUCD, the Athens County Democratic Party, and those involved in the event held on Friday — can definitively say that there was any wrongdoing here at this time. It’s a good thing that no one has said that. Rather, what I have said and what others have said is that the language used in the now infamous e-mail is suspicious and indicates that an investigation is warranted. What we have also said is that if there was any legal wrongdoing, there should be serious consequences both for OUCD and the Athens County Democratic Party. There is nothing libelous about any of that.
It seems to me that Mr. Mullen doesn’t have a firm grasp on the role of either the political opposition or a free press. In a democracy, it is perfectly natural that upon seeing this very suspicious e-mail Athens County Republican Party Chair Pete Couladis would issue a statement calling for an investigation. One’s political opponents typically like investigations when there is even the appearance of voter fraud. It is also perfectly natural in a democracy that media will report on this controversy, ask questions about it, and call for an investigation. One of the many functions of a free press in our democratic society is to keep the government in check, to keep our politicians honest if you will.
OUCD can throw around accusations of libel all they want. The fact is, they have no one to blame for this scandal but themselves. Even if there was no wrongdoing here — and I’m willing to concede the possibility there was not — this was still a badly worded e-mail and it was entirely appropriate for both a free press and the political opposition to ask the questions that have been raised.
In a statement to the Athens NEWS, Ohio Democratic Party Chair Chris Redfern referred to the so-called canvassing program as “a stupid idea,” and urged “Susan Gwinn to suspend the program immediately and not issue any payments that may have been planned.” Redfern also called for “a complete investigation and prosecution for any wrongdoing in this case.” Yet while it may be convenient to throw Gwinn under the bus for this one — after all, she’s already under indictment — I’m personally not inclined to let the OU College Democrats off that easily.
The really “stupid idea” in this situation was for OUCD to get involved in this program at all. Not only is it legally questionable — evident from the fact that their own state party chair wants an investigation — but it was just plain nonsensical for OUCD to get involved financially with Susan Gwinn right now. Let’s not forget, she’s under indictment for charges of financial wrongdoing. It’s no one’s fault but the Athens Democrats’ — including OUCD — that Susan Gwinn is still on the job and creating more scandal. They can place the blame for that squarely at their own feet for either openly supporting Gwinn’s decision to stay on the job or remaining silent. Maybe now, in light of this latest scandal very much surrounding Susan Gwinn once again, Athens Democrats will demand her resignation. But I won’t hold my breath.
The question is: Aren’t you tired of this? Whether or not OUCD was involved in any wrongdoing with this program, it is unquestionably true that a culture of corruption has been created in Athens County by Susan Gwinn with a wink and a nod from other Athens Democrats (including incumbent Fourth Ward Councilwoman Christine Fahl). Now with this latest scandal they’re trying to pass the buck, and the most convenient way to do that is to throw Susan Gwinn under the bus since she’s already under indictment and they left her on the job.
If you are tired of this — I know I am — you can start holding them accountable today. You can hold them accountable by telling Christine Fahl that you’re not going to reward her for supporting Susan Gwinn’s culture of corruption, and you can make that clear to her by electing Randy Morris to Athens Fourth Ward City Council. Let’s end the one-party state presided over by Chairwoman Gwinn. Vote Morris.