Blogging Left

With the darkness now covering the land, the progressive spirit of the Enlightenment is getting dimmer and dimmer. But at the same time, the blogosphere allows folks an alternative means of communication that allows the truth to be known and someday, the progressive agenda will be realized.

Name:
Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

When I was an undergraduate, I read Escape From Freedom in an anthropology course, wow did I think that was cool stuff when I was 19, but how can you make a living doing that kind of stuff. Well, somehow I pursued an interdisciplinary education and trained to become a shrink, but with strong social and political values. (I did spend several years at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis. Well, somehow I got caught up in protesting the war in Viet Nam, moved from a more individualistic perspective to a sociological perspective, and voila, here I am, having made a career in sociology and what am I doing, Frankfurt School critical theory....yes maybe Nietzsche is right about eternal return. If interested in my professional work, see my website-tho it has not been updated lateley. I will soon have a volume of papers on alienatioun out. I am now working on a book on the carnivalization of our culture, how the degeneration of taste destroys the mind and fosters political indifference.

Friday, October 21, 2005

GAO -Electronic votiong fucked

GAO Report Finds Flaws in Electronic Voting

Friday 21 October 2005

Rep. Waxman led twelve members of Congress today in releasing a new GAO report that found security and reliability flaws in the electronic voting process.
In a joint press release, Rep. Waxman said, "The GAO report indicates that we need to get serious and act quickly to improve the security of electronic voting machines. The report makes clear that there is a lack of transparency and accountability in electronic voting systems - from the day that contracts are signed with manufacturers to the counting of electronic votes on Election Day. State and local officials are spending a great deal of money on machines without concrete proof that they are secure and reliable."
The GAO report found flaws in security, access, and hardware controls, as well as weak security management practices by voting machine vendors. The report identified multiple examples of actual operational failures in real elections and found that while national initiatives to improve the security and reliability of electronic voting systems are underway, "it is unclear when these initiatives will be available to assist state and local election authorities."
Rep. Waxman also released a fact sheet summarizing the report's key findings.
Fact Sheet
Overall Findings
In October 2005, the Government Accountability Office released a comprehensive analysis of the concerns raised by the increasing use of electronic voting machines.
Overall, GAO found that "significant concerns about the security and reliability of electronic voting systems" have been raised (p. 22).
GAO indicated that "some of these concerns have been realized and have caused problems with recent elections, resulting in the loss and miscount of votes" (p. 23).
According to GAO, "election officials, computer security experts, citizen advocacy groups, and others have raised significant concerns about the security and reliability of electronic voting systems, citing instances of weak security controls, system design flaws, inadequate system version control, inadequate security testing, incorrect system configuration, poor security management, and vague or incomplete standards, among other issues. ... The security and reliability concerns raised in recent reports merit the focused attention of federal, state, and local authorities responsible for election administration" (p. 22-23).
Specific Problems Identified by GAO
Based on reports from election experts, GAO compiled numerous examples of problems with electronic voting systems. These included:
Flaws in System Security Controls
Examples of problems reported by GAO include (1) computer systems that fail to encrypt data files containing cast votes, allowing them to be viewed or modified without detection by internal auditing systems; (2) systems that could allow individuals to alter ballot definition files so that votes cast for one candidate are counted for another; and (3) weak controls that allowed the alteration of memory cards used in optical scan machines, potentially impacting election results. GAO concluded that "these weaknesses could damage the integrity of ballots, votes, and voting system software by allowing unauthorized modifications (p. 25).
Flaws in Access Controls
Examples of problems reported by GAO include (1) the failure to password-protect files and functions; (2) the use of easily guessed passwords or identical passwords for numerous systems built by the same manufacturer; and (3) the failure to secure memory cards used to secure voting systems, potentially allowing individuals to vote multiple times, change vote totals, or produce false election reports.
According to GAO, "in the event of lax supervision, the ... flaws could allow unauthorized personnel to disrupt operations or modify data and programs that are crucial to the accuracy and integrity of the voting process" (p. 26).
Flaws in Physical Hardware Controls
In addition to identifying flaws in software and access controls, GAO identified basic problems with the physical hardware of electronic voting machines. Example of problems reported by GAO included locks that could be easily picked or were all controlled by the same keys, and unprotected switches used to turn machines on and off that could easily be used to disrupt the voting process (p. 27).
Weak Security Management Practices by Voting Machine Vendors
Experts contacted by GAO reported a number of concerns about the practices of voting machine vendors, including the failure to conduct background checks on programmers and system developers, the lack of internal security protocols during software development, and the failure to establish clear chain of custody procedures for handling and transporting software (p. 29).
Actual Examples of Voting System Failure
GAO found multiple examples of actual operational failures in real elections. These examples include the following incidents:
In California, a county presented voters with an incorrect electronic ballot, meaning they could not vote in certain races (p. 29).
In Pennsylvania, a county made a ballot error on an electronic voting system that resulted in the county's undervote percentage reaching 80% in some precincts (p. 29-30).
In North Carolina, electronic voting machines continued to accept votes after their memories were full, causing over 4,000 votes to be lost (p. 31).
In Florida, a county reported that touch screens took up to an hour to activate and had to be activated sequentially, resulting in long delays (p. 31).
Current Federal Standards and Initiatives Are Ineffective and Are Unlikely to Provide Solutions in a Timely Fashion
GAO reported that voluntary standards for electronic voting, adopted in 2002 by the Federal Election Commission, have been criticized for containing vague and incomplete security provisions, inadequate provisions for commercial products and networks, and inadequate documentation requirements (pp. 32-33).
GAO further reported that "security experts and some election officials have expressed concern that tests currently performed by independent testing authorities and state and local election officials do not adequately assess electronic voting system security and reliability," and that "these concerns are amplified by what some perceive as a lack of transparency in the testing process" (p. 34). The GAO report indicated that national initiatives to improve voting system security and reliability of electronic voting systems (such as updated standards from the Election Assistance Commission; federal accreditation of independent testing laboratories; and certification of voting systems to national standards) are underway, but " a majority of these efforts either lack specific plans for implementation in time to affect the 2006 general election or are not expected to be completed until after the 2006 election" (p. 43). As a result, GAO found that "it is unclear when these initiatives will be available to assist state and local election officials" (p. 43). According to GAO, "Until these efforts are completed, there is a risk that many state and local jurisdictions will rely on voting systems that were not developed, acquired, tested, operated, or managed in accordance with rigorous security and reliability standards - potentially affecting the reliability of future elections and voter confidence in the accuracy of the vote count" (p. 53).
Recommendations
GAO made several recommendations, primarily aimed at the federal Election Assistance Commission (p. 53). GAO recommended that the EAC should:
Collaborate with appropriate technical experts to define specific tasks, outcomes, milestones, and resource needs required to improve voting system standards;
Expeditiously establish documented policies, criteria, and procedures for certifying voting systems; and
Improve support for state and local officials via improved information dissemination information on voting machine software, the problems and vulnerabilities of voting machines, and the "best practices" used by state and local officials to ensure the security of electronic voting machines.
To view the full report:
http://www.democrats.reform.house.gov/Documents/20051021122225-53143.pdf.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Why can't the left face the Stolen Elections of 2004 & 2008?

Why can't the left face the Stolen Elections of 2004 & 2008?
by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey WassermanOctober 18, 2005
If some of its key publications are any indicator, much of the American left seems unable to face the reality that the election of 2004 was stolen. So in all likelihood, unless something radical is done, 2008 will be too. Misguided and misinformed articles in both TomPaine.com and Mother Jones Magazine indicate a dangerous inability to face the reality that these stolen elections mean nothing less than the death of what's left of American democracy, and the permanent enthronement of the Rovian GOP. As investigative reporters based in Columbus, Ohio, we witnessed first-hand, up close and personal, exactly how the 2004 election was stolen, and how it will most likely be done in 2008. In the precinct in which Harvey Wasserman grew up, and in the one where Bob Fitrakis now lives, we saw the well-funded, profoundly cynical and deadly effective mechanisms by which the Bush-Cheney-Rove-Blackwell GOP machine switched a victory for John Kerry to an easily-repeatable defeat for democracy. That Kerry and the spineless Ohio and national Democratic Parties have been complicit is a crucial part of the problem much of the left also seems unwilling to face. But if you live in Franklin County, Ohio, and watch the Republican and Democratic Parties run joint pickets against progressive candidate, and cut backroom deals allowing incumbents of either party run unopposed, you may miss the full scope of the disaster. And until the left faces the rot that defines the Democratic Party, there is no hope for a fair election in this country. In other words: those who think the White House can be retaken in 2008, but refuse to face the theft of the vote in 2004, should prepare to be ruled by the likes of Jeb Bush, now and forever. Before we go into the sordid details, we have to ask: exactly what is it about Team Bush that makes people think they could not or would not steal an American election? Do they lack funds? Do they lack expertise? Is there something in the Machiavellian/mobster moral code of Karl Rove and the Bush Family that would prevent them from doing here what they've been doing throughout the Third World for so long? CIA meister Poppy Bush long ago perfected the art and science of stealing elections. US manipulators have interfered with and tipped elections for decades. Why should Ohio be any different? Especially when all the world knew control of the most powerful office on earth would be decided right here. Lets do the bookends: before the voting, Ohio's infamous Republican Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell clearly and vehemently denied poll access to teams of international observers from the United Nations and other international election observers. Since the election, he has effectively stonewalled and sabotaged all recount attempts, to the point that no credible accounting of the Ohio election has ever been done. To this day, at least 100,000 votes remain uncounted, electronic voting machines remain unaudited, key hardware and data files have been trashed, paper ballots have sat unguarded for anyone to pilfer and tallies in dozens of key counties remain filled with statistical impossibilities. In our HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA'S 2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008, we list more than 180 bullet points on how this theft was perpetrated. It was a brilliant, cynical and masterfully executed campaign of death by a thousand cuts. In Florida 2000, the means of the crime were limited to a few instances of intimidation, butterfly ballots, computer manipulation and a corrupt Supreme Court. But four years after, in Ohio, dozens of sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant tricks were designed to steal a few thousand votes here, a few thousand more there, until victory was in GOP hands. Unless they are exposed and blocked, every one of these scams can and will be duplicated throughout the United States in 2006 and 2008. The question is: will the left follow mainstream Democrats with sheep-like acceptance as every election goes the same way from here on? And if so, why bother even staging more votes in this country at all? Starting with Russ Baker at TomPaine.com, the indicators are grim. Last January, Baker penned an absurd, ill-reported piece of nonsense called "What Didn't Happen in Ohio." Baker traipsed into Columbus for a few days, interviewed the usual faux Democrats, and left with a Big Story: "The Election Was Fair." If Baker had done any meaningful research he might have seen the dozens of other instances of intimidation, irregularities and fraud that went unmentioned in his glib paragraphs. Instead he relied on Bill Anthony, chair of the Franklin County Democrats and Board of Elections. Bill is a pleasant, affable African-American with no commitment or fight for democracy or even the Democrats. He has appeared on Bob's local radio show and with Harvey on others. On one of them, Bill admitted that the Franklin County BOE knew there would be problems with voting machines, and asked Blackwell for paper ballots well before the 2004 election. Blackwell, Anthony said, turned them down. The result was the now infamous chaos at the polls, with inner city voters stuck in the rain for hours. Just what Blackwell wanted. But did Bill Anthony fight Blackwell's absurd ruling? Did he make it a public issue prior to the election? Not a chance. For a quickie reporting job, Anthony is a dream. He's well-spoken, charming and convincing. As an African-American with union connections, he would seem the perfect liberal source. In 2003, Anthony endorsed the Republican mayor's former press secretary for the Columbus School Board. He then supported two Republican candidates on a "Reform Slate" aimed at ousting the Board's only progressive Democrat, an African-American. Bill Anthony is just one of a legion of what are known throughout the state as DINOs---Democrats in Name Only. The Ohio Democratic Party is a national embarrassment. Its chair, Denny White, was not long ago a Republican, and will soon be one again, once the party is fully disemboweled, a job very close to done. Throughout Ohio, DINOs piously cover this piece of fraud and that piece of theft with glib "I hate Bush" rhetoric. The pity is, out-of-state reporters actually take them seriously. Mark Hertsgaard is a well respected author and reporter and a long-time friend of Harvey Wasserman, and of election critic Mark Crispen Miller. He has contributed some very valuable work over the years. But he's done himself---and the voting public---very wrong on "Recounting Ohio" in the new Mother Jones. Mark is smart and thorough enough to leave open the possibility that Ohio's election was, indeed, stolen. But he also falls prey to the DINO trap, failing to cover far too much of what happened here while taking seriously centrist Democrats who are known locally to have no credibility. So Mother Jones questions the significance of the firing of a Democratic election official who blew the whistle on computer manipulations by Triad, an obscure Republican voting machine company. But Triad was involved in counting the votes in nearly half of Ohio's 88 counties. Questions are still being raised about Triad, including: "How did they get all these contracts in the first place?" Mother Jones correctly points out that seven times the number of votes by which Bush took Ohio were cast on Republican-controlled machines. But the magazine fails to follow up with mention that those votes have been tabulated on proprietary non-transparent software---a fact we pointed out in our own article in Motherjones.com many months prior to the election. Mother Jones also discounts the fact that a phony Homeland Security alert in Warren County landed the vote count in an unauthorized warehouse rather than the official secure location, and that reporters were barred from the vote count. That count, which went hugely and suspiciously and very importantly for Bush, was observed by nominal Democrats. But so were other highly dubious vote counts around the state, as they had been in Florida 2000, which Mother Jones argues adamantly was indeed stolen. The irony of this is that the same issue of Mother Jones leads off with a dead-on story about Ohio and national Democrats who are sabotaging the campaign of the aggressively electable Paul Hackett for a key US Senate seat. And another MoJo piece bemoans the fact that national Democrats seem adept only at losing. Yet here in the back of the book is a story discounting evidence compiled by a legion of independent, grassroots election rights advocates, while favoring phone interviews with the very Democrats being denounced in the front of the book. Above all, the core of evidence that the election was stolen in Ohio 2004 comes from some 500 sworn statements and signed affidavits taken by people of all political parties, including two Republican hearings officers, in the weeks after the election. Anyone truly committed to finding out what happened here needs to start with that huge body of evidence. As MoJo points out, none of this has been made easier by the "abandon ship" of the biggest DINO of all, John Kerry. Kerry had $7 million in the bank earmarked to "count every vote" and was apparently losing by just 136,000 Ohio votes with more than 250,000 still uncounted when he turned tail and conceded. Even Blackwell's corrupt, virtually meaningless first fake recount dropped Bush's official tally by 18,000 votes. The Democrats have since attacked the election protection movement here through a lawyer named Daniel Hoffheimer who comes from none other than the stalwart Cincinnati Republican law firm of Taft, Stettinius et. al. MoJo quotes another Kerry/DINO lawyer Michael O'Grady, counsel to the state Democratic Party, who argues that for Ohio to have been stolen, the entire GOP would have had to be "conspiratorial," while the Democrats were "dumb as rocks." In fact, that's an assessment many activists in Ohio heartily endorse, though you might add the word "inert" to the description of the Democrats. O'Grady claims, for example, that an impossible vote count in three southern Ohio counties that gave Bush his entire margin of victory can be explained by a feminist outpouring for an African-American court candidate who ran zero campaign in those counties. But the presumption is that those same feminists somehow didn't bother to vote for Kerry over George W. Bush. No local student of that election could begin to take such an assessment seriously. Or how about the quote from Chris Rakocy, a "tech specialist" about those notorious touchscreens in Mahoning County where voters who chose Kerry saw Bush light up. Rakocy says that problem was "only" on 18 of 1,148 machines, and that it was corrected early. But Rakocy stands alone against dozens of sworn statements and affidavits confirming that the problem went on all day, and was never fixed, and may have involved far more machines than 18, and not only in Mahoning County but also in Franklin. Even at that, in heavily Democratic Youngstown (not to mention Columbus), just 18 machines could have accounted for switching thousands of votes. And, in fact, Kerry's margins in both Youngstown and Columbus were suspiciously light. And what would Mother Jones herself do to machines that disenfranchised even one voter, no matter what the apparent impact on the ultimate vote count? Why is the magazine named for her discounting the you-couldn't-make-this-one-up reality of voters pushing one candidate's name on a touchscreen and seeing another's name light up, time after time after time? Or are we taking this---and her---all too seriously? Then there's the song and dance from Warren Mitofsky. The father of exit polls saw his work used to overturn a stolen election in Ukraine just prior to the American vote. But when his poll-taking here showed John Kerry with a nationwide margin of 1.5 million votes, somehow Mitofsky jumped ship on his own decades of professionalism. Exit polls funded by six major news organizations showed Kerry carrying Ohio, Iowa, New Mexico and Nevada as late as 12:20 am on Wednesday morning, well after balloting stopped even in Alaska and Hawaii. These four "purple states" gave the election to the "blue" Democrats, then miraculously switched to "red" for Bush, giving him the White House once again. Given all that's known about exit polls---and it's a lot---the odds on one state switching like that are about one in one hundred. For four, it's a virtual statistical impossibility. Add the fact that not one, not four, but TEN of eleven swing states showed drastic shifts from Kerry to Bush and you enter the realm of, well, a stolen election. Add huge, unexplained shifts from pre-election polls to post-election vote counts in crucial 2002 Senatorial races in Georgia, Minnesota and Colorado, then remember what happened in Florida 2000, and examine the basic Bush attitude toward democracy itself, and you've got a pattern to say the least. And an obvious prescription for one-party rule as far as the eye can see. Except when you are dealing with America's Democratic Party in 2004 and with reportage that relies on a few phone calls and a disheartening lack of grassroots perspective. If all politics is local, as Tip O'Neill well knew, then so are all vote counts. Our first article predicting what would happen in Ohio 2004 was published many months before the election in, of all places, MotherJones.com. We warned that electronic voting machines deployed by the likes of Diebold could give Ohio and thus the nation to George W. Bush. Wally O'Dell, Diebold's infamous CEO, pledged to deliver Ohio's electoral votes to Bush in 2004, and all evidence points to the fact that he at least helped. What we missed in addition was the myriad clever tricks the GOP would bring to bear in pulling this off. Ohio has a long history as a test market. New products like white bread and spam are brought here first, to see how they'll fly with America at large. In Ohio 2004, scores of tools for stealing an American election were tried and proven out. Outside reporters have come here again and again to pull at this one and tear at that one. Almost always, they get even that wrong. And almost always, they fail to see the bigger picture. If we have a "know it all" attitude, as is sometimes charged, it's because we were (and are) here, we saw it happen, we witnessed the seven-hour waits and the denials of the absentee ballots, and we took the testimony of the hundreds who later went under oath. And we see more unravel every day. Conspiracy theories happen sometimes when actual conspiracies occur. The stakes involved, the players on both sides and the events that are out there plain as day are all of a piece that's simply too obvious for anyone on the ground here to miss. Hertsgaard has the good sense to mention indictments that have recently come down on election thieves in Cuyahoga County. We know that to be the tip of the iceberg. What matters now is whether the GOP will be allowed to repeat nationwide in 2006 and 2008 what they saw they could get away with in Ohio 2004. Election theft skeptics tend to conclude their put-downs by urging we forget about the vote-count stuff and concentrate on coming up with candidates so good that "the election won't be close enough to steal." Having seen what we saw here, knowing what Mother Jones is reporting about the Democratic attacks on Paul Hackett, and about the loser instinct ingrained in the Dems' DLC/DNA, we must charitably describe such a conclusion as being profoundly wishful thinking. Someday we may indeed have candidates far worthier than Al Gore and John Kerry. But they both won the presidency of the United States, however corruptible their margins of victory. We need to guarantee that if someone worthwhile and willing to fight ever does come along, we will have a left that's prepared to make sure the votes are fairly counted. As Rev. Jesse Jackson put it while speaking to election protection activists here, "We can afford to lose an election. We can't afford to lose our democracy." Who would agree more strongly than Tom Paine and Mother Jones? -- Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA'S 2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008, available at Freepress.org and harveywasserman.com. Their upcoming WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO, with Steve Rosenfeld, will be published by The New Press in spring, 2006.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Saving Ohio The Suppression of Coingate


Did a reporter with GOP ties suppress a story that could have cost Bush the White House?

By Bill Frogameni

Oct. 06, 2005 In April 2005, the Blade newspaper of Toledo, Ohio, began publishing a remarkable series of articles about a well-connected Republican donor, Tom Noe, chair of the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign for Lucas County, which encompasses Toledo. The Blade, which had won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting in 2004, discovered that Noe, a Toledo coin dealer, was investing $50 million for the state through the novel practice of coin speculation: buying and selling rare coins to turn a profit. Noe, the Blade revealed, could not account for $10 million to $13 million in the fund.
The paper also divulged that Noe had been placed under federal investigation for allegedly laundering money -- perhaps state money -- to the Bush campaign. The Blade's initial reports on Noe started a chain reaction of related scandals for Ohio's dominant Republicans. Recently, Gov. Bob Taft pleaded no contest to accepting several gifts from influence peddlers -- including Noe -- without reporting them, as law requires. Noe is currently the subject of 13 investigations.
In November 2004, Lucas County was among the most hotly contested areas in the most hotly contested state. Kerry won the county by 45,000 votes, but George W. Bush went on to win Ohio by less than 120,000 votes, which swung the election for him.
But Bush's reelection may have been made possible by a Blade reporter with close ties to the Republican Party who reportedly knew about Noe's potential campaign violations in early 2004 but suppressed the story.
According to several knowledgeable sources, the Blade's chief political columnist, Fritz Wenzel, was told of Noe's potential campaign violations as early as January 2004. But according to Blade editors, Wenzel never gave the paper the all-important tip in early 2004. Wenzel says that he heard allegations of Noe's misdeeds only in spring 2004 and that he promptly informed his editors of them.
Wenzel, who worked for years as a GOP political operative in Oregon before the Blade hired him, quit the Blade in May 2005 to take a job as a paid political consultant to Jean Schmidt, the Republican congressional candidate who in August
narrowly defeated Democratic challenger (and Iraq war vet) Paul Hackett.
Of course, no one can say for sure whether Ohio voters would have cast their ballots differently if they had known about allegations that Bush's campaign boss in Toledo was hijacking money from the state to keep the campaign humming. But native Ohioan John Robinson Block, publisher and editor in chief of the Blade, which endorsed Kerry, thinks it's a strong possibility. Had the "Coingate" scandal blown up before the election, Block says, "most Republicans I know agree that Kerry would have won Ohio and won the presidency." Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat whose district includes Toledo, feels the same. "I think it would have tipped the election," she says.

The story of how Wenzel learned about the alleged violations, and why he allegedly sat on the information, reveals a Toledo political scene right out of "Peyton Place," complete with a cast of backstabbers. It begins in January 2004, when Tom Noe's wife, Bernadette Noe -- who chaired the local Republican Party and sat on the Board of Elections -- approached Lucas County prosecutor Julia Bates, a Democrat. Bernadette Noe raised ethical questions about Joe Kidd, a well-connected Republican who was then director of the Board of Elections. She told the prosecutor's office she suspected Kidd was receiving money from Diebold, the now-notorious manufacturer of voting machines. Bates says that Bernadette Noe's source for the allegations was Joe Kidd's estranged wife, Tracy, with whom Bernadette practiced law. Bates says it's possible that Bernadette's allegations against Kidd were motivated by sympathy for her friend Tracy.
Paula Ross, a former Lucas County Democratic Party chair, who also sat on the Board of Elections, confirms that Bernadette Noe went to the prosecutor to tarnish Kidd. Ross says she talked with both Bernadette and Kidd. In January 2004, Ross says, "I was contacted by Bernadette, who made allegations about Joe. I then spoke with Joe, who assured me that the allegations were false. He believed he could persuade Bernadette to stop making these false allegations because he had information about [Noe and her husband] that could put them in jail." The information, says Ross, was that Tom Noe was laundering money to the Bush campaign.

Kidd retaliated against the Noes by going to Wenzel, in January 2004, according to a Toledo Republican Party insider familiar with the affairs of the Board of Elections, and sources familiar with the Blade. Kidd told Wenzel that Tom Noe was illegally funneling money to the Bush campaign and also running a questionable coin investment with the state. Sources confirmed that Kidd told them he had this conversation with Wenzel. Kidd would not comment for this article.

Bates, the Lucas County prosecutor, confirms that Kidd came to her in March 2004 with an outline of Noe's campaign money laundering, and that it was crucial in helping her office ultimately build a case against Noe. The prosecutor won't say if Kidd himself took Noe's money and gave it to Bush, thus laundering it (that is, making it a legitimate campaign donation). But she does say that, upon first glance, she found it "interesting" that he gave $2,000, considering he was a civil servant on a modest income. Other sources say that Kidd, along with several local Republican officials, did in fact launder money. This summer, Kidd testified in front of the federal grand jury convened to investigate Noe's alleged money-laundering scheme. Bates says her office considered offering Kidd immunity in exchange for help building the case. "We thought the key was Joe," says Bates, so she encouraged him to get a lawyer and produce all the evidence he could. Kidd, who was also being investigated for the allegations Bernadette Noe made against him, cooperated.

Wenzel declined to be interviewed for this story. He responded with this general statement issued through attorney Mark Berling, who formerly sat on the Lucas County Republicans' executive committee: "When a source conveyed an allegation about Tom Noe's possible involvement with campaign finance irregularities in the spring of 2004, I promptly informed Blade editors about what I had been told."

But Blade editors deny that Wenzel ever informed them about the allegations. The Blade's special projects editor, Dave Murray, who was Wenzel's assigning editor at the time, says Wenzel would have come to him with any such information about Noe. But, Murray says, "he never came to me, and, as far as I know, he never came to other Blade editors." Speaking for the other Blade editors, assistant editor LuAnn Sharp says no one recollects Wenzel turning over any such information. (Full disclosure: This reporter once applied for a job at the Toledo Blade.)

Blade editor in chief Block and other editors say they don't believe that Wenzel intentionally sat on the story. Both Wenzel and his son had personal relationships with the Noes. In March 2004, Wenzel's son, P.J., was elected to the Lucas County Republican Central Committee. At the time, Bernadette Noe still chaired the Lucas County Republican Party. From April 15, 2005, to the end of May, P.J. Wenzel was on the payroll of the Ohio Republican Party. The Noes also attended the younger Wenzel's wedding.

A month before Wenzel left the paper, at the Lucas County Republicans' annual "Lincoln Day" dinner, Bernadette Noe made a speech in which she announced Wenzel would be leaving the paper for his consulting business. She wished him well at the dinner, which was attended by all three Republican gubernatorial candidates.

As the Blade's chief political writer, Wenzel reported and commented on politics. He also ran his own Web site, heartlandpolitics.com (whose homepage says it is "temporarily out of commission"), which he touted as offering in-depth analysis of northwest Ohio politics. Democrats charged that Wenzel's reporting was biased toward Republicans. The Blade's ombudsman, Jack Lessenberry, agreed: "At times I felt that his reporting was slanted to favor Republican positions or Republican candidates," Lessenberry says.

The Noe story is not the first time Wenzel has been suspected of conflict of interest. During the 2004 election season, Wenzel worked simultaneously for the Blade and for Zogby International, the polling firm. President and CEO John Zogby said that Wenzel worked for the company as a "senior political writer" between roughly May and October 2004. The work he did for Zogby acknowledged that Wenzel was a political reporter for the Blade. But in at least four columns he wrote for the Blade at the time he was working for Zogby, Wenzel cited Zogby polls without disclosing his affiliation. John Block expressed surprise and concern that Wenzel cited Zogby without disclosure: "He shouldn't have cited Zogby. I have to say, that's the first I've heard of that." According to Bob Steele, a journalism professor specializing in ethics at the Poynter Institute, the problem goes beyond Wenzel's failure to acknowledge the relationship. Steele points to a question of "competing loyalty," and says, "To disclose his connection to Zogby alerts readers to that conflict of interest and competing loyalty, but that disclosure doesn't make the problem go away."

In spring 2004, while Lucas County prosecutors began to investigate Noe's campaign irregularities, the Blade, without Wenzel's scoop, remained in the dark. Assistant editor Sharp says that the Blade's editors and reporters received worthwhile tips about the Noe campaign finance improprieties "around September." Prosecutor Bates, whose daughter and son-in-law are Blade reporters, says she can't remember anyone from the paper coming to her about the investigation until then. "I don't recall any official inquiry until [Blade reporter] Mark Reiter came to me in early fall," she says. Bates says that was right around the time she was obliged to turn over the investigation to federal prosecutors, which made it much more difficult for reporters to unearth information. At any rate, it was only a few weeks before the election.

On April 3, 2005, the first Blade story about Noe and the coin investments appeared. With the Blade's aggressive reporting, the story quickly gathered state and national attention, but Wenzel, who was still at the Blade, never wrote anything about it in the paper. Additionally, he never wrote about it in the many posts on his personal blog. Sharp says the Blade did not restrain Wenzel from writing about Coingate.

Although he never wrote about Coingate, Wenzel did blog on his Web site about Bernadette Noe and the Lincoln Day dinner on April 14. Although this was 11 days after the Blade published its first Coingate story, Wenzel failed to mention one of the biggest political scandals in Ohio history. Instead, Wenzel fawned over Bernadette Noe. "Also not fading is former GOP chairman Bernadette Noe. She was honored last night for her service to the party, then held up a copy of yesterday's Toledo Free Press, reminding those present to check out her new column (Great picture, Bernie!). But that's not all. A new television talk show and radio program are in the works. Talk about multi-tasking."

After leaving the Blade on Friday, May 13, Wenzel officially went to work the following Monday as congressional candidate Jean Schmidt's media consultant. Schmidt, a Cincinnati-area Republican who formerly headed Cincinnati Right to Life, was running for Congress in the most staunchly conservative corner of the state. Wenzel's company, Wenzel Strategies, received $30,000 from the Schmidt campaign that Monday and another $30,000 a week later. His role was to handle media issues in the hotly contested special election.

News organizations, including Salon, have questioned whether Wenzel was already working as a consultant for Schmidt prior to leaving the Blade, which would constitute an obvious conflict of interest. As early as May 3, Wenzel wrote blog entries about the Schmidt race and made disparaging remarks about Schmidt's primary opponents on his Web site. Regarding Pat DeWine, one of Schmidt's primary opponents, Wenzel wrote: "DeWine also has personal problems. He left his wife when she was eight months pregnant with their third child to take up with another woman. You could say he thinks so much of family values that he has decided to start another."

Wenzel's blog entries were pulled from the Web shortly after his ties to the Schmidt campaign came under scrutiny, but Wenzel denies he was working for Schmidt and the Blade simultaneously. He reportedly told a Cincinnati paper that he had a "busy weekend" drumming up Schmidt's business right after he left the Blade.

Block, the publisher and editor in chief, says he has confidence in the integrity of Wenzel's overall tenure at the Blade, but doesn't believe Wenzel kept the Schmidt job separate from his time at the paper. "You don't just leave on one day and then immediately set up your consulting business," Block says. "I think that in his final period at the Blade, it was getting close to a conflict of interest. I'm not going to deny that."

In October 2004, Bates turned her investigation into Noe's campaign irregularities over to the U.S. Department of Justice. That was three weeks before the election, not enough time, Bates says, to affect the outcome.
The Coingate scandal continues to grow. The Blade still diligently hounds the story amid growing revelations about the Noes and Republican problems statewide. Wenzel is basking in political success, having helped take Schmidt from being an outside contender in the primaries to sitting in the U.S. House of Representatives. Ohio government is still thoroughly dominated by Republicans, but, as Blade editors and Democrats are quick to note, that might soon be changing, thanks to the scandal. What won't change is that Coingate never got reported in 2004, and George W. Bush won the presidency.
-- By Bill Frogameni