Thursday, October 6, 2005

Coingate and the Reporter

Bill Frogameni in Salon.com looks at whether or not a reporter for the Toledo Blade might have sat on the Coingate story to help the Bush re-election campaign in 2004.

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.

Read the rest here (subscription/Day Pass required) about all the family connections and backstabbing between “friends” that is part and parcel of Toledo politics. As Frogameni notes,

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.