Gov: Bombshell in Petro (R) Fundraising Scandal
This story delivers a bombshell in the ongoing series of allegations that gubernatorial candidate and current Attorney General Jim Petro (R-Rocky River) or his staffers have used the offer of awarding, or threat of terminating, lucrative outside legal assignments to coerce poitical campaign contributions from lawyers. The latest revelation comes from two prominent Republican lawyers, Jack Morrison and Ray Weber, who say their law firms lost virtually all of their state legal business after they refused to donate to Attorney General Jim Petro's campaign.
In Morrison's case, he describes the threat as coming personally from Petro, in chilling detail. Why is this a bombshell? Well, first because this time it is Petro in person, not an aide. Second, because this story is such a stark description of a violation of Ohio Code section 2921.43(C), which prohibits any person from coercing a contribution to a political party or campaign committee in return for appointing, securing, maintaining, or renewing the appointment of any person to any "public office, employment or agency." Violation is a first degree misdemeanor. It's no stretch to consider retaining outside lawyers for the state as a kind of public office, employment or agency," since it is a basic legal concept that lawyers are agents for their clients, and it may qualify as a kind of "employment" as well depending on how that term is construed.
Now wait, you might say, Morrison doesn't say he actually made a contribution as a result of the threat, so there can't be any crime, right? Wrong. The Ohio Supreme Court recently anwered this question in the case State v. Conese, 102 Ohio St. 3d 435, 2004-Ohio-3889, 812 N.E.2d 306 (2004), in which it held that the crime consists of the act of coercing, whether or not the coercion is successful in shaking down the victim.
Given that Petro is the state's chief law enforcement officer, this allegation is very serious indeed.
By the way, the same Plain Dealer article reports that a poll of 400 Republican likely voters (conducted by the Ohio Republican Party) shows that Petro trails Ken Blackwell (R-Cincinnati) by ten pecentage points. However, with 29 percent of responders undecided, there is still potential for enough undecideds to swing Petro's way for him to win the primary. Petro's campaign claims that the poll also shows that Petro would fare better than Blackwell against a Democrat in the general election, although no details of that claim are provided.
UPDATE: Ah, I see that the excellent Buckeye Senate has the goods: head to head it's Strickland 39%, Petro 36%, Undecided 25%, but Strickland 39%, Blackwell 33%, Undecided 27%. Using "informed ballot" numbers, described as voters with an opinion, it's Strickland 36%, Petro 36%, Undecided 28%, and Strickland 56%, Blackwell 32%, Undecided 12%. Get a load of that last one!