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Vendor’s donation questioned

Diebold rep gave $10,000 to county GOP


Saturday, July 16, 2005

Doug Caruso , Joe Hallett and Robert Vitale



A contractor who represents Diebold Election Systems arrived at the office of Franklin County Board of Elections Director Matthew Damschroder with an open checkbook on the same day the county was opening bids for voter-registration software.


Pasquale "Pat" Gallina arrived unannounced, Damschroder said.


"I’m here to give you $10,000," the elections director recalls Gallina saying. "Who do I make it payable to?"


"Well, you’re certainly not going to make it out to me," Damschroder says he told Gallina. "But I’m sure the Franklin County Republican Party would appreciate a donation."


Gallina wrote the check, and Damschroder says he took it on Jan. 9, 2004. That weekend, Damschroder said, he mailed the check to the county party. Damschroder had been executive director of the party until June 2003, when he was appointed director of the elections board.



Elections Director Matthew Damschroder could be disciplined for accepting the check.


Diebold, the highest of four bidders, didn’t get the software contract, and Damschroder says he never recommended the company.


Gallina said yesterday that the $10,000 was his money and had nothing to do with Diebold. He said he’s always supported county Republican parties in areas where he lives.


"I donate to Licking and to Franklin," he said.


The check incident remained between Gallina and Damschroder until late last month when an assistant county prosecutor called Damschroder. Election Systems & Software, a company that is suing Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell over the state’s policies for buying electronic voting machines, wanted to talk with Damschroder about allegations that Diebold was paying to play, the prosecutor told him.


Damschroder told him about the $10,000 check and had another story to tell.


In May, he said, Gallina called him and bragged about a $50,000 check he had written to Blackwell’s "political interests."


"Isn’t it great that Diebold and the county are going to do business?" he says Gallina asked him.


Damschroder said Gallina went on to tell him that he had met with Norm Cummings, a Blackwell campaign consultant, in Washington, D.C., to work out a deal: Diebold would cut the price of its electronic voting machines to $2,700 each if the company had a guarantee that it would receive all of the state’s business.


"Then Gallina tells me that he then wrote a check for $50,000 to Blackwell’s political interests."


Carlo LoParo, Blackwell’s spokesman, called Damschroder’s assertions "wild accusations" and said, "You can’t point me to anything that substantiates what he says."


LoParo acknowledged that Gallina had contributed to Blackwell’s campaigns since 1998 — Blackwell received $8,000 from Gallina during that period — but denied that any of Blackwell’s campaign interests received $50,000 from Diebold or Gallina. Blackwell is running for governor.


"I have no idea why he (Damschroder) would say anything like that other than that every encounter we’ve had with Matt Damschroder has shown a little bit about his character," LoParo said.


Gallina would not say yesterday whether he wrote a $50,000 check to any organization associated with Blackwell. He would say only that all of his donations are public record. He would not say whether he wrote a $50,000 check to a 527 organization, which does not have to report donations, or to a political fund that has not yet been required to disclose its financial statements this year.


He blamed rival election machine vendor ES &S and racism for the allegations. He is of Italian descent, and Blackwell is black.


"A lot of this has been racially driven, a lot of it is vendordriven," he said.


In April, Blackwell announced that he had negotiated a new price for touch-screen voting machines from Diebold, which would allow the state to buy enough touch screens for counties that want them. Based on state rules requiring such systems to have paper printers, Diebold’s machine would be the only choice.


Damschroder has clashed with Blackwell’s office since before the 2004 elections, when he criticized and sometimes defied directives he said would hinder voter registration.


In the months since the election, he has questioned orders by Blackwell that first would have had counties choose paper-ballot voting systems and then would have limited their electronic-voting choices to only Diebold machines.


LoParo said Blackwell appointed a team to negotiate prices with voting-machine vendors and he denied that Gallina and Cummings negotiated a deal.


"We opted for a competitively bid, multivendor approach," LoParo said. "This process has been open and transparent, and we negotiated the best prices in the nation."


He said the "unfortunate situation is that Matt did something he shouldn’t be doing" by taking the $10,000 contribution in his office from Gallina.


Damschroder agreed that he made a mistake when he took the check.


"I should have thrown Mr. Gallina out of the building," he said yesterday.


Board of Elections Chairman William A. Anthony Jr., who’s also chairman of the Franklin County Democratic Party, said the four-member elections board is considering suspending Damschroder.


County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien is investigating whether Damschroder broke any laws, Anthony said, and has already recommended that the elections board fire Damschroder.


The elections board meets on Monday. O’Brien declined to comment.


Meanwhile, ES &S wants to depose Blackwell, Gallina, Cummings and Dana Walch, Blackwell’s director of legislative affairs.


ES &S sued Blackwell in May, saying it was unfairly excluded from the selection process.


Blackwell ordered counties to make their selections by May 13, but only Diebold was certified to sell electronic voting machines in Ohio. ES &S said Blackwell had met secretly with officials from the North Canton company.


Franklin County and 31 others joined the suit, and Blackwell agreed last month to push the deadline back to September. The change wasn’t a settlement of the lawsuit, however.


Ohio must use new voting machines in the 2006 elections to qualify for federal funding through a congressionally mandated upgrade.


Copyright © 2005, The Columbus Dispatch



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