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Furor erupts over mail paid for by state Dems



Published: Tue, May 7, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



There is nothing wrong with the Ohio Democratic Party's bulk mailing policy for candidates, according to an official with the Secretary of State's Office.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Postcards mailed in support of about 60 Mahoning County Democratic precinct committee candidates, stating the Ohio Democratic Party paid for and authorized the mailings, has the candidates' opponents crying foul.

But an official with the Ohio Secretary of State's Office says there is nothing wrong with the practice.

"I don't see any problem with it at all as far as the law is concerned," said Curt Mayhew, the office's campaign finance administrator. "There is nothing in the law that prohibits it."

That doesn't ease the concern of candidates whose opponents benefited from the mailings.

"Why would the state party interfere in local neighborhood precinct races?" asked Andrew Hamady of Poland, whose opponent for Poland Precinct 10, Frank Naples Jr., benefited from the state mailing. "Shouldn't neighborhood people decide who will represent them without interference from Columbus? It is patently unfair for local people involving themselves in the political process to compete with the resources of the state party."

Mahoning Democratic Chairman David Ditzler and Lisa Antonini, who is seeking to succeed Ditzler and paid for the mailings, said there is nothing unusual about the postcards.

Requirements

Antonini, Ditzler and Bill DeMora, the state party's political director, said the state party allows candidates to use the Ohio Democratic Party's bulk mailing rate as long as certain provisions are followed.

First, candidates have to get the permission of the party chairman, Ditzler in this case, and then forward the mailing to the state party for final approval. The party places its official postal marking -- "paid and authorized by the Ohio Democratic Party" -- on the mailings.

Instead of paying 21 cents per postcard, Antonini paid the state party's bulk rate of about 9 cents to 10 cents.

"Other candidates could have used it as well," she said. "They're just upset that they weren't smart enough to think of it."

When asked if he would have authorized bulk state party mailings on behalf of Mark Belinky of Boardman, an incumbent precinct committeeman who is challenging Antonini for the chair, Ditzler said he was unsure what his decision would have been.

State party's role

What has angered Hamady, and others whose opponents benefited from the mailings, is the postal marking stating the state party paid for them.

Technically, that is true, DeMora said.

Those who use the Democratic bulk mailing rate must first give a contribution to the party in the amount of the mailing cost, DeMora said. Then the party pays for the printing and mailing costs, he said.

"By law, we're paying for it," he said. "It's a contribution, not a reimbursement. We pay the bills. This happens all the time."

Belinky, an attorney, said there appears to be election and mail fraud concerns with the mailings. Belinky plans to file an objection with the Ohio Elections Commission.

"It's a moral outrage that the state party is interfering with local issues," Belinky said.

DeMora said the state party is required by federal postal rules to place the "paid-for disclaimer" on all its bulk mailings.

Antonini said she targeted about 60 precinct races with the mailings in areas where her candidates face opposition. There are 312 precincts in the county. The primary is today.




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