Recently I wrote here about the sad state of voting in this country. In that post I labeled myself a disgruntled voter because of the problems that exist at every level of the voting process. Because of the party-switching scandal of Michigan House Representative Roy Schmidt, you can add disgusted to disgruntled.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe that Schmidt had every right to switch from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party, but the way he did it was nothing short of reprehensible. Schmidt conspired with Republican Speaker of the House James Bolger, Bolger’s Deputy Chief of Staff, his own son, his nephew, and a friend of his nephew, in a scheme to guarantee his re-election by paying someone (his nephew’s friend) to enter the race as a Democrat and not engage in campaigning or fundraising. Putting a faux-Democrat in the race would force the Democrats to do a write-in campaign, which has little chance of success. What Schmidt and his co-conspirators did was nothing short of trying to rig the election.
Incredibly, when Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth review the results of a State Police investigation into the case he could find no election law that Schmidt and his co-conspirators had broken. Think about that for a moment. Here in Michigan it is legal to try to rig an election. Here’s what happened, according to Forsyth’s report.
May 15 was the deadline for filing the necessary paperwork to run for office in the August Primary and November General Elections. Minutes before the 4PM deadline, the Kent County Clerk’s office received the paperwork for 22-year old Matthew Mojak to run as a Democrat in the 76th State House District election for the seat currently held by Representative Roy Schmidt. The same person who delivered Mojak’s paperwork also delivered a letter from Schmidt seeking to withdraw his previously filed Democratic paperwork and replace it with paperwork qualifying Schmidt to run as a Republican for re-election. The fact that the same person delivered the paperwork for both Schmidt and Mojak raised all sorts of red flags and produced many questions from inquiring minds. Two days later, on May 17, the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office received a complaint alleging that Mojak’s Affidavit of Identity contained false information; and because the false statements were made under oath, he had committed perjury. The following day the State Police were asked to conduct an investigation. On July 17 Forsyth issued a report of his findings based on the State Police investigation.
The scheme to put a faux-Democrat on the ballot to oppose Schmidt kicked in on Sunday, May 13 when Schmidt asked his son, Ryan, to contact Mojak, a friend of Ryan’s cousin, A.J. Schmidt, and offer the job to him. The initial offer to Mojak was payment of $450 to place his name on the ballot in Schmidt’s race. Mojak was given assurance that he would not have to campaign or do any fundraising. Schmidt also provided the funds for the $100 filing fee that would be needed to place his name on the ballot.
Schmidt filled out the paperwork using information Mojak had given him, got the paperwork notarized, as required, and hand-delivered the paperwork to Phil Browne, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Speaker of the House James Bolger. It was Browne who delivered the paperwork for Mojak as well as the paperwork needed for Schmidt to run for re-election as a Republican.
When the deadline passed the questions began; and the scrutiny led Mojak to quickly decide to withdraw from the race. Schmidt and his co-conspirators quickly swung into action to try and convince Mojak to stay in the race. Schmidt had Ryan contact Mojak and offer him $1,000 to stay in the race. He went so far as to tell his campaign treasurer, Harold Hamilton, to issue a $2,000 check payable to Ryan, who would get the same amount that Mojak was to get. Hamilton took the funds from the campaign account as directed by Schmidt, who took the check to Mojak’s place of employment. Mojak turned down the money and the check was voided. When he met with Mojak, Schmidt asked him tot to say anything to the news media because he had already told the news media that he didn’t know Mojak.
When it became clear that Mojak may face legal problems because of his involvement in the scheme, the co-conspirators acted quickly. On May 18, Schmidt’s nephew, A.J. texted Mojak to let him know that Schmidt would provide him with a lawyer. Mojak turned down the offer then, and in subsequent contacts because he wanted to cut all ties with Schmidt.
In the conclusion of his report, Forsyth minced no words:
“…I can find no violation of Michigan Election Law beyond Mr. Mojak’s attesting to the accuracy of the information on his Affidavit of Identity. Although this scheme by Rep. Roy Schmidt and Speaker Bolger was clearly designed to undermine the election and to perpetrate a ‘fraud’ on the electorate, it was nonetheless, legal…Incredibly, while it would be illegal to pay a boxer to take a ‘dive’ or a basketball player to ‘points-shave’, it is not currently a crime in Michigan to recruit someone to run for public office, place them on the ballot at the ‘eleventh hour’ and essentially pay them to make no effort to win.”
Forsyth chose not to prosecute Mojak because he was clearly the least culpable of anyone involved in the scheme. He did find possible violations of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act by Rep. Schmidt and forwarded that information to the Secretary of State and Attorney General who would issue sanctions for violation of the law. Given the fact that Republican officials are standing firmly behind Bolger, and the Secretary of State and Attorney General are both Republicans, I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for Schmidt to be sanctioned for the following actions:
*Schmidt signed and had notarized the paperwork to run for re-election as a Republican before he held a fundraiser for his re-election as a Democrat. He took funds from Democratic supporters without telling them that he would be running as a Republican.
*Schmidt’s initial offer of $450 to Mojak to place his name on the ballot.
*Schmidt’s attempt to use $2,000 from his campaign fund to try to get Mojak to stay in the race.
When I heard of Forsyth’s findings I had to wonder if this was just a whitewash, with a bit of scolding thrown in to make it look good. Clearly there was a conspiracy involved in this, and Forsyth did use the word “fraud” in his report. I know that conspiracy to commit fraud is a criminal offense, so I had to wonder if Forsyth could have gone down a different path to find criminal charges that could be filed.
To test that theory I looked in a legal dictionary for the definitions of “conspiracy” and “fraud”. Conspiracy” was defined as “a term used in criminal, tort, and anti-trust laws, when two or more people join together to plan an illegal action, or legal actions which would have illegal results, such as damage or injury to another or to the free flow of commerce.
OK, so the actions of Schmidt and his co-conspirators are legal, but they certainly damage the confidence of people in the electoral process. And, they certainly tried to rig a fraudulent election, so couldn’t they have been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud? So, my next step was to look up the definition for “fraud”. It was defined as “deceit with intent to harm another.”
Armed with those definitions I went online and looked up Michigan’s election laws and criminal fraud laws. What I found was that the harm to another must involve tangible things like money and property. Thus, I have to conclude that Forsyth truly did look for something the co-conspirators could be charged with, but there’s simply nothing out there. They didn’t violate existing election laws and criminal conspiracy to commit fraud wouldn’t work either.
So, Michigan is left with a black eye because it is not against the law here in the Mitten State to rig an election. Common sense tells us that attempting to rig an election is election fraud. But not here in Michigan. Schmidt and Bolger have made it clear that they will not resign. They apparently lack the integrity to recognize the seriousness of their actions, so it will be up to the people in their districts to show them that they recognize the seriousness of their actions and vote them out of office. Schmidt has no shortage of challengers to his re-election. He faces a write-in challenge in the primary election by Grand Rapids businessman Bing Goi, and a possible challenge in the general election from Democrat Winnie Brinks, who is also mounting a write-in campaign for a place on the ballot; as well as challenges in the general election from a couple of minor party candidates. Bolger’s only apparent hurdle to re-election is getting past a Democratic opponent in the general election.
And, neither will say who came up the the idea to put in a faux-Democrat to “oppose” Schmidt in the general election. They both have their story down pat and they’re sticking to it: “Golly, I really don’t remember who came up with that idea. I think it was something we arrived at jointly.” Oh really…this scheme isn’t ancient history. These events happened just over two months ago. And these guys can’t remember who came up with the foundational element of their scheme? Do they really believe we’re that stupid? Apparently they do.
In my opinion neither Schmidt nor Bolger are worthy of elective office, let alone a leadership position in the state legislature. When Forsyth’s report was released Schmidt was interviewed and sounded oh so apologetic. He said he knew from the beginning that their scheme to rig the election was wrong. Sounds like a man whose conscience was bothering him, right? Contrast that with what Schmidt said in a May 15 text message sent to Speaker Bolger:
“Me also—slept great and ready to go!/nYes—I will call as soon as the form is notarized.”
Schmidt’s unbridled enthusiasm for what they were doing, apparently unencumbered by a guilty conscience if he had no trouble sleeping on the night before the plan’s final stages would be implemented, tells me that his only pangs of guilt came when they were caught.
And Bolger? That man now heads my list of most despised politicians, and has earned a place of honor in the “Scoundrel’s Hall of Shame”. The day after the filing deadline, when questions were swirling around the Roy Schmidt party switch, Bolger was interviewed by the Michigan Information and Research Service and when asked directly if he played a role in helping Mojak file the candidate paperwork the day before, would only say that his conversations were focused on Roy Schmidt and the people of Grand Rapids. After Forsyth’s report was released the following Sundays’s edition of The Grand Rapids Press had an above the fold front page story with the headline “I DID NOT LIE…I WAS EVASIVE” when Bolger was again questioned about his role in the scheme. WTF!!!! The bottom line is that whether he lied or was evasive Bolger did not tell the truth when questioned about his role in the scheme.
I assume Bolger is a parent. I have to wonder what his reaction would be if one of his kids was implicated in an act of bullying at school. Suppose in the early stages of the investigation Bolger’s kid was questioned directly about his role in the bullying and failed to give a direct “Yes” or “No” answer regarding his involvement. As the investigation proceeds, incontrovertible evidence is uncovered which shows that Bolger’s child was involved up to his eyeballs in the bullying. What would Bolger’s reaction be? Would he say, “Well Junior, you’ve been a good kid up to now, and technically you didn’t lie, so we’ll let this slide.” Or would he say “Well Junior, you did something very wrong, and didn’t tell the truth when you were questioned about it. You’re going to have to be punished for what you did.”
Based on what Bolger is asking the people of his district to do, one would have to assume that he’d go down the road of letting it slide. He’s asking the members of his caucus and the people of his district to set aside his involvement in this scheme, look at the body of his work in the legislature, and continue to support him. Could it be that he has different standards for how he should be treated when he’s shown to have done wrong and how he’d treat his kids if they’re shown to have done wrong? Or, is he the kind of lenient parent who doesn’t punish their children when they do wrong?
Recently I saw an interview on TV in which Bolger actually equated Democrats crossing over and voting in Republican primaries (something that people in both parties have done) with that scheme to rig Schmidt’s election and perpetrate a fraud on the voters. He claimed that the Democrats would use this scheme in the coming campaign to distract people from the wonderful job that he, the legislature, and Governor Snyder are doing in turning around Michigan. It couldn’t be that people are actually upset that Bolger and Schmidt tried to rig a fraudulent election, and what that says about our democracy; No, No, No, they’re just engaging in “political gamesmanship”.
Let’s see, our electoral system in America has problems in the stages of registering to vote; actually voting; having the vote counted; and changing exit polling to reflect what unreliable, unsecured electronic voting machines tell us what happened in the election. Now, this black eye for the state of Michigan, the party switching scheme hatched and put into effect by Schmidt and Bolger, shows us that in Michigan and likely in other states, it is perfectly legal to try and defraud the voters through rigging an election by hiring an opponent who would not fund raise or campaign against you. In my humble opinion, this country’s electoral system is no longer in Critical Condition; it is now in Grave Condition.