Ohio Republicans Spent More Than Half a Million Keeping Libertarian Gubernatorial Candidate Charlie Earl Off Ballot

Earl could have siphoned votes away from Republican Gov. John Kasich.


Charlie Earl/Facebook

Ohio Republicans spent more than half a million dollars on a successful bid to keep Libertarian Party gubernatorial* candidate Charlie Earl off the state ballot last year. 

The GOP initially balked at the accusation that they had engaged in any dirty dealings to thwart Earl's candidacy. Then, in a federal lawsuit filed by the Libertarian Party of Ohio (LPO), District Judge Michael H. Watson found that it was "obvious" that "operatives or supporters of the Ohio Republican Party" had indeed hired a "dupe" to bring about Earl's electoral demise.

Unfortunately, the dupe—Gregory Felsoci, an LPO member who filed a formal complaint with the secretary of state's office challenging signatures the party collected—did have a point, the judge decided: Earl's petition circulators had not disclosed that they were being paid by the LPO.

The LPO argued back that Ohio's petition-circulator rules are selectively enforced, and their enforcement here merely a matter of Earl's potential to siphon votes away from incumbent Republican Gov. John Kasich. (Ohio Democrats, for their part, worked to get Earl on the ballot, ostensibly for this very reason.)  

A Republican consultant and Kasich appointee was found to be responsible for hiring the law firm that hired Felsoci to challenge Earl's petitions. And the man hired to oversee Earl's disqualification hearing also volunteered for Ohio's GOP Attorney General Mike DeWine, though he didn't disclose this at the time. Now, recently revealed court filings show how much the Ohio Republican Party spent in legal fees to successfully strangle Earl's candidacy: nearly $600,000.

"The additional spending was documented as part of the Libertarian party's lawsuit against Secretary of State Jon Husted" which challenges his decision to disqualify Earl, notes The Columbus Dispatch

The GOP reported and previously disclosed payments toward the disqualification effort totaling $300,000. Records show that, by March, the bill had risen to $592,000.

The party paid Zeiger, Tigges & Little, a firm hired by a Republican consultant Terry Casey, who spearheaded the challenge.

Casey says he acted on his own. The party says Casey only sought its financial help after the fact.

People like to suggest that the reason Libertarian Party candidates have so little electoral success is because libertarianism is a philosophy that simply doesn't resonate with very many people. But all too frequently, libertarians are unable to even get on the ballot to begin with—not for a lack of supporters but owing to either direct meddling, as in this instance, or ballot-access rules deliberately designed to keep third parties at bay.

Before going the direct route, Ohio Republicans tried to thwart the LPO legislatively, passing a 2013 bill that would make it harder for non-Democrats or Republicans to gain ballot access. (Detractors dubbed it the "John Kasich Re-Election Protection Act.") It was signed into law by Gov. Kasich, but then temporarily blocked by a district court following a challenge from the LPO, the state Green and Constitution parties, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

In March 2015, the court found its final decision, ruling that imposing the new ballot-access rules was indeed constitutional and would be allowed to stand.  that Ohio didn't violate the U.S. Constitution by imposing new ballot access rules on minor political parties in the midst of campaign signature collection. The LPO's challenge under the Ohio Constitution continues. 

* For reasons I cannot explain, I just kept typing "mayoral" every time I meant "gubernatorial" earlier this morning. Kasich, and Earl, were obviously running for governor.