Defending Matt Borges
Update @ 11:48 am- Kyle Sisk responds.
I’ve never had quite the amount of email feedback on a post than my two posts about Matt Borges (see here and here). While I’m guilty of using hyperbole as a tool to explain what the APPEARANCE is when Borges works on a campaign, county party leaders, long-time operatives, personal friends of Borges, and even conservative activists were worried that I was going too far in attacking someone who appears to be a talented Republican campaigner. Seth Morgan has truly lit a firestorm here.
I have nothing to apologize for, but I feel compelled to explain.
Honestly, I didn’t know the first thing about Matt. The Deters situation occurred just before I started to pay attention to state politics. All I knew was what was taught as fact in OSU Professor emeritus Herb Asher’s Ohio Politics class (which used Gov. Taft’s former communication director Mary Ann Sharkey’s textbook), which was that $50,000 was donated from Cleveland broker Frank Gruttadauria in December 2001 to the Hamilton County Party, with was earmarked for Deters’ campaign. The Ohio Democrat Party never hesitates to mention a number of other similar situations that took place in current Hamilton County Party Joe Deters’ former office.
Is that bad? I suppose it is, but that is so common place. If anything, it helps build the argument against arbitrary campaign contribution limits, since whenever there is money available to be spent on candidates, somehow the two seem to find each other (the money is given to many friends who turn around in donate it, the money is transferred through county parties, 501c4s and 527s are formed, speech honorariums, et cetera). Maybe there is a better way to describe it, but much of this only becomes illegal when it is written down.
The truth is, the people who give to the treasurer’s office race are usually bankers and brokers who want to handle state money. Just like the only people who give to Attorney General’s race are lawyers who want special counsel contracts (which is something fellow blogger Kyle Sisk could explain a lot about). And it is a VERY FINE LINE between donors supporting good government and hoping to get access to apply for state work, and a specific formula where $X amount of campaign contributions equals something like $X*25 in state work.
In short, politics is the only business in which someone can give you many thousands of dollars and is supposed to expect nothing in return.
So what happened to Borges? It appears that he and Team Deters were perhaps too good at fund raising, and as a consequence of Cuyahoga County Bill Mason’s political ambitions, Borges got burned.
Here is the Gongwer report from July 27, 2004 which explains what happened:
TWO FORMER AIDES TO TREASURER DETERS PLEAD GUILTY TO MISDEMEANOR CHARGES IN CAMPAIGN PROBE
Two former top associates of State Treasurer Joseph Deters pleaded guilty Tuesday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court to misdemeanor charges that a special prosecutor lodged against them in a probe of secret campaign contributions.
Not immediately clear after the events unfolded in Cleveland was whether the investigation of Special Prosecutor Thomas Sammon had concluded, or whether there was a possibility of an indictment or additional charges against other individuals.
Eric Sagun, a former fundraiser for Mr. Deters, pleaded guilty to an unclassified misdemeanor charge of election law violations that carries no jail time. Judge Eileen Gallagher fined him $5,000.
Matthew Borges, who resigned as Mr. Deters’ chief of staff in 2001 to head the treasurer’s re-election campaign, pleaded guilty to improper use of a public office, a first-degree misdemeanor. He was fined $1,000. No jail time was imposed, although the offense provides for up to six months.
Mr. Sammon said he could not comment about whether the plea agreement reached with attorneys for Sagun and Borges meant the investigation was at an end. The term of the grand jury expires Friday. Mr. Sammon said prosecutors did not believe the evidence warranted a presentation to the panel against Mr. Deters. “As far as our investigation goes and the evidence that was produced during our investigation up to this time, we felt there was insufficient evidence to make a presentation against Mr. Deters to the grand jury,” Mr. Sammon said.
Treasurer Deters, who has declined to comment while the grand jury investigation was underway, responded to Tuesday’s plea agreement with a single sentence: “I feel badly for Matt and Eric, but I understand why they wanted to bring this matter to an end.”
Attorneys Brian Dickerson and Karl Schneider, who represented Borges, called the plea agreement “an uneventful conclusion to a 14-month fishing expedition.” They described as “absurd” the notion that Borges had engaged in bribery or pay-to-play activities, and said the plea agreement was an alternative to a lengthy and expensive trial that would have eventually proven his innocence. “Nothing in his plea implicates Matt, the office or his former employer of any alleged bribe,” the attorneys said. “Our client is very happy to put this matter behind him and to move on with his life.”
The charges against the pair arose from an investigation in which imprisoned former securities broker Frank Gruttadauria acknowledged in March that he knowingly concealed a $50,000 contribution to the Deters campaign through the Hamilton County Republican Party. Gruttadauria also acknowledged reimbursing other individuals for contributions they made to an unnamed public official, and said he promised or offered money “with the purpose to corrupt a public servant or party official.”
Mr. Sammon’s information charged Sagun with soliciting the $50,000 contribution from Gruttadauria. Borges was accused of giving unidentified broker-contributors a preferential status with the treasurer’s director of investments.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor William Mason, a Democrat who, like the Republican treasurer, may run for attorney general in 2006, initially brought the case. Mr. Mason subsequently appointed Mr. Sammon as special prosecutor.
I’ve heard from a number of sources that Borges had to plead because he ran out of money for lawyers. And maybe he should have kept fighting, especially considering that the courts have since expunged and sealed the records (even though such a process can be just as political as Mason’s reason for bringing the trial in the first place.). Here is the court granting of the expungement and sealing of records.
State of Ohio & Matthew J Borges 2009 Sep 30
Since then, Borges has accomplished a lot and was able to pass all White House checks to work as VP Dick Cheney’s lead advance. And no one can accuse the White House of being slouchy about background checks. Now, Borges is working as an unpaid volunteer for Dave Yost (he was described as Yost’s spokesman by the ORP) and works for many other local conservative candidates.
But now with Seth Morgan using Borges record against Dave Yost, he has set off a firestorm. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, who is something of a conservative icon in his home area and popular on WLW radio, is FURIOUS and fired off this statement yesterday to the press:
“I am extremely disappointed at the letter sent to Dave Yost by a member of Seth Morgan’s campaign staff, it was a cheap shot from a young man who doesn’t have the facts. This is actually a sophomoric, bumbled, and inaccurate political smear that tells me Seth Morgan is probably not ready to seek statewide office. Holding such an office requires good judgment and careful consideration of serious issues. The Morgan letter is about as far from that level of professionalism as it gets.”
And Dave Yost also responded with strong language:
Yost Letter to Seth Morgan
So what does this all mean? Maybe Borges shouldn’t have to go through life with such an eternal stain on his soul- a Scarlet letter of sorts- for the rest of his life.
But he has to know that by remaining in politics, this will always be used by candidates against him. Politics is an ugly, terrible knife fight. And while I still don’t think a candidate for Auditor would want Borges in their campaign, perhaps conservatives are sometimes guilty of quickly discarding the same hard-nose operative-warriors who win elections and get the job done if they get nailed… even with a misdemeanor. I think this is an important point to keep in mind.
And in the mean time, Seth Morgan is doing exactly what he needs to if he wants to win.