The chairman of the St. Joseph County Democratic Party is rejecting a Republican call for him to step down in light of recent news that hundreds of local signatures were faked on petitions used to qualify the party's presidential candidates for the Indiana primary in 2008.
Butch Morgan, the county's Democratic chairman since 1995, said Friday through his attorney, Shaw Friedman, that there is no reason for him to resign.
"There is no evidence that Butch Morgan condoned, authorized or directed the forging or alteration of any of the questioned petition signatures," Friedman wrote in an e-mailed statement to The Tribune . . .
According to Kip Tew, former chair of the Obama campaign in Indiana, the St. Joseph County Democratic Party was among the groups and individuals that helped collect signatures to put Obama on the ballot in 2008. "Without a doubt," he said.
But that is not uncommon, Tew noted. Local party organizations often participate in petition drives on behalf of candidates for federal office.
Candidates for president, governor and U.S. senator in Indiana need to collect 500 signatures from registered voters in each of the state's nine congressional districts to qualify for statewide ballot.
Friedman said Morgan, who also is chairman of the state's 2nd Congressional District for the Indiana Democratic Party, doesn't remember -- nor should be expected to remember -- all of the volunteers who helped the party collect petition signatures during the 2008 campaigns.
Fleming clarified in an interview Friday that she does not believe Morgan was actively involved in the apparent fraud.Speaking as someone who circulated nominating petitions for presidential candidates when I was actively involved in Republican politics in Illinois, both on behalf of the candidate and the delegate candidates who represented the candidate at the party's national nominating convention, I know that it is a process that is closely monitored by the candidates' national campaign. In Illinois, candidates not only had to gather a sufficient number of signatures to get their name on the statewide ballot, they also had to get a sufficient number of signatures for the slate of delegates who was pledged to support the candidate in each of the state's congressional districts. The campaigns had a team of lawyers who reviewed all of the petitions before they were filed with the state's Board of Elections. Any suspect petitions were discarded. It was not unusual for a lazy volunteer to simply use a voter registration list to fill out the petition sheets themselves rather than make the effort to circulate them to gather the signatures, but those petitions usually stuck out like a sore thumb.
What I don't understand is why these nominating petitions in Indiana aren't required to have the name of the person who circulated them affixed at the bottom of each page. As a petition circulator in Illinois, I had to sign a statement under penalties of perjury that I was the person who circulated the petition and had asked each person who signed the petition to attest they were a registered voter in the congressional district before they affixed their signature to the petition.
If Indiana had a similar requirement as Illinois, there would be no question who was responsible for submitting pages of forged signatures on behalf of the Obama and Clinton campaigns. Obama's campaign chairman, Kip Tew, is a lawyer who has long been active in Indiana Democratic politics, as has St. Joseph Co. Democratic Chairman Butch Morgan, who also serves as the chairman of the 2nd District. As critical as the signatures are to getting a candidate they back on the ballot, you can bet Morgan or Tew, if not both, know exactly who circulated those ballot petitions. It is incomprehensible that Tew would not have had a team of volunteer lawyers reviewing those petitions before they were filed on behalf of the Obama campaign. Similarly, former U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, and by extension, the Indiana Democratic Party, was running Hillary Clinton's primary effort in Indiana. The state party and Bayh camps know who circulated her petitions, as well as their Democratic-backed candidate for governor, Jim Schellinger.
Let's not forget how Obama first got his start in politics. When he ran for the state senate in Illinois against a popular long-time incumbent, he got a team of lawyers to scour her petitions, as well as those filed by all of his other opponents in the Democratic primary. His lawyers successfully challenged the validity of enough of his opponents' petition signatures to get all of them removed from the primary ballot, thereby allowing him to win the Democratic nomination by default. In his heavily-Democratic south side Chicago district, the primary election was the general election for all practical purposes. Obama's national campaign was being run by veterans like David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, who you can bet had someone on the ground in Indiana scrutinizing the petition-gathering process, if not undertaking it themselves.
At the same time the camps of the two major Democratic candidates were filing pages of nominating petitions for their candidates with forged signatures, they were scouring the nominating petitions of Sen. John McCain, who was running unopposed, with a fine tooth comb. A paid PR flack for the Indiana Democratic Party, Thomas Cook, actually filed a formal complaint challenging the sufficiency of the McCain petitions, arguing that his campaign failed to file enough signatures in the 9th congressional district. His complaint was heard and eventually dismissed by the state's Recount Commission. If the Democrats had time to scrutinize McCain's nominating petitions, you can bet they were also closely examining their own. Perhaps persons at the very top of the Democratic Party knew their campaign petitions were vulnerable to challenge, and that's why they dispatched a paid operative to file a complaint against McCain's petitions as a preemptive strike assuming the Republicans would file a complaint challenging either or both candidates' petitions. There is also the added fact that Clinton's Indiana effort was being headed by the same Bayh-controlled state party apparatus that was backing the failed gubernatorial bid of Jim Schellinger. Whoever winds up getting the blame on the Clinton/Schellinger side of the investigation, you can bet sweet and innocent Evan will be protected from any blame.