Atrios is linking to a report about a Toledo Blade editor connected to Ohio Coingate figure Tom Noe who Ohio Republican Congressional candidate Jeannette Schmidt is reported to have paid $60,000 in consulting fees the week he retired from The Blade. But that's not all of the money this guy's received from Schmidt. And there are some questions that should be asked.
First, what we're talking about, the original report from Editor and Publisher:
The Blade of Toledo, Ohio, is on top of the news- paper world, thanks to its "Coingate" reports (see p. 34). But while the paper is rightly thumping its chest with each new revelation, it's also coming under some scrutiny — not for what it has printed, but for what it may not have. Rumors swirl around a veteran Blade scribe, former political reporter Fritz Wenzel. Nothing at all is proven, but it's worth recalling the dangers — even if it's just in public perception — of jumping from political campaigning to political reporting and back again.
Wenzel, a longtime GOP campaign worker in Oregon, spent 10 years on the Blade politics beat before returning to the world of political consulting in May, virtually the day after he left the paper. One of the key contacts he made along the way was the man now at the center of the Coingate accusations, Tom Noe, a major Republican fund-raiser who attended the wedding of Wenzel's son, P.J., a state GOP employee. Noe's wife, Bernadette, even praised Wenzel during a GOP Lincoln Day Dinner this spring. "It was obvious that [Wenzel] was a Republican, he never hid the fact," Dennis Lang, interim chair of the Lucas County Republican Central Committee, told me last month. "But his work stayed in neutral ground."
Not according to the Lucas County Democratic Party, which devoted a page on its Web site to blasting Wenzel for alleged inaccuracy and bias. Suspicions about partisan leanings were further fueled when Wenzel signed on as media strategist for Jean Schmidt, the GOP nominee for an open Cincinnati-area congressional seat that voters will fill in a special August election (she won a primary on June 14). Disclosure records show Wenzel received $30,000 from Schmidt's campaign on May 16, the day his last column for the paper appeared, and three days after he left the Blade. He got another $30,000 from those coffers a week later, according to records. Part of the money went to media buys.
Editor and Publisher is correct about the $60,000 Schmidt paid Wenzel. But that's not all the money she's paid Wenzel.
A quick look at Schmidt's pre-special (primary) finance report at the FEC shows the two $30,000 disbursements to Wenzel on page 36 (transaction numbers SB17.4427 and SB17.4429). But that report only goes through May 25. On pages 92 through 94 of her pre-special (general) report, there are 7 additional disbursements to Wenzel totaling $118,000. Combined with the $60,000 listed on the previous report, that's a total of $178,000 to Wenzel. If all the disbursements were for actual advertising buys to television and radio stations, at the standard rate of 15% commission for ad buys, Wenzel would have made, from what's reported just through July 17, $26,700.
But here's the question: the May 16 and May 23 disbursements are identified only as "TV and Radio." Were those disbursements for actual ad buys to the stations, or for production costs in making the ad. And if those payments were for the ad buys, when were the ads produced? The reporting period ended on May 25, so it's a tad coincidental that a major decision--hiring and engaging the media consultant--just happened to be conducted almost simultaneous to the end of the reporting deadline.
It is completely inconceivable that Wenzel produced an ad in just a couple of days after being hired by the client. It's also odd that he produced adds without, from a perusal of her first campaign finance report, any polling paid for by the Schmidt campaign. Beginning a campaign with a new client usually requires the media consultant to get to know the client, learn her strengths and weaknesses, go over the campaign research, and devise campaign themes and messages. Only then would a consultant begin scripting, shooting and cutting the ad. And only after all of that would the ads be placed. So it's also important to know if the ad buys being made in May were to begin immediately, or if Wenzel was "buying back" from election day, ensuring he had the spots he wanted. This is standard practice in most elections, but without much competition from other races--remember, it's a special election--buying back would seem less important in this instance.
So, there's lots to suggest that Wenzel was in a business and political client/consultant relationship with Schmidt well before he wrote his last column for the Toledo Blade. That's a serious problem for the credibility of the Blade. But it's also something The Blade, if it has contractual restrictions on the outside work that can be done by its reporters and editors, should look in to regarding Fritz Wenzel, because it's hard to believe he wasn't working for Schmidt until after he left his job with the newspaper.