YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Although early voting is already under way, the Republican running for Mahoning County auditor is now being accused of breaking state election law over a flyer sent out recently by his campaign team.
Ralph Meacham had intended his news conference Tuesday to tout his qualifications over incumbent Mahoning County Auditor Michael Sciortino, who is facing corruption charges. But Meacham had to deal with an issue of his own.
WYTV News asked Meacham about a fundraising flyer sent out by his campaign marketing agency that ended up in the email in-boxes of dozens of office holders and employees on county time.
“I have no knowledge of that. I have no knowledge of where those emails came from,” Meacham said.
The flyers were distributed by the firm Rubenstein and Associates using an email broadcasting system also used for one of the agency’s other clients: The Western Reserve Port Authority.
Several hours later, another news conference was called and an explanation from Rubenstein and Associates claiming they never knew the link would appear.
“What we need to do and what I should have done, frankly, is set up a completely new account that does not have those initials on it,” said Carolyn Rubenstein of Rubenstein and Associates.
While Meacham insists he never knowingly solicited county employees, something that would violate state election law, he said those workers could simply have deleted the messages if they thought they were inappropriate.
“It is the obligation of the employee if they put a .gov address in there, it is their responsibility,” said Meacham.
Mahoning County Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti said commissioners are troubled by Meacham’s use of the port authority’s addresses.
“We have to question that. Whether it is politics or not, it is something I certainly would not do,” Rimedio-Righetti said.
Mahoning County Auditor Michael Sciortino said Meacham is getting desperate and could be violating the law.
“You can’t play both sides. You can’t claim to have integrity on one end but violate state law on the other end,” Sciortino said.
Meacham said his campaign will create a new address list for the campaign.
Leo Jennings knew there would be trouble as soon as he received the email on Monday and learned soon afterward a number of local government workers received it too.
Jennings now works as an independent marketing agent, but said he immediately recognized the initials at the bottom of the flyer sent out in behalf of county Auditor candidate Ralph Meacham. Jennings created the template some time ago while working for Meacham’s public relations firm, Rubenstein and Associates.
“This list is based on the Chamber of Commerce list, which we specifically requested from the chamber for the WRPA, and there have been addresses added to it,” Jennings said.
More than 1,300 of the flyers went out Monday. Carolyn Rubenstein said 61 of them went to government addresses. As for the inclusion of the Port Authority’s signature, Rubenstein said her staff first realized it was there months ago.
The firm uses a company known as “iContact” for its mass-emailings, but was told since Jennings created the template, he had to change it. Rubenstein said at that point, she directed her staff to call him.
Jennings said he was never asked to change it, but Rubenstein sees it differently.
“Perhaps he has forgotten. My staff is adamant in telling me that they reached out to him and discussed it with him in person,” Rubenstein said.
While Rubenstein showed us her company’s new email signature, Jennings said the whole episode was the result of sloppiness and one his old boss said she has learned from.
“So we will be uber careful going forward that every list we do is scrubbed for government names,” she said.