Candidate: Misleading political ads an issue in campaign

Tom Grossmann doesn’t want a repeat of the heated campaign for Warren County commissioner of four years ago when he said a “blatantly false” advertisement contributed to his primary election loss to Tom Ariss.

Grossmann said he believes that four-year-old issue, which resulted in an apology letter from Ariss in April 2013, is a campaign issue this time because it speaks to the former county sheriff’s integrity and honesty.

But Ariss — who was elected to the Warren County Commission in November 2010 in an uncontested general election race — disagrees, saying what happened four years ago is “done and over with.” Ariss said the political advertisements, which blasted Grossmann for supporting pay raises for Mason City Council, among other things, were an “honest mistake” and were based on “ill-founded information” provided to him by his campaign.

A week before the 2010 primary election for Warren County commissioner, thousands of advertisements by Ariss’ campaign were distributed and mailed to voters, and much of that content contained what Grossmann claims was false.

Grossmann said if Ariss would have publicly apologized for the false statements in the political ads, there would not have been a complaint filed to the Ohio Elections Commission on April 29, 2010. A probable cause hearing by a four-member Ohio Election Commission panel on May 3, the day before the May 2010 primary election, found the complaint justified to have a full hearing since the ads for the former county sheriff may have had false and misleading information.

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Prior to the first scheduled hearing in September 2010, Ariss was deposed by Grossmann, who is an attorney and represented himself in the case. The Journal-News obtained a partial transcript of the Aug. 19, 2010, deposition.

The issue was to be presented to the full Ohio Elections Commission board, initially in September 2010, but it had been delayed multiple times for various reasons, including attempting to depose Warren County Commissioner Pat South who helped create the advertisements for Ariss.

A few to several thousand of those ads went out in the last week of the election to voters who were deciding who should be the GOP commission candidate — and thus the next county commissioner since no Democrat ran that year. Ariss and Grossmann finished first and second, respectively, in the five-person race. Ariss beat Grossmann by 766 votes.

This May 6 primary it will be a three-person GOP race with Ariss being challenged by Grossmann and Lebanon resident, Cathy Anspach.

Grossmann — who was elected to serve on Mason City Council in 2011 after term limits forced him to step down following the 2009 election — said to the Journal-News the advertisements and the dropped Ohio Elections Commission complaint is a campaign issue now because “integrity of any electoral process” is key to voters, and “when you take that away … it deprives them the right to vote based upon truthful information.”

“He clearly wanted to get the benefits of false and misleading statements to win an election,” Grossmann said.

A May 8, 2010 Dayton Daily News editorial said Ariss’ primary victory “is tarnished by political attacks” and “the mailings were a case study in political trickery.” The newspaper had previously endorsed Ariss for commissioner.

Ariss said the advertisements were nothing more than a mistake. The commissioner, who maintained his “track record as an elected official since 1991 and 1992 has been good,” said the misleading information was not intentional.

“It’s my responsibility for what had transpired,” Ariss said. “I admit I screwed up.”

Ariss’ ads asserted that the former Mason mayor:

  • was in favor of giving raises to Mason City Council
  • wanted to raise taxes on businesses to generate $2 million in revenue
  • attacked Ariss on “the jail issue” to support building on to the county jail
  • supported no term limits at the local level
  • looking out for himself and not the city of Mason

 

South said her involvement was limited in creating the advertisements. She said she was simply provided the information, assembled the ads and delivered them to the printer, all the time taking for granted that what she was given was factual.

South said she believes the full Ohio Elections Commission board “would have been hard pressed to find intent. It was accidental.”

“Mr. Ariss is not the first person to have charges filed against him during a heated campaign and certainly wouldn’t be the last,” she said. “This one was drug on for 3-1/2 years until it was election time again.”

Grossmann said it drug on because of delays in obtaining discovery and the attempt to depose South. South said Grossmann initially worked through Ariss’ attorney and not her attorney.

Ariss said he worked with his attorney to draft an apology after the complaint was filed with the state, but claims Grossmann would not accept it. However, Grossmann said there was no apology offered until Ariss issued one on April 26, 2013.

Ariss said the 2014 election for county commissioner should be about the job, not about a elections complaint that he has apologized for and was dropped at Grossmann’s request.

“Tom’s going to do what he has to do,” Ariss said. “On my side of it, I’m concerned about his (campaign) issues, but I’m more concerned about what’s occurred within Warren County since I’ve been there as a commissioner.”

According to the transcripts provided to the Journal-News, Ariss said in August 2010 he “made a mistake” when using a headline that alluded Grossmann was mayor of Mason when pay raises were discussed and voted on, and in later testimony admitted “… it misrepresented that you were the mayor when you were not the mayor. There was no intent to do that.”

The mayor in question, which was in 2007, was Char Pelfrey and Grossmann was vice mayor. Grossmann never advocated for pay raises for council members, but did suggest the perk of giving them free passes to the local community center.

The deposition transcripts also indicate Ariss had no documentation for his advertisement’s accusation that Grossmann supported raising taxes to make up for $2 million in lost revenues when city residents were given a half-percent tax credit in income taxes.

The deposition transcripts alluded that Ariss assumed there had to be some way to make up the loss of $2 million when the income tax was cut. Grossmann, however, said there would be no need to raise taxes because the city could absorb the loss of the voter-approved tax credit that gave a half-percent tax break to residents who worked outside the city.

Grossmann said he never supported taxing businesses in response to the voter-approved income tax credit. Ariss told the Journal-News on Monday that “we had verified that he had made contact” with officials at The Beach and Kings Island about an amusement tax. City Council had discussed an amusement tax while Grossmann was mayor, but according to Journal-News archives Grossmann abstained from public discussion due to conflicts of interest. No vote was taken.

According to the deposition testimony, Ariss said: “I’m not saying there was a ($2 million tax issue) or that you supported it, only that from my contacts and talking to folks concerned about the tax on businesses, that there had to be a good amount raised to take care of the potential loss of the ($2 million).”

Grossmann said he never commented on the issue of the jail — which was building an addition to the then-current facility — until after the advertising in question was distributed. According to Journal-News archives, then-candidate Chris Koch admitted he was the one who took Ariss to task on the jail expansion.

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