Petition Controversy in 23rd District Race

(WETM-18) – Green Party officials are calling it a trick and Democrats are crying foul after a registered Republican circulated petitions to get two people onto the Green Party line in the 23rd Congressional District. The problem? Neither of those two people gave their consent.

An article from the magazine Mother Jones first highlighted the controversy. “Shenanigans” being pulled in the New York 23rd District. Fake petitions circulating to put two people on the Green Party line. But neither Darin Robbins of Corning nor Ashley Cole of Alleghany County had given their permission to run.

“At first I was very confused because it came completely out of the blue,” said Robbins at his home. “Later on, it occurred to me that this is just another case of the Democrats or Republicans trying to invade our ballot line.”

The petitions were signed by a man named Aaron Keister, a 2013 graduate of SUNY Oneonta with a degree in Political Science who lives in Corning and is a registered Republican. When we went to his home and knocked on his door, Keister first told us he didn’t know about the petitions. Later in that same conversation, he said he had no comment on them.

Keister was paid as a tracker to film Martha Robertson events last year. The National Republican Congressional Committee released a statement, saying, “We paid Mr. Keister to film a few of Martha Robertson's public events in 2013,” said Ian Prior, Northeast Regional Press Secretary for the NRCC. “He was paid per event, he has never been on the staff of the NRCC, and we have had absolutely no contact with him since early December.”

According to FEC documents, the New York Republican Federal Campaign Committee paid Keister $768.47 on March 19th. The Ithaca Journal says that donation came two weeks after Congressman Tom Reed's campaign made a $2,000 donation to the group.

An official with Congressman Reed's campaign says the donation was made in the name of party building, and that Reed has given more than $70,000 for that purpose since he became politically active. The official says what the group chooses to do with the money after that is up to them. They say that Keister was not and is not a staffer on the Reed campaign.

A statement from Reed Campaign Spokeswoman Katherine Pudwill earlier in the day stated, "The only petitions we have been worried about are the Republican, Conservative, and Independence lines. With over 300 volunteers collecting signatures in all 11 counties, we were able to successfully secure all three."

Martha Robertson’s campaign responded Friday night, saying, “Between paying his taxes late 39 times and keeping his name on his medical debt collection law firm in clear violation of House Ethics Rules, it’s clear that Tom Reed thinks the rules don't apply to him, including this scheme which stops just short of election fraud," said Jordanna Zeigler, campaign manager for the Committee to Elect Martha Robertson. "It is clear Congressman Tom Reed will do anything to win and keep feathering his own nest."

Robbins says these actions aren’t a complete surprise to him, either. “Unfortunately, New York State has a reputation for having some corrupt politicians and a corrupt process,” said Robbins. “So I'm not entirely shocked but it's sad that is has to happen.”

The trouble for Keister could be just beginning. He could lose his notary public license because of this, and the Green Party says they are considering legal restitution.

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