One old political dirty trick is to put an inactive candidate on the ballot to drain enough votes away from an opponent to enable a favored candidate to win an election.
This was the idea that some Democratic operatives had in creating a fake Tea Party. The real Tea Party is a loosely organized right wing movement that seeks to move the Republican Party in its direction, but has no ambitions of becoming a separate political party.
Those who launched this scheme figured that some voters who support the real Tea Party would vote for a fake Tea Party candidate on the ballot, instead of a Republican. Candidates would run in tightly contested marginal districts, drawing enough votes away from the Republicans to throw these races to the Democrats. To this end, a quiet convention in Saginaw nominated candidates for secretary of state, attorney general, one seat each on the State Board of Education and University of Michigan Board of Regents, two seats in Congress, six state Senate seats, eight state House seats, and three seats on the Oakland County Board of Commissioners.
But several elements needed to pull it off were missing. The fake Tea Party needed to be fronted by someone who craves attention, spouts Tea Party rhetoric, openly discusses issues and financial backing, and is thoroughly convincing. But fake Tea Party Chairman Mark Steffek, a retired autoworker and UAW steward, was reclusive, to say the least, never saying who paid an estimated $250,000 for a petition drive and legal bills.
The 23 candidates needed to be qualified, available, show support for the real Tea Party cause, and have no Democratic Party ties. But four candidates said they never signed candidate affidavits and didn't know they were running, with one having moved out of the state; two were underage; one had never registered to vote; at least four had past records of Democratic activism; and one was the former stepmother of Oakland County Democratic Party Chairman Mike McGuinness.
Most importantly, there should be no way to trace the fake Tea Party to the Democrats who were behind it. But Jason Bauer, operations director of the Oakland County Democratic Party and McGuinness' roommate, notarized 12 candidate affidavits. The curtain had been lifted to reveal the smoke and mirrors, beginning the downfall of the fake Tea Party, with Bauer and McGuinness resigning from their party posts shortly afterward.
Progressive Campaigns of California, which mostly runs petition drives for Democratic causes, gathered 59,400 signatures to put the fake Tea Party on the ballot, far more than the 38,000 that are required. The state Board of Canvassers refused to certify the Tea Party for the Nov. 2 ballot on a 2-2 tie vote, with both Democrats voting in favor and both Republicans opposed. This decision was appealed to the state Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel unanimously upheld it, citing technical errors on the petitions. The Michigan Supreme Court put the final nail in the coffin, agreeing with both the board and the lower court by a 5-2 vote, with Democrats Alton Davis and Michael Cavanagh joining Republicans Maura Corrigan, Stephen Markman and Robert Young to form the majority. Democrats Marilyn Kelly and Diane Hathaway voted to put the Tea Party on the ballot.
The fake Tea Party organizers were laughably inept, but it is no laughing matter for Bauer and possibly others who were involved. At the request of Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, Oakland County Circuit Court judges appointed one of their number, Edward Sosnick, as a one-man grand jury to investigate possible election fraud in the fake Tea Party effort. Bauer is the prime target of this investigation.