Commentary: Will Kucinich's $20,000 Speech Bankrupt His Governor Campaign?
O.K., Ohio gubernatorial candidate Dennis Kucinich, you may have your hands full explaining this to Democratic primary voters.
You've reported receiving $20,000 for a speech last year from the Association for Investment in Popular Action Committees. That would be a group which clearly is sympathetic to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as it is the parent organization of the pro-Assad Syrian Solidarity Movement.
This would be the same Assad who has been accused by many intelligence agencies of using chemical weapons to kill and maim his own people in the seemingly never-ending Syrian civil war. The same Assad whose Syrian chemical weapon sites were recently destroyed by the U.S. and its allies.
Kucinich recieved $20,000 from this pro-Syrian organization. And it didn't become public until it ended up as part of an amended financial disclosure filing that the Ohio Ethics Commission asked Kucinich to re-file.
This is the same Kucinich who has met with Assad twice – once as a U.S. Congressman and once as a former Congressman.
Let there be no doubt about it – Kucinich's leading opponent in the May 8 Democratic gubernatorial primary, former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, is figuratively beating Kucinich about the head and shoulders every chance he gets for these apparent ties to Assad and his supporters.
"Kucinich has repeatedly attempted to avoid answering questions on the campaign trail about his ongoing defense of the Assad regime, and has refused to condemn the tyrant's barbaric actions,'' the Cordray campaign said in a press release last Wednesday.
John C. Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, told WVXU he thinks Kucinich's speech, which was delivered in the United Kingdom, "could be problematic" for him with Democratic primary voters.
"The audience (for the speech) is controversial and so is the fact that the honorarium was not disclosed properly,'' Green said. "Taken together, these issues may raise doubts about Kucinich's judgment and values. At the minimum, it will take the Kucinich campaign off-message."
It all depends how effectively the Kucinich campaign responds to the issue.
So far, Kucinich has been defiant about the speech. He put out a statement last week hammering at both Cordray and former Ohio governor Ted Strickland, who, in an interview with WOSU in Columbus, was very rough in his denunciation of Kucinich for taking the $20,000.
"Kucinich has been an outspoken defender of the Assad regime in Syria even as it killed countless people and has repeatedly used chemical weapons against defenseless civilians,'' Strickland told WOSU.
Kucinich barked back, saying Strickland's remarks are "reprehensible in their distortions and outright lies."
"The facts are these,'' Kucinich said. "I gave a speech at a peace conference in the United Kingdom last year in which I called for all nations involved in the Syrian conflict to end the violence that has killed hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children and forced millions to flee for their lives."
The event, he said, "was hosted and attended by peace leaders from around the world."
"In that speech, I called for an end to hostilities, an end of violence, an end of political and military terrorism,'' Kucinich said.
Nowhere in the statement does he mention being paid $20,000 and not initially reporting it on his state financial disclosure forms.
Tim Burke, the Hamilton County Democratic Party chair who personally backs Cordray for the nomination, said the whole situation with Kucinich making the speech and accepting the money "is pretty ugly."
"This was clearly a conference that was put on by people who are not on the right side of this, people who support a butcher like Assad,'' Burke said.
But, Burke said, Kucinich "has a long history of taking unusual positions on issues."
We will have to wait until May 8 to see whether that $20,000 was worth all the trouble it could cause.
“Politically Speaking” is WVXU reporter Howard Wilkinson’s weekly column that examines the world of politics and how it shapes the world around us. Wilkinson has covered every Ohio gubernatorial race since 1974.