Report: Head of company vying for state contract backing GOP

CLEVELAND (AP) - A wealthy businessman helping the Ohio Republican Party try to win the state in 2004 for President Bush also is the head of a company competing for a coveted state contract to sell voting machines.
The Plain Dealer reported on Thursday that Walden O'Dell, chief executive of Diebold Inc., told Republicans in an Aug. 14 fund-raising letter that he is "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year."
The letter invited guests to a $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser at O'Dell's suburban Columbus mansion and asked them to consider donating $10,000 each. The letter went out the day before Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, also a Republican, was set to qualify Diebold, based in North Canton, as one of three companies eligible to sell upgraded electronic voting machines to Ohio counties in time for the 2004 election.
Blackwell has not yet made the announcement because of a court challenge over the fairness of the selection process by a disqualified bidder, Sequoia Voting Systems.
Diebold spokeswoman Michelle Griggy said O'Dell has held fund-raisers in his home for many causes, including the Columbus Zoo, Opera Columbus, Catholic Social Services and Ohio State University.
Blackwell said Diebold is not the only company with political connections.
"Let me put it to you this way: If there was one person uniquely involved in the political process, that might be troubling," he said. "But there's no one that hasn't used every legitimate avenue and bit of leverage that they could legally use to get their product looked at. Believe me, if there is a political lever to be pulled, all of them have pulled it."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)