It started innocently enough with a picture of the nice Catholic boy, VP candidate Paul Ryan, washing a pot at a soup kitchen in Youngstown, Ohio. Right on cue, the squirrel-chasers in the media blew it up into “gate” status. Benghazi-schmenghazi. Paul Ryan may or may not have washed a pot that wasn’t really, really dirty.
Twitchy reported on Monday that Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez tweeted the urgent, breaking news that the metal pans Ryan was scrubbing “appeared to be mostly clean.” It apparently never crossed the domestic reporter’s mind that at some point in the pan-scrubbing process, all pans cross the threshold from “mostly dirty” to “mostly clean” if you’re doing it right.
It would have been little more than the usual mainstream media silliness if it had ended there, but then the president of the Mahoning County St. Vincent De Paul Society Ryan had visited decided to weigh in. Sonmez interviewed Brian J. Antal, who claimed that the Ryan campaign “ramrodded” their way into the building for a photo op. (No mention was made of whether Ryan and his wife and children used a battering ram, a tank, or a trebuchet to gain access to the facility.) Antal said:
They showed up there, and they did not have permission. They got one of the volunteers to open up the doors. The photo-op they did wasn’t even accurate. He did nothing. He just came in here to get his picture taken at the dining hall.
Chris Maloney, Romney Ohio communications director, said that it had been their intention to highlight the work of the center:
Our campaign and Congressman Ryan were pleased to bring attention to the meaningful charitable contributions the St. Vincent De Paul Society makes to people in need.
Not to Antal, who began to pile on. He told the Youngstown Vindicator on Monday night that he was “shocked” and “angry” that Ryan used the soup kitchen for a “publicity stunt,” repeating that they “ramrodded themselves in there.”
He explained that he was being pressured by donors:
“I can’t afford to lose funding from these private individuals. If this was the Democrats, I’d have the same exact problem.” He added that the incident had caused him “all kinds of grief” and that regardless of whether Ryan had intended to serve food to patrons or wash dishes, he would not have allowed the visit to take place.” [emphasis added]
The Vindicator reported Antal has received several phone calls and emails from donors who are “not pleased” about Ryan’s visit.
We have to wonder what kind of “grief” he is receiving. What kind of donors are “not pleased” and would threaten to pull their funding from a soup kitchen because Paul Ryan and his kids stopped by? We do know that the center has at least one major donor couple that has also contributed to Democratic causes. In 2010, St. Vincent De Paul was celebrating a $53,075 dining hall renovation, made possible by a generous $50,000 donation from Anthony and Mary Lariccia of Boardman. Anthony Lariccia, vice president of brokerage firm Merrill Lynch, is a well known philanthropist in the area. His family has donated millions to Youngstown State, his alma mater.
Lariccia and his wife have also made substantial donations to Democratic candidates, including liberal Rep.Tim Ryan and $20,000 between them to Attorney General Marc Dann in 2006. Dann is one of the most corrupt politicians in the history of the state of Ohio. He was investigated for bribery, cronyism, sexual harassment, and turning his office into “a raucous frat party.” He finally resigned after a plurality of Republicans and Democrats began the process of impeaching him.
St. Vincent De Paul president Brian Antal didn’t provide names of the donors who were threatening to pull funding from the soup kitchen because of Ryan’s visit. Nevertheless, it is disheartening that some would threaten to cut their donations to the needy because of a 15-minute campaign stop.
It’s also disheartening that Antal is showing his own political stripes and is demagoguing the soup kitchen incident, despite being a self-described “independent voter”:
But he did specifically criticize Ryan for wanting to eliminate the small amount of federal money the society gets for the dining hall.
“That is a little two-faced to say the least,” he said. “I cannot have the appearance that we are endorsing the Republicans by letting them use our facility for photo ops and publicity stunts.”
Antal and his friends have clearly missed some important points in their rush to score points for the Youngstown Democratic political machine. The first is that Paul Ryan is still Congressman Paul Ryan, head of the House Budget Committee. If Antal has a problem with the $12,000/year in funding he receives from the federal government, pulling a partisan political stunt like this may not be the best way to help his cause. (And for what it’s worth, a sitting congressman may actually have a right to stop in and see how the federal dollars are being spent.)
The second is a basic rule of running a non-profit organization: Good public relations = good donations. The corollary is also true. Antal could have quietly smoothed things over with his donors in private and moved on. Instead, the head of the Catholic charity chose to pick a very public fight with a Catholic VP candidate. Some of the comments on the Vindicator website showed the repercussions:
“From now on my donation to St. Vincent Depaul will be ‘fake.’”
“Pretty sad how they chastised a fellow Catholic who is dedicated to his faith. I wonder if the Bishop has some thoughts about the director’s comments.”
“Never another penny from me either. They had approval now they want to whine about it.”
“This ‘president’ of St. Vincent De Paul Society, Brian Antal, is totally disrespectful and out of line. Wonder how much money he makes from this “charity”? I have donated to the past to their cause. NEVER AGAIN.”
While Antal likely scored some points with the political bosses in Youngstown, in the long run he may regret this partisan grandstanding.