Not everyone walked away happy from Tom Ganley’s car lots, or so the political ads say.
Ganley, Ohio’s largest automobile dealer, is challenging Rep. Betty Sutton (D) this fall for her Cleveland-area House seat. And he is taking a lot of heat from Democrats for what may or may not have happened at his 32 dealerships located in the state.
On paper, the Republican political newcomer faces significant obstacles in flipping a district that President Barack Obama carried with 57 percent of the vote. But with high unemployment and deep discontent for Democratic policies among Ohio voters, Ganley’s $2.8 million investment in his campaign could go a long way in knocking off an incumbent who has won with at least 60 percent of the vote in her two previous general election contests.
With less than $600,000 in the bank as of July 1, Sutton is stressing her ties to organized labor and arguing that her opponent’s pro-trade agenda is out of touch with the district’s manufacturing-heavy district, where more than 10 percent of workers are unemployed.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is combing Ohio’s regulatory and legal system for complaints against Ganley’s automotive empire and turning them into attack ads. The DCCC had spent $232,000 on independent expenditures in support of Sutton as of Wednesday.
In the DCCC’s latest round of TV ads, the campaign committee tells voters Ganley “made millions taking advantage of average folks.”
“Millionaire used-car salesman Tom Ganley is trying to ride his reputation into Congress — he should be trying to hide it,” a narrator says in the new DCCC ad. “Sued by customers for fraudulent and deceptive practices, two F’s’ from the Better Business Bureau, over 160 complaints in just three years. Tom Ganley will try to sell you on his reputation, but with this used-car salesman, it’s buyer beware.”
With accusations about Ganley’s business practices blanketing the northeastern Ohio airwaves, the DCCC may turn next to numerous court documents claiming his businesses not only ripped-off their customers, but also mistreated their employees.
According to court records obtained by Roll Call, Ganley’s dealerships — like many companies — are currently being sued for racial, gender and age discrimination.
The Ganley campaign did not respond to requests for comment for this story. In an interview, National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Tory Mazzola said Democratic harping on the wealthy candidate’s alleged business practices are a distraction. Mazzola also said the new charges are just the latest false accusations made by Democrats.
He pointed to a Sept. 1 Politifact Ohio analysis that accused Sutton of “Pants on Fire” rhetoric on the campaign trail. According to the fact-checking website, Sutton misled voters in a recent e-mail.
“Dishonest used car dealer Tom Ganley is at it again, and this time he’s going after seniors and veterans,” Sutton’s mailer read. “Recently, Ganley said that if elected, he wants to cut the dickens’ out of Social Security, Medicare and Veterans’ benefits.”
Mazzola called Sutton’s recent salvos “a desperate attempt to change the subject away from her voting record.”
For its part, the DCCC is continuing attempts to turn the GOP opponent’s deep pockets against him, a strategy that likely will reach its apex in the coming weeks. In a statement, DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer called Ganley “a dishonest car salesman who got rich by lying, bullying and ripping off hardworking people in Ohio.”
In one pending case against Ganley-owned dealerships, a former female employee alleges that management discriminated against her because of her gender. In court papers, the ex-employee alleges that she was “routinely given less opportunities for commissions that were given to the male employees” and that the mistreatment “made working conditions so intolerable that any reasonable person under the circumstances would have felt compelled to resign.”
In another pending case, one current and one former black employee are suing a Ganley Jeep dealership for not paying them fair wages and for giving white co-workers preferential treatment, as well as for their boss’s “disparaging remarks about [their] intelligence.”
Accusations of age discrimination have also been lodged at a Ganley Jeep dealership. In February 2009, two employees — one 55 years old and the other 61 years old — alleged that they were fired and replaced with younger salesmen who were in their 20s and 30s, an act that “had a great probability of causing substantial damage” to their predecessors, according to allegations in the court documents.
In May 2006, a former employee, who was white, accused two of Ganley’s dealerships of firing her because her boyfriend was black. Court papers also show the former office manager was erroneously accused of stealing $4,000 from a petty-cash drawer.
The false accusation resulted in the employee’s arrest and four nights in jail, where she “was forced to undergo degrading, humiliating and emotionally distressing experiences, including but not limited to, being strip-searched and forced to use and watch others use open bathroom facilities,” according to allegations in the court documents.
Ganley’s lawyers and the former employee settled the case in June 2007. Details of the agreement are unavailable.