Ohio legislature considers campaign reform
Back to work on campaign financing
Legislators are told all political groups should have to list contributors names
Friday, November 05, 2004
Ohio Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer told a legislative panel that campaign donations are tainted by secrecy.

With the 2004 election over, state legislators resumed hearings yesterday on campaignfinance reform.

Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer told the House State Government Committee that he would like to "remove the taint of secretive campaign donations."

"The General Assembly should make it clear that any entity that is not affiliated with a candidate should be required to report the same information as reported by the candidate’s committee," Moyer testified.

In this year’s Supreme Court campaigns, Citizens for a Strong Ohio, a political arm of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, reported raising nearly $3 million to support Republican judicial candidates.

The GOP won four Supreme Court races, placing Republicans in six of seven seats on the state’s highest court.

Citizens for a Strong Ohio has been designated a 501(c)(4) organization under the Internal Revenue Code. Because it does not directly advocate the election or defeat of political candidates, it has argued in court that it should not have to disclose names of contributors as political-action committees must under state and federal laws.

Among this year’s leading contributors were the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, $1 million; the American Insurance Association, $375,000; Nationwide Insurance, $200,000; and Procter & Gamble, $160,000.

Clifford O. Arnebeck Jr., a Columbus lawyer representing the Alliance for Democracy, said passage of Senate Bill 214 would have blocked "over $3 million in illegal corporate advertising" in the Supreme Court races.

Arnebeck said the chamber’s continued success in collecting corporate contributions probably intimidated other issue-advocacy groups this year. "The opposition backs off," he said.

Meanwhile, a study released Wednesday by the Brennan Study for Justice found that Ohio topped all other states this year in televised Supreme Court advertising, with more than $6.4 million spent. Ohio’s record had been $5.4 million in 2002.

The Brennan Center, located at New York University School of Law, found that total spending on television advertising in state Supreme Court elections surpassed $19 million this year, a 77 percent increase over the $10.7 million spent in 2000 and more than twice the $8.4 million spent in 2002. A record amount for a single week — more than $7 million — was spent from Oct. 25 through Sunday, according to the study.

Rep. Kevin DeWine, R-Fairborn, said the committee would hold hearings several times a week "until we get it right."

DeWine said it’s still uncertain whether legislators will require greater disclosure of contributions and expenditures involving counties’ state-candidate funds and operating accounts.

The latest draft of Senate Bill 214 eliminates proposed limits on contributions to ballot issues by corporations, nonprofit groups and labor organizations, as well as some proposed fines.

Separately, Moyer said it would be announced soon whether Supreme Court justices would recuse themselves from the case against the chamber seeking disclosure of contributions in the 2000 campaign. More than $4 million was spent on a negative ad campaign to defeat Justice Alice Robie Resnick, a Democrat who won easily.

On Sept. 30, the Franklin County Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the list of donors who bankrolled the controversial campaign ads against Resnick should be made public.

The chamber contends that Citizens for a Strong Ohio is merely an advocate for issues, not any candidate, and performs an educational function protected by the First Amendment that is not subject to Ohio’s campaign-finance laws.

Part of the 2000 ad campaign was titled, "Is Justice for Sale?" It featured cash being piled on the scales of justice. Another ad featured a blindfolded "Lady Justice."

Last November, Judge John Bender of Franklin County Common Pleas Court gave the chamber two weeks to reveal the names of donors or face $25,000 daily sanctions. The fine was not imposed pending appeal.