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Published: Wednesday, 11/16/2005

'Stupid' defense won't work

Anyone conspiring to aid or abet any scheme to violate campaign-finance laws simply is not worthy of holding public office and should resign

CRITICS of pay-to-play in the corrupt arena of Ohio politics have a new term to reflect upon: "conduits." As part of former coin dealer Tom Noe's effort to curry favor with the Bush-Cheney administration, a number of local Republicans have been identified in an FBI affidavit as "conduits" for the Noe money-laundering operation.

Three of these are very well known to Toledoans: Donna Owens, former mayor and appointed state official; Maggie Thurber, Lucas County commissioner, and Betty Shultz, who last week won re-election to Toledo City Council.

Although they may escape prosecution for violation of federal campaign-spending laws by cooperating in the Noe investigation, it is clear that none of the three, or any other politico in like circumstances, can be trusted in any public capacity. They are, or should be, finished in public life.

With many years of politics and public service among them, they can hardly expect anyone to believe they were ignorant of the mechanics of the Noe money-dispensing operation - money that in all likelihood came from public funds that the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation so blithely made available. The "we were stupid" defense does not wash for such veteran politicians as these, despite apparent efforts by some to invoke that excuse.

Federal prosecutors may be willing to overlook these violations of law in order to more speedily prosecute Mr. Noe for circumventing the $2,000 limit for individuals in federal election campaigns, but we don't believe Lucas County voters are.

None of the three inadvertently stumbled into the attempt to conceal the source of contributions to a Bush fund-raiser in Columbus in 2004. They know, or should have known, better.

Ohio law-enforcement officials also should press hard to determine whether the conduits in this brazen scheme also may have violated state anti-corruption laws, not just those regulating campaign finance and ethics.

House Minority Leader Chris Redfern, Democrat of Catawba Island, is on the right track. Any elected official who knowingly participates in a scheme to funnel money into any campaign should resign immediately. Moreover, anyone convicted in such a case, or anyone who cops a plea with federal or state officials, should be barred by state law from holding a position of trust in state or local government.

Anyone who conspires to aid or abet any scheme to violate campaign-finance laws simply is not worthy of holding public office.

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