IN VIRTUALLY every Ohio election season in recent years, some anonymous group or other has run television spots that are little more than thinly disguised propaganda for a particular political candidate.
This year, the shadowy entities airing the so-called "issue ads" are "Common Sense 2006" and an allied group, "Common Sense Ohio," which are shilling for Ken Blackwell, the Republican candidate for governor.
The groups' electronic screeds hammer Ted Strickland relentlessly for his alleged stands on gay marriage, abortion, and the pledge of allegiance. But because they don't come right out and advocate the "defeat" of the Democratic candidate, the sponsors claim the right under state law to remain anonymous and withhold the names of those paying for the ads.
That's nonsense, of course, and the Ohio Supreme Court, where the case has landed, should not let them get away with it.
These groups constitute a political action committee by any reasonable standard and should be required to disclose their donors. According to published reports, two of their directors are substantial Blackwell contributors.
The case is similar to that of another anonymous group, which turned out to be several major corporations under the misleading moniker, "Citizens for a Strong Ohio," which ran attack ads in 2000 against Supreme Court Justice Alice Robie Resnick.
Memorable mostly for their viciousness, the ads declared that "justice was for sale" on the court. However, Justice Resnick was easily re-elected.
Three years ago, the Ohio Elections Commission determined the "Strong Ohio" ads were illegal and last January the commission declared the content to have been false. Then the backers appealed the commission's ruling in court, which has stalled a final resolution.
An attorney for "Common Sense" argues that the group is exempt from the disclosure requirement because the sponsors are individuals, rather than corporations. But he's just splitting legal hairs.
Democrats, who are suing for release of the donor information, should have a good case but the obstacles are nigh on insurmountable.
The Secretary of State, who should be ruling in favor of disclosure, is none other than Ken Blackwell, who is not rushing to uphold the spirit of state law. And the Supreme Court, dominated 6-1 by Republicans, is as nakedly political a judicial body as Ohio has ever had.
Voters have a right to know who is bankrolling the political ads that are polluting the airwaves, and the Supreme Court, if it can shake itself free of campaign mode, should say so before Election Day. It's only common sense.
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