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Published: Saturday, 2/20/2010

Follow the money

OHIO voters may get yet another opportunity this November to determine the extent of legalized gambling in the state. Whatever your position on the merits of allowing Ohio horse-racing tracks to install electronic slot machines, you deserve to know who is bankrolling the campaigns for and against a proposed referendum on the issue.

So it's appropriate that Secretary of State (and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate) Jennifer Brunner is investigating where LetOhioVote.org is getting its money. The group is the prime mover behind an effort to win repeal by voters of a state law that authorizes Ohio's seven racetracks - including Toledo's Raceway Park - to operate as many as 17,500 video lottery terminals for the state Lottery Commission.

The law, which the General Assembly approved and Gov. Ted Strickland signed last year, is in abeyance because of a legal dispute over whether it requires action by voters.

Advocates say the law could raise substantial new revenue for a state that badly needs it. Opponents say Ohio doesn't need more state-approved gambling.

Critics suggest LetOhioVote.org is a front for gambling interests that seek to discourage competition. The group has declined to discuss its funding sources.

The campaign finance report filed last year by LetOhioVote.org said the group had raised $1.55 million. All that money, Ms. Brunner says, came from just one source: an obscure nonprofit company called New Models, of suburban Washington.

The report did not identify donors to the latter company, whose president is a former finance director of the Republican National Committee. He also was a campaign adviser and fund-raiser for former secretary of state Kenneth Blackwell when the Republican official ran for Ohio governor in 2006. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports New Models sponsored "robocalls" to Pennsylvania voters aimed at discrediting Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Secretary Brunner is subpoenaing both entities to obtain records and depositions from their leaders. LetOhioVote.org insists it has obeyed all campaign finance laws and dismisses Ms. Brunner's investigation as a "fishing expedition."

In light of voters' approval last year of the construction of four casinos in Ohio, including one in Toledo, asking voters to review the slot-machine legislation can't hurt. Knowing the identities and motivations of the key activists and donors on both sides of the issue will help voters make better-informed decisions. Ms. Brunner's review is a proper and useful exercise of her official duties.

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