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Published: Tuesday, 8/24/2004

In 2-year echo, Taft, Blackwell call for overhaul

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Two years ago, Gov. Bob Taft and Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell held a press conference calling for an overhaul of Ohio campaign finance law.

Yesterday, Mr. Taft and Mr. Blackwell held a press conference calling for an overhaul of Ohio campaign finance law.

This time they mean it, they said.

"We proposed the same reform in the same room at the same podium before the same audience," said Mr. Blackwell. "The difference is now we stand in a Statehouse awash with scandal, which was born in loose rules and grew under blind eyes."

Another difference this time is that the presumptive next speaker of the Ohio House, Rep. Jon Husted (R., Kettering), stood next to Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) to vow action when lawmakers return to Columbus in a lame-duck session after the Nov. 2 election.

"We're going to pull this together," said Mr. Husted.

Discussion about major changes in how money is raised and spent in Ohio on campaigns has been a hot topic since 2000 when an anonymously financed group tied to the Ohio Chamber of Commerce spent millions in an attempt to defeat Ohio Supreme Court Justice Alice Robie Resnick.

It happened again in 2002, this time with both labor and business in on the act.

Now the state and federal governments are investigating campaign fund-raising tactics and alleged kickbacks involving House Republicans, Speaker Larry Householder (R., Glenford), a campaign consultant, and a fund-raiser.

Last month, three people associated with Ohio Treasurer Joe Deters pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in Cuyahoga County stemming from attempts to use campaign contributions to win state investment business.

"You haven't heard this before: We're going to get this done before the end of the year," said Mr. Taft. "If it takes a long December session, so be it."

Mr. Taft and Mr. Blackwell generally called for full public disclosure of all money going into Ohio's political system, whether directly to a candidate, into party operating accounts, televisions ads sponsored by outside groups, or to county parties.

That is about where full agreement ends with the House and Senate, where talks are ongoing. There is no agreement among all players as to whether county party funds for statewide candidates, through which some candidates have funneled money to skirt contribution limits, should be eliminated.

"Will we have full disclosure of every dollar in every account? If we fail to do that, then we will have failed," said Mr. Gardner. "We're going to do more than that."

A Senate-passed bill earlier this year addressing only independent commercials targeting Ohio Supreme Court candidates included an outright ban on direct corporate and union contributions to such "electioneering communication."

Mr. Husted, however, has questioned the constitutionality of such a ban, and Mr. Taft and Mr. Blackwell would not commit themselves yesterday.

"In the 100-year history of hard dollars, money that comes from individuals or political action committees, we have not had money coming directly from a treasury," said Catherine Turcer, of Ohio Citizen Action. "It's a worry that there was no commitment there."

Senate Minority Leader Greg DiDonato (D., Dennison) was unconvinced.

"It's all talk, press conference after press conference," he said. "They might as well book the room for the 2006 press conference for campaign finance reform."

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com,

or 614-221-0496.



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