Wednesday, Mar 29, 2017
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Politics

Clean campaign panel disbands

When Lucas County Commissioner Harry Barlos complained on Monday that his opponent, Peter Gerken, was attacking his reputation there was not - as in past elections - an independent arbiter to decide whether his complaint was valid.

The Toledo-Lucas County Clean Campaign Committee no longer exists.

The committee, which was formed in 2001 to oversee the Toledo mayoral race and which received wide attention for its rulings on campaign funny business, disbanded after last year's elections, said Bonnie Bishop, president of the local League of Women Voters.

The league threw in the towel, in part for lack of attention from the media and because its members found other political activities they wanted to pursue, Ms. Bishop said.

Members of the league had helped form the committee, though it was set up as a separate organization.

"They had other commitments" this year, Ms. Bishop said. "It was a lot of work."

The committee sponsored a pledge that candidates would sign, vowing not to use nasty campaign tactics or innuendo to smear their opponents.

The pledge was developed based on a template invented by the Institute for Global Ethics, a nonpartisan think tank based in Camden, Maine.

The group would then monitor local campaigns and investigate claims of wrongdoing.

Mr. Barlos' complaint against Mr. Gerken, a Toledo city councilman challenging him for his seat on the county commission, centered on a resident's complaint to him that she took part in a phone survey in which she was given negative information about Mr. Barlos, a longtime Democrat running as an Independent in this election because the local Democratic Party gave its endorsement to Mr. Gerken.

"Based on my experience in the campaign arena, candidates typically test topics they intend to use in attack advertisements," Mr. Barlos said during a news conference.

"Today, I am here to set the record straight and put my opponent on notice," he said.

"I will not allow you to degrade this commissioner's race or my reputation with half-truths and slanted messages to the voters."

Mr. Gerken Monday denied funding any polls, although he said he was aware of surveys being conducted.

He said he subscribed to the ideals of keeping campaigns honest and fair.

The former Clean Campaign Committee's findings during the 2001 mayoral race received wide coverage in the closing weeks of that campaign.

Lucas County Democratic Party spokesman Jerry Chabler said the absence of the committee means it may soon be time for local voters to don slickers to protect them from the mudslinging, especially when advertisements hit the local airwaves in droves.

"Keep men, women, and children away from the TV," he said. "No one has signed the pledge for a clean campaign on either side. It hasn't been talked about."

Bernadette Noe, chairman of the county GOP, said Republicans will run a clean campaign.

"We've just run clean campaigns anyway. As far as the other side, we are watching. We have seen a few things that concern us. My first response is usually just to go to the Ohio Elections Commission anyway. I have always found them to have had much more force," she said.

This year, "we made the pledge available to people that requested it, but we did not go out and ask candidates to sign the pledge," said Ms. Bishop of the League of Women Voters.

She said Mr. Barlos called several months ago asking about the pledge, and that he was the only candidate to do so.

Ms. Bishop said she believes the campaign policing committee "was a worthwhile exercise," but said committee members had moved on to other projects, including a program that conducts mock elections in area elementary schools. They are also organizing candidate forums, voter registration drives, and get-out-the-vote drives.

Sue Nichols, a fellow member of the league, was a driving force in forming the committee three years ago.

"They knew I wasn't going to do it this year. I guess no one picked up the ball," she said.

Ms. Nichols is producing a voters guide that will be distributed to local voters. She said 75,000 copies will be published.

Contact Fritz Wenzel at:

fritz@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.

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