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Published: Friday, 10/22/2004

GOP justices raise 3 times more than Democratic rivals

BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - If dollars translate into votes on Nov. 2, it will be a Republican sweep in the battle for Ohio Supreme Court.

The GOP candidates for three contested races on the ballot have out-raised their Democratic opponents by more than 3 to 1 this year, according to reports filed with the Ohio secretary of state's office.

Reports due yesterday marked the final peek into the campaign fund-raising prior to the election. The lopsided money race has resulted in a lopsided presence of Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, Justice Terrence O'Donnell, and Toledo appellate Judge Judith Lanzinger on TV airwaves going into the homestretch compared to their opponents.

Since the first of the year, the three Republicans have raised a total of $4.2 million compared to just under $1.3 million for their respective Democratic challengers: retired Cleveland Municipal Judge C. Ellen Connally, Warren-based appellate Judge William O'Neill, and Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Nancy Fuerst.

Catherine Turcer, of watchdog Ohio Citizen Action, noted that, before factoring in yesterday's numbers, the GOP candidates have received 29 times as much as Democrats from state and county party organizations.

Also, a nonprofit arm of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce launched its second television commercial yesterday to promote Justice O'Donnell and Judge Lanzinger with help from a total of $500,000 from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber's contributions represent a quarter of the $2 million raised by Citizens for a Strong Ohio, largely from insurance companies and other corporations. The resulting radio and TV commercials have largely gone unanswered by the trial lawyers and unions that traditionally support Democrats.

Republicans outnumber Democrats 5-2 on the court. Philosophically, the court has often aligned 4-3 with Republican Justice Paul Pfeifer joining the two Democrats on such issues as civil lawsuit reform, school funding, workers compensation, and insurance contracts. Justice Pfeifer, the fourth seat on the ballot, is unopposed.

The three Republicans have benefited dramatically from insurance companies, FirstEnergy, and corporate law firms. Democrats have found their financial support from unions and law firms specializing in personal injury cases.

According to an analysis conducted by Citizen Action, Cincinnati Insurance Companies and its employees represent the largest contributor for all three Republicans.

"I do believe money makes an enormous difference," said Ms. Turcer. "However, what candidates need is enough money to get their message out. This is not winner takes all like in a poker game. It may be that Nancy Fuerst - who has raised a significant mount of money, including a $200,000 loan from her husband - has enough to get her message out."

But Judge Fuerst, little-known outside her home base, had a primary election battle and spent $422,000 of the $1.1 million she's raised. Judge Lanzinger, who has raised nearly $1.4 million, had no primary fight and could save her ammunition.

Judge O'Neill has raised just $58,000. Trying to make the point that money and the courts don't mix, he limited his contributions to $10 per individual and $1,000 per organization.

- Jim Provance



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