COLUMBUS - Cincinnati financier Carl Lindner, Columbus Blue Jackets majority owner John McConnell, First Energy Corp., and The Timken Co. have opened their checkbooks in a big way to fight a massive rewrite of Ohio election law at the polls.
Their checks alone, ranging from $500,000 to $150,000, represent half of the $2.2 million raised by the mostly Republican opposition group Ohio First through Oct. 19, according to reports filed yesterday with the Secretary of State's Office.
"These are people who are happy with the status quo, people who are satisfied with the direction of the state. Clearly, the state's going in the wrong direction and has for some time," said Jeff Rusnak of Cleveland-based Burges & Burges, working for both Reform Ohio Now and another political action committee supporting the issues, Citizens to End Corruption.
Out-of-state money continues to overwhelm in-state contributions for Reform Ohio Now, the largely Democratic coalition behind the amendments on the Nov. 8 ballot that would change how Ohio draws congressional and legislative districts, oversees elections, votes absentee, and limits campaign contributions.
Counting in-kind contributions, Reform Ohio Now raised about the same amount Ohio First did by reaching out to more than 3,000 contributors from as far away as Hawaii. That compares to 170 for Ohio First, virtually all from inside Ohio.
Citizens to End Corruption raised $215,000, all from outside Ohio from the League of Conservation Voters and a coalition of groups like Moveon.org and America Coming Together that worked for John Kerry in 2004.
"Reform Ohio Now, which is a misnomer, has been from its beginning a campaign driven by out-of-state interests and out-of-state people," said Ohio First spokesman David Hopcraft. "It's no surprise they're getting their money in large and small contributions from outside the state, people who don't think Ohio can be trusted with their vote."
With both sides largely equally funded, voters can expect to be deluged with an avalanche of TV ads that has already started.
Supporters present the issues as a referendum on a "culture of corruption," stemming from one-party rule of state government. Foes say the switch of political power to appointed redistricting and elections panels robs Ohioans of their ability to hold those responsible accountable at the ballot box.
Meanwhile, Jobs for Ohio, pushing a separate $2 billion borrowing package for public- works projects and investment in high-tech and medical research, raised more than $2.4 million in mostly corporate cash for its campaign for "yes" votes.
A University of Akron poll showed the bond issue is the most popular of the five amendments, with 66.6 percent of likely voters supporting it. The research aspect of the bond issue faces opposition from some groups who call it corporate welfare and fear the program would support embryonic stem-cell research, but there is next-to-no fund-raising under way to sway voters to reject the package.
While Republicans have largely stayed unified in their opposition to the election-related issues, Democrats are splintering. While the Ohio Democratic Party has stayed silent and plans to make no endorsement at an executive committee meeting tomorrow, a number of Democratic factions, elected officials, and traditional constituencies have backed the amendments.
Yesterday, a small group of Democrat county chairmen met in Cleveland to announce their opposition to all of the election-related amendments with the exception of Issue 2, no-fault absentee ballots.
"We don't plan to work with Ohio First," said Athens County Chairman Susan Gwinn. "We don't plan to stand with Republicans in opposition. That's the one thing I hate about this. People in the party want to make a difference, and nobody can point to anyone who has worked harder to make elections better than myself. I'm saddened by it all."
Scarlett Bouder, Reform Ohio Now spokesman, said the dissent among Democrat leaders shows the proposed amendments are truly bipartisan issues.
"Party bosses, regardless of the party, are still party bosses," she said. "They don't want change. This is about good government reform, straight up the middle, that benefits people, not politicians, and that's politicians of either party."
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