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Published: Thursday, 11/3/2005

Democrats ratchet up heat on election-related reforms

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS The war of words in advance of Tuesday s high-stakes vote on four election-related constitutional amendments escalated yesterday as Republicans were accused of strong-arming corporations into financing the opposition effort.

Sen. Marc Dann, a Youngstown-area Democrat, pointed to a fund-raising letter from state Sen. Kevin Coughlin (R., Cuyahoga Falls) as an example of a play to pay atmosphere the proposed constitutional amendments are supposedly designed to correct.

He s a guy on a committee regulating Time Warner, telling them they re going to lose their clout, so they d better make a contribution, said Mr. Dann. There s no quid pro quo there, no direct relationship, but it shows how cozy the money contributors are with the power structure of the current legislature.

Mr. Coughlin, Summit County s GOP chairman, fired back, saying he s considering a possible ethics complaint against Mr. Dann. He accused him of using a letter with Senate letterhead more than a month ago to try to intimidate lobbyists into not giving to the opposition.

I don t see how a letter soliciting money is any different from a letter from Marc Dan warning PACs not to give money to the opposition to Issues 2-5, he said. The hypocrisy is crazy. He sends a letter that is meant to intimidate, saying it would be better not to give and, if you do, I ll be watching and there will be hell to pay.

Although Mr. Dann s letter appeared on Senate letterhead, he said he paid for it and did not use his taxpayer-funded office or staff to produce it.

On Tuesday, voters will be asked to approve four election-related constitutional amendments, the most controversial of which would strip state elected officials of their power to redraw congressional and legislative districts, giving that power to a new bipartisan, appointed panel on which no elected official could sit.

The other three would take the secretary of state s role as Ohio s top elections officer and give it to an appointed panel, revamp campaign contribution limits, and create no-fault absentee voting in the state.

As of Oct. 19, about $4.5 million had been raised by both sides to wage their war on TV. Reform Ohio Now, the largely Democratic coalition behind the amendments, continues to be overwhelmingly dependent on out-of-state cash from groups such as the Washington-based People for the American Way, which contributed more than $600,000 toward to effort.

In turn, the mostly Republican opposition group, Ohio First, has received most of its cash from corporations and CEOs, the largest check, $500,000 coming from Cincinnati financier and insurance executive Carl Lindner.

Mr. Coughlin said the letter to the Time Warner PAC was no different than letters he sent on Ohio First letterhead to all PACs. The letter recites Ohio First s contention that Issue 3, which largely reduces how much individuals and PACs may contribute to campaigns, represents a power grab by labor unions.

I know you will agree with me that these so-called reforms are really an attempt to select special interests to create a very uneven playing field in Ohio favoring their supporters and their own personal agendas, wrote Mr. Coughlin, as he requested a contribution allowable in the form of a corporate check.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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