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Panel to decide if Buehrer's ad lies about Latta

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COLUMBUS - A conservative Washington committee and Steve Buehrer's congressional campaign face a full hearing over allegations they lied about the voting record of fellow Republican Bob Latta.

In the continuing 5th Congressional District special primary tussle over which Republican state lawmaker is more anti-tax, a three-member panel of the Ohio Elections Commission yesterday unanimously found sufficient evidence to refer the complaint to the full commission.

At issue are e-mails, news releases, and campaign materials circulated by the Club for Growth political action committee and Mr. Buehrer's campaign that tie Mr. Latta to a 1998 proposal to raise the state sales tax as part of a school-funding fix. The complaint does not affect a current TV ad attacking Mr. Latta's tax-voting record.

The commission had previously held in 1998 in an unrelated state Senate campaign that the vote to put the question to voters was not the same as a vote for a tax hike.

"A candidate and political action committee, before they put out a statement attacking a public official and their vote, has an obligation under Ohio law to make sure their statement is accurate,'' Mr. Latta's attorney, Scott Pullins, told the panel consisting of a Republican, Democrat, and an independent.

"The Club for Growth has the resources to do a minimal amount of due diligence,'' he said.

The panel found probable cause that the committee "knowingly'' circulated a false statement or acted with "reckless disregard.''

In its materials, Club for Growth argues Mr. Latta has a history of supporting higher taxes, characterizing his 1998 vote as state senator as support for a $1 billion tax hike that 80 percent of voters later rejected. Mr. Pullins argued that Mr. Latta, now a state representative, voted "no'' at the polls.

Mr. Buehrer was not a member of the Ohio General Assembly when the 1998 vote occurred. There was no representative from the Buehrer campaign or Club for Growth at yesterday's hearing.

Club for Growth's treasurer, Pat Toomey, argued in a written response that the complaint filed Tuesday was scheduled too quickly for a hearing for the organization to attend. It argued that the state panel has no jurisdiction over what amounts to freedom of speech in an election for federal office.

"[The materials] said Mr. Lassa (sic) 'supported' a tax hike in 1998,'' Mr. Toomey wrote. "We did not say he actually voted for a bill that would itself implement such a tax hike. Those are different statements. By helping the 1998 tax issue onto the ballot, Mr. Lassa (sic) clearly 'supported' the proposed tax.''

Mr. Toomey pointed to a news release issued by the National Taxpayers Union of Ohio several weeks before the 1998 legislative vote. That news release characterized the upcoming debate as being "on a plan to raise the state sales tax by $1 billion."

The president of the anti-tax organization at the time was Mr. Pullins.

The full commission that will hear the complaint Oct. 18 consists of three Republicans, three Democrats, and an Independent.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.

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