COLUMBUS The Ohio Elections Commission this afternoon ruled that a Washington political action committee and Steve Buehrer s congressional campaign made false statements about Mr. Buehrer s opponent in the 5th District special election.
The bipartisan commission imposed no penalties on either, despite determining that they knew or should have known that they were wrong when representing Bob Latta s 1998 vote in the Ohio Senate to put a proposed sales tax hike before voters as a vote for higher taxes.
The committee rejected the argument of attorneys for the conservative Club for Growth political action committee and Mr. Buehrer s campaign that it came down to a matter of opinion as to whether the vote was pro-tax.
After a (state) Supreme Court decision on point, doesn t it resolve the issue of whether it s a close call? asked Commissioner Catherine Cunningham, a Republican. It s no longer a close call.
Mr. Buehrer, a state senator elected after the 1998 vote, and Mr. Latta, now in the Ohio House, are vying for the Republican nomination to replace the late Paul Gillmor in the mostly rural northwest Ohio congressional district. The special election will coincide with the Nov. 6 general election.
The Club for Growth has launched an ad campaign in an attempt to brand Mr. Latta as a tax-and-spend lawmaker. Those ads, however, do not specifically mention the 1998 vote and were not subject to this elections commission case.
The commission, however, found that the PAC twice violated state election law when it issued an Internet and e-mail press release in which it twice states Mr. Latta supported a penny sales-tax hike in 1998. Both commission votes were unanimous.
It also found that Mr. Buehrer s campaign violated the law once when it repeated one of the organization s statements in its own press release. That vote was 4-2 with Ms. Cunningham and Chairman Martin Parks voicing concern that there was more distance between Mr. Buehrer s campaign and the original false statement posted on the PAC s Internet web site.
It s too far removed, said Mr. Parks. It s out of Washington.
David Langdon, attorney for Mr. Buehrer s campaign, insisted the tax-vote statement was true.
When you vote to put anything on the ballot, you are supporting that tax increase, he said. You are helping it to the next level.
Scott Pullins, attorney for Mr. Latta, disagreed.
It was a vote to place an issue on the statewide ballot , he said. If they had done 15 minutes of research, they would have determined quickly that this was a false statement.
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