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Published: Tuesday, 3/16/2010

Disclosure of campaign-ad donors eyed

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - The U.S. Supreme Court may have opened the door to a flood of corporate cash into campaign advertising, but Ohio lawmakers are exploring ways to ensure the money isn't spent anonymously.

Ohio is one of 24 states with some form of ban on corporate giving believed to be endangered by the ruling that extends the First Amendment right of free speech directly to the political speech of corporations and indirectly to labor unions.

Democrats and Republicans are both working to see how much wiggle room the court has left them in at least letting Ohioans know who is behind the political ads that are run independently of candidates' committees but are still clearly designed to influence the outcome of an election.

"The court ruled they had a First Amendment right to free speech, but it did not rule they have a First Amendment right to anonymous free speech,'' state Sen. Jon Husted (R., Kettering) said yesterday. "Corporations and unions should be held accountable to the same disclosure standards as anyone else making independent expenditures in Ohio.''

He proposed legislation that he hopes could be in place in time to affect the 2010 general election when governor, U.S. senator, and a wide range of other federal, state, and local offices will be on the ballot.

The high court ruling did not affect Ohio's existing ban on corporations directly giving to a candidate's campaign and political party committees.

Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and Reps. Dennis Murray (D., Sandusky) and Jay Goyal (D., Mansfield) have also unveiled their own proposals.

The Husted, Brunner, and House Democratic plans provide some requirement for corporations and unions to publicly and promptly disclose their spending and would prohibit foreign-owned corporations and their subsidiaries from participating in the political process.

Mr. Husted's plan also would mandate that any third-party organization funneling cash into a corporate-backed campaign disclose contributions received in excess of $5,000, an attempt to prevent the use of shadow entities to shield the identities of the true backers of a campaign.

Ms. Brunner's proposal differs from the others in that she includes a controversial requirement that any broadcast ad funded by a corporate-backed organization be filed in advance with her office with a schedule of when the ad would air.

The House Democratic plan and Ms. Brunner would both ban political giving by corporations doing business with the state. Mr. Murray, an attorney, said he interprets the court's ruling as leaving the door open for regulation when deemed necessary to assure the public there is no quid-pro-quo attached to corporate cash.

"Clearly the court, in our minds, allows us to bar contributions by those who do significant business with the government when there's the danger that the public would perceive that the law is for sale or might be for sale,'' he said.

Mr. Husted, however, questioned the constitutionality of substituting one type of ban for another under the high court's ruling.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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