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Published: Saturday, 12/11/2004

Bill pushes campaign finance changes

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Republican legislators said yesterday that they have crafted a bill to change Ohio's campaign finance law that has the support of Gov. Bob Taft and Secretary of State Ken Blackwell.

If approved next week during a special session called by Mr. Taft, the limit on how much individuals and political action committees can contribute to candidates would jump from $2,500 to $10,000 per election cycle.

"My belief is we're not going to take money out of the system," said state Rep. Kevin DeWine (R., Fairborn). "Money will always try to find its way into the system and ultimately to the candidate.

"The best system that we can put into place is one where the money gets to the candidate without having to go through six or seven different routes," Mr. DeWine added.

But Democrats said the bill should not include raising the contribution limits. The bill, for example, would increase the limit on what a campaign committee could contribute to a legislative campaign fund from $5,000 to $15,000 per election cycle.

"The Republicans apparently just want to prostitute themselves for campaign cash," state Sen. Greg DiDonato (D., Dennison) said.

House Minority Leader Chris Redfern (D., Catawba Township) said Democrats will offer several amendments, including more frequent reporting by candidates on what they raise and how they spend it.

Mr. DiDonato said the drive for changes in campaign finance laws gained momentum for two major reasons: corporations have anonymously poured money into ads targeting Democratic Ohio Supreme Court candidates, and federal officials are investigating the campaign fund-raising practices of House Speaker Larry Householder (R., Glenford).

Critics of the current system complain that candidates have used county and state party state candidate funds to "park" money for future use.

The bill would require full disclosure of contributions to county and state party state candidate funds. Also, county party state candidate funds could only accept contributions from county residents.

Under the bill, county party state candidate funds would be allowed to contribute up to $10,000 in money and in-kind contributions to statewide candidates.

Also, issue-advocacy groups would be required to disclose contributions and spending for ads that identify a candidate. Those groups would be barred from running ads for 30 days before a primary or general election - unless they follow the requirements of a political action committee. PACs can't accept corporate or organized labor contributions, Mr. De-Wine said.

"It's imperative that every group that is spending money for the purposes of influencing elections be required to disclose where the money came from," Mr. DeWine said.

Tim Burga, legislative director of the Ohio AFL-CIO, said a provision to prohibit the transfer of general treasury funds and membership dues from unions and corporations to their political action committees would harm labor unions.

"They're trying to silence the one voice that workers have, and that is through their organized union," Mr. Burga said.

State Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), sponsor of the campaign finance bill, said the goal is to send a bill to Mr. Taft for his signature next week.

But Catherine Turcer, Ohio Citizen Action's legislative director, said the complexity of the 191-page bill could make that schedule unrealistic. "This is a special session. There is time for them to publicly debate this and what each provision means," she said.

Contact James Drew at:

jdrew@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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