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Published: Friday, 6/22/2007

Ohio attorney threatens lawsuit over chamber's role in elections


COLUMBUS - A Columbus attorney yesterday put the Ohio Chamber of Commerce on notice to retain its records in anticipation of a lawsuit challenging its role in influencing state Supreme Court elections.

After its unsuccessful campaign to unseat Justice Alice Robie Resnick, an Ottawa Hills Democrat, in 2000, the chamber has batted a nearly perfect record in helping to elect justices.

Justice Resnick retired at the end of 2006. The court is now entirely Republican and is believed to be philosophically divided 6-1, with Justice Paul Pfeifer the sole survivor of what was once a 4-3 majority that repeatedly angered the business community with its rulings in tort reform, insurance, and workers' compensation cases.

Attorney Cliff Arnebeck said he is considering a lawsuit alleging corruption in the chamber's use of corporate money. After five years of litigation, Mr. Arnebeck convinced the Ohio Elections Commission to rule that the Ohio Chamber's Citizens for a Strong Ohio illegally used corporate cash to finance its 2000 campaign targeting Justice Resnick.

The chamber was forced to finally disclose its corporate donors.

Since 2002, the chamber and corporations have continued to finance "independent expenditure'' television and radio ads supporting justice candidates, all Republicans, but have disclosed their donors and spending.

The ads, however, stop short of directly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate.

"Neither the chamber's shift in 2002 to running only positive ads for the Republican candidates nor the chamber's shift in 2006 in the form and timing of the corporate-funded ads has addressed the unfairness and imbalance of having corporate money tilting the Ohio Supreme Court elections on a partisan basis,'' Mr. Arnebeck's letter to the chamber's lawyer reads.

Mr. Arnebeck, who has also filed litigation related to the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections in Ohio, claims the chamber and its affiliated groups illegally spent more than $14 million between 2000 and 2004.

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