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COLUMBUS - The Ohio Supreme Court Friday refused to stand in the way of Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner's attempt to force those trying to repeal the state's racetrack slot machine law to reveal who's really paying the bills.
The court unanimously found that Ms. Brunner did not overstep her authority by issuing subpoenas to the principal players of LetOhioVote.org and the Virginia-based nonprofit corporation, New Models, from which all $1.5 million of the effort's funding came.
The money funded the successful petition drive that will allow Ohio voters to decide on Nov. 2 whether they like the law Gov. Ted Strickland and lawmakers enacted last year to allow the installation and taxation of up to 17,500 slot machines at Toledo's Raceway Park and six other horse-racing tracks.
Acting Chief Justice Paul Pfeifer, in a concurring opinion, described the effort as "involving straw men, front organizations, red herrings, and smoke and mirrors, and winding its way from Ohio to the New Models 'headquarters' in a nondescript house in suburban McLean, Va., and back again, with possibly a couple of stops in the boardroom of a gaming company or in the luxury suite of a basketball arena."
His comment seemed to relate to conjecture that one or more of those behind last year's successful effort to bring Las Vegas-style casinos to Toledo and three other cities might be behind the effort to permanently eliminate slots competition at the tracks. The Supreme Court had previously placed the slots law on hold pending the outcome of LetOhioVote.org's voter referendum.
LetOhioVote.org filed the requisite campaign finance reports, but it listed a single source of income, New Models. Ms. Brunner issued subpoenas to the main players of LetOhioVote.org and New Models to force them to reveal where the corporation got the money to give the Ohio organization.
The principals in those groups then sued to stop Ms. Brunner from forcing them to appear at depositions to answer questions.
The court found that Ms. Brunner did not exercise quasijudicial authority when she issued the subpoenas. But it left the door open for the representatives of the organizations to challenge the propriety of the subpoenas at the local common pleas court level. LetOhioVote.org spokesman Carlo Loparo, one of those subpoenaed, said no decision had been made as to whether the parties would comply with the subpoenas or try to block them again.
"The most important aspect of this is that the court did not rule on the merits of the case," he said. "They essentially ruled on a technical issue. They believe the secretary of state had the right to issue the subpoenas and that they did not feel they have the authority to prevent that action. They did not order LetOhioVote.org to comply, and they set no timeline for compliance."
Ms. Brunner, applauded the ruling. "I am pleased that the Supreme Court of Ohio has ruled in favor of Ohioans' right to learn who funds campaigns to overturn their state's laws and to amend their state constitution," she said.
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