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Published: Wednesday, 8/1/2012

Union cash helps petition effort

Backers of changed Ohio redistricting report finances

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS -- The campaign to change Ohio's partisan method of redrawing congressional and state legislative districts in Ohio has benefited greatly from the work of many of the same players who successfully killed a state law weakening public employee unions last year.

Backers of Voters First -- which include groups such as the League of Women Voters and Common Cause -- had made it clear that they were tapping into We Are Ohio's volunteer network as they gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot. But the first campaign finance filing Tuesday with the Ohio Secretary of State's office showed Voters First also tapped into many of We Are Ohio's big-dollar, largely union, donors.

Its biggest financial benefactor so far is the Ohio Education Association, with a total cash contribution of $700,000 through June 30. That was followed by $250,000 given directly from We Are Ohio's coffers that the teachers union also had supported.

"At their official opening news conference Monday, issue proponents dodged questions about campaign finances and went out of their way to thank the 'thousands of volunteers' who circulated petitions," said Mark Rickel, spokesman for Protect Your Vote Ohio, which opposes the amendment.

"Common sense and today's campaign finance statement reveal the truth: The petition effort was bought and paid for by contributions from special interests, special interests that spend lots of money to influence elections and lobby state and federal officials," he said. "This amendment is little more than an effort by liberal special interests to change Ohio's constitution for their own partisan gain."

Protect Your Vote reported spending no money in its opposition campaign as of June 30.

"Today the politicians, lobbyists, and political insiders continued to divert attention from the need for redistricting reform," said Dan Tokaji, an Ohio State University election law professor and Voters First board member.

"The last thing they want to talk about is their abuse of the redistricting process to protect themselves and their political cronies," he said. "The opposition won't disclose its funders. They won't talk about the hundreds of thousands of Ohioans -- Republicans, Democrats, and independents -- who stand with Voters First because they want to take back the power from the politicians and return it to the people."

The campaign finance report showed that Voters First raised more than $1.6 million and spent nearly $1.5 million, much of it to the Washington professional signature-gathering firm of Fieldworks LLC.

But Tuesday's filing tells only part of the story.

The numbers don't reflect what happened in July since Voters First learned it had fallen short with its first round of petitions and had to hit the streets again to fill the void. It filed the second and final round of signatures Saturday and voiced confidence it had surpassed the signature threshold of the 385,253 needed. It could learn as early as next week whether it was successful.

On top of the cash contributions, Voters First reported $349,452 in in-kind contributions, much of it covering salary, other staff costs, and office space supplied by unions.

Redistricting is traditionally done once a decade to adjust legislative lines to reflect the latest U.S. Census population data, and the party in charge often uses it to strengthen its hand in elections.

Ohio's new congressional map is drawn by state lawmakers and signed into law by the governor, like any other bill. State House and Senate seats are drawn by a five-member apportionment panel consisting of the governor, secretary of state, auditor, and two legislators of opposite parties. Republicans controlled both processes last year.

The Voters First proposal would replace both methods with a single commission largely selected by a panel of judges. Elected and non-elected government officials, their families, and major political donors could not serve.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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