COLUMBUS - Five Ohio Supreme Court justices said yesterday that they will set aside campaign contributions from Tom Noe until the investigations into the Toledo-area coin dealer conclude.
"Upon final adjudication, our respective campaigns will deal with the contributions in a manner that is consistent with applicable laws, rules, and regulations governing judicial campaigns in Ohio," the justices said in a statement.
Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer and Justices Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Maureen O'Connor, Terrence O'Donnell, and Judith Ann Lanzinger said they have instructed their campaign treasurers to identify contributions by Mr. Noe and keep the money "separate until there are final dispositions of all investigations and litigation related to Mr. Noe's management of [Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation] funds."
The five justices, who received a combined $23,510 from Mr. Noe and his wife, Bernadette, didn't specify how much money was set aside. Authorities believe that $10 million to $12 million in assets are missing from $50 million in rare-coin funds operated by Mr. Noe for the bureau.
Last week, several leading Republicans, including President Bush, Gov. Bob Taft, Sens. George Voinovich and Mike DeWine, three gubernatorial candidates, and other GOP officials returned money they received from Mr. Noe. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has refused to return $10,000 in contributions from Mr. Noe.
The prominent Republican fund-raiser is facing multiple investigations, including a federal probe into whether he laundered money into President Bush's campaign. Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean has called on the President to return all the money raised for his campaign by Mr. Noe, who was considered a Bush "Pioneer" because he collected at least $100,000 for Mr. Bush's re-election bid.
Denny White, the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said the plan for the Republican judges to set aside their money is "a step in the right direction."
"That's a lot better than what some of the other officeholders have done," he said. "It's not their money, it's the workers' money." He added, "Some of them are giving it to charity like it is their own money."
Some candidates have placed the money into escrow pending legal advice on the rules of dispersing campaign contributions. Others have committed to giving the money to charity.
Jason Mauk, an Ohio Republican Party spokesman, said the party is in touch with legal counsel to help decide on appropriately redirecting the funds. He commended the judges for deciding to return the money.
"We believe that it is a responsible step to take given the questionable nature of the contributions," he said. "We believe in providing aggressive leadership in cleaning up this issue, and part of doing so is removing any potential conflict of interest."
All five judges have recused themselves from hearing open records cases pertaining to the bureau and Mr. Noe to "avoid even the appearance of a conflict."