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Published: Monday, 10/31/2005

Lobbyists hand out donations to influence Republican politics

BY STEVE EDER
AND JAMES DREW
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

COLUMBUS - Two years after the 1988 presidential race, President George H.W. Bush spoke at an Akron restaurant to raise money for then-gubernatorial candidate George Voinovich. The President began his remarks by thanking Alex Arshinkoff, chairman of the Summit County Republican Party.

"They don't have many political leaders like Alex around this country," said Mr. Bush.

"And he's good, and he's honest, and he's decent, and I get fired up every time I'm around him."

Members of the Bush political dynasty should be happy to see Mr. Arshinkoff. He's raised millions not only to get them elected, but to elect Republicans across the nation.

A big-dollar lobbyist who for years has mixed politics, power, and money Mr. Arshinkoff has become one of the most influential forces in northeast Ohio.

Campaign finance records show that President George W. Bush turned last year not only to Mr. Arshinkoff, but to two other Columbus lobbyists in his battle for Ohio's crucial electoral votes.

Tom Whatman, a former executive director of the Ohio Republican Party who considers GOP Chairman Bob Bennett as his mentor, has the most lobbying clients on the federal level. The firms - including Crown Equipment and GrafTech - have collected more than $6 million in contracts from the federal government since Mr. Whatman began representing them.

William A. Antonoplos became a prominent Statehouse lobbyist in the 1990s when U.S. Sen. George Voinovich was governor.

Mr. Antonoplos, his wife, Jan, and son, Michael W. Antonoplos, have contributed more than $178,000 to candidates on the state and federal level.

His wife attended an April, 2004 fund-raiser in Washington, where Greek-Americans raised $1.5 million for Mr. Bush's re-election campaign.

Since 1990, the current clients of Mr. Antonoplos - including his own lobbying firm, Capitol Square Consulting - have donated more than $268,000 to candidates and parties in Ohio.

The total does not include $53,595 sent by the firms to the Republican Governors' Association, a political advocacy group which operates outside the restrictions of state and federal election officials and which was recently headed by Ohio Gov. Bob Taft.

Mr. Antonoplos helped his clients win $323 million in state of Ohio contracts between 1999 and 2005, an analysis by The Blade of a state spending database shows.

In 1999-2000, he helped his clients collect $68.5 million, but that total dropped to $27 million in 2002-2003.

The amount of state dollars paid to Mr. Antonoplos' clients rebounded to $72 million in 2004-2005, as he gained new clients - GTech, which does business with the Ohio Lottery, and two engineering firms with lucrative state contracts, DLZ and Deloitte Consulting, which have received millions of dollars in state contracts.

A Pittsburgh native, Mr. Antonoplos worked from 1972 to 1974 as a special assistant to GOP Cleveland Mayor Ralph Perk. Mr. Antonoplos went on to work for the Ohio Department of Transportation, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and the regional office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Ronald Reagan.

Neither Mr. Whatman nor Mr. Antonoplos is as high-profile as Mr. Arshinkoff, who in nearly 30 years as the leader of the Summit County Republican Party has established the Akron-area wing of the GOP into one of the state's biggest political money machines.

He has collected and doled out millions of dollars to Republican candidates on the state and local levels.

"You only win in politics with the hard work of hundreds and hundreds of people," Mr. Arshinkoff said in a 1997 interview with The Blade. "Nobody succeeds in this business on their own. No party organization official succeeds on their own."

Mr. Arshinkoff's counterpart at the Summit County Democratic Party, Russell Pry, called the Republican leader "intensely partisan."

"That's the one thing with Alex," Mr. Pry said. "He lives and breathes politics."

Mr. Arshinkoff, who along with his family members has contributed more than $85,000 to Repubulican candidates, has represented several impressive clients as a lobbyist in Columbus.

The list has included heavy-weights including FirstEnergy and SBC, the Akron Art Museum, and local businesses like Welty Construction.

Contact Steve Eder at: seder@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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