COLUMBUS - The Ohio Chamber of Commerce must reveal who bankrolled $4 million in ads targeting Ohio Supreme Court Justice Alice Robie Resnick for defeat four years ago, a state appeals court ruled yesterday.
A three-judge panel of the 10th District Court of Appeals ruled the chamber can't ignore subpoenas issued by the Ohio Elections Commission as part of an investigation into whether corporate money was used illegally in an attempt to influence the outcome of an election.
The chamber probably will seek an appeal before the state Supreme Court, its attorney, William M. Todd, said.
In 2000, the chamber's nonprofit Citizens for a Strong Ohio produced a series of TV ads attacking Justice Resnick and promoting her Republican opponent, Terrence O'Donnell.
One ad featured a gilded justice who peeked from under her blindfold as cash weighed down one side of her scales. "Is justice for sale?" it asked. The Ottawa Hills Democrat went on to win re-election.
"The types of contributors and the amount of the contributions may provide the commission with information regarding the purpose of CSO," appellate Judge Michael Watson wrote. "Further, the commission may find it beneficial to speak with certain contributors in order to determine their beliefs as to what CSO sought to accomplish with the ads."
The ruling was issued even as Citizens for a Strong Ohio is involved in its third Supreme Court election cycle.
It is running radio and television spots designed to promote Justice O'Donnell, appointed to the court last year, and Judith Ann Lanzinger, a Toledo appellate judge running for an open seat on the court. Both are Republicans.
Cliff Arnebeck, attorney for the plaintiff, Alliance for Democracy, said he regretted the disclosure of the 2000 contributors won't occur before the Nov. 2 election.
"It's a fraud," he said. "The declaration says the ads are paid for by Citizens for a Strong Ohio, suggesting ordinary, real citizens are funding this. In fact, every single contributor to that fund is a major corporation."
The chamber has maintained the ads were constitutionally protected issue advocacy because they didn't use words like "elect" or "defeat."
The commission determined the ads crossed the line into election advocacy anyway.
While it continues to fight disclosure of its 2000 contributors, Citizens for a Strong Ohio voluntarily revealed its corporate donors in 2002 and has done so again this year. It has revealed nearly $640,000 in such donations this year.
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