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Published: Thursday, 1/6/2005

Court says Chamber's election arm is PAC


COLUMBUS - The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has apparently decided a nonprofit arm of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce that aired TV ads attacking an Ohio Supreme Court justice in 2000 is a "political action committee."

The three-judge panel's statement surprised William Todd, the chamber's attorney, since the court was not asked that question. He characterized the statement in an opinion issued Monday as "wrong."

Under Ohio law, PACs must disclose where they get their money. Citizens for a Strong Ohio has refused to reveal what corporations bankrolled ads targeting Justice Alice Robie Resnick, an Ottawa Hills Democrat. The chamber had asked the federal court to clarify, for its future plans, at what point issue advocacy crosses the line into election advocacy.

The Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit determined it did not have jurisdiction while the dispute was still part of an ongoing state proceeding. But in doing so, Judge R. Guy Cole, Jr., described Strong Ohio as a PAC "that sponsors a broad range of political activities."

"It's the court applying common sense and drawing obvious conclusions from the facts before it," said Cliff Arnebeck, attorney for Alliance for Democracy, the organization that filed the initial complaint against Strong Ohio before the Ohio Elections Commission.

Mr. Todd said the chamber is unlikely to further appeal this issue because a recently passed campaign finance law has since answered the chamber's original question.

"The problem with the Resnick case is that it was retroactive lawmaking," he said. "They were trying to scramble to plug a gap in Ohio law or what they believed Ohio law should have been. It's hard to 'unbreak' the omelet."

In a separate case, the chamber plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court next week to prevent the collection of fines of $25,000 for each day it fails to comply with commission subpoenas to disclose its donors.

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