COLUMBUS - The Ohio Supreme Court was asked yesterday to halt an investigation by Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner into who is underwriting an effort to ask voters in November to repeal a state law allowing slot machines at racetracks.
At issue is Ms. Brunner's attempt to force disclosure of those financing an organization that has provided every penny that the LetOhioVote.org ballot committee has used to gather signatures to put the question before voters.
Ms. Brunner last week issued subpoenas to three principals of the ballot issue committee as well as to two names attached to the Virginia nonprofit organization New Models. LetOhioVote.org has identified New Models as the sole source of the $1.55 million reported in its own campaign finance filings.
David Langdon, attorney for LetOhioVote.org, said the proper venue for such an investigation would be the Ohio Elections Commission.
"Because the secretary has no authority to investigate potential violations of the campaign finance statutes, she is patently and unambiguously without authority to issue subpoenas, to compel testimony, to command production of documents, or to seek to enforce the subpoenas in furtherance of an investigation…,'' he wrote in the court filing.
At LetOhioVote.org's urging, the state Supreme Court last year ruled that Gov. Ted Strickland and lawmakers could not sidestep the voters' right to referendum by inserting language into the state budget to authorize installation of 17,500 slot machines at Ohio's seven horse-racing tracks, including Toledo's Raceway Park.
The organization has since filed signatures with Ms. Brunner's office and is awaiting determination as to whether it has qualified for the ballot.
Incorporation papers in Virginia show that New Models was created in McLean, Va. outside Washington. Its sole listed officer is Tim Crawford, a former finance director with the Republican National Committee, who once worked as a campaign consultant for former Ohio secretary of state and gubernatorial candidate Kenneth Blackwell.
Ms. Brunner said she suspects the out-of-state organization is being used as a front to allow LetOhioVote.org skirt state campaign disclosure laws.
"We anticipated that LetOhioVote.org would seek the protection of the court to avoid disclosing financial activities that funded its efforts,'' she said. "Going to court probably worsens its case in the court of public opinion. We believe the law requires disclosure, and that's why we've undertaken an investigation that is required and authorized by law.''
There has been conjecture that the effort to kill the state slots plan may have been anonymously underwritten by competing gambling interests, a point that can be neither proven nor refuted absent disclosure of New Model's financial backers.
Mr. Langdon accused Ms. Brunner of trying to change the rules by pursuing LetOhioVote.org in a way she has not pursued any other ballot campaign.
The shelving of the slots plan last fall punched an $851 million hole in the state's current budget, most of which was ultimately patched by shelving a planned 4.2 percent income-tax cut for 2009.
Contact Jim Provance at:
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