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Published: Friday, 4/30/2010

Ohio Supreme Court rules in favor of Brunner on racetrack slot issue

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — The Ohio Supreme Court Friday refused to stand in the way of Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner's attempt to force the organization trying to repeal the state's racetrack slots law to reveal who's really paying its bills.

The court unanimously found that Ms. Brunner had not illegally exercised quasi-judicial authority when she issued subpoenas to the principal players of LetOhioVote.org and the Virginia-based non-profit corporation, New Models, from which all $1.5 million of its funding had come.

The money funded the successful petition effort that will allow Ohio voters to decide on Nov. 2 whether they like the law Gov. Ted Strickland and lawmakers enacted last year to allow the installation and taxation of up to 17,500 slot machines at Toledo's Raceway Park and six other horse tracks.

Acting Chief Justice Paul Pfeifer bristled at the idea that such a corporation could be used to shield those truly behind the effort.

He described Ohio's right of initiative and referendum as "far, far from direct, involving straw men, front organizations, red herrings, and smoke and mirrors, and winding its way from Ohio to the New Models' ‘headquarters' in a nondescript house in suburban McLean, Va., and back again, with possibly a couple of stops in the boardroom of a gaming company or in the luxury suite of a basketball area."

His comment seemed to be related to conjecture that one or more of those behind last year's successful effort to bring four Las Vegas-style casinos to Ohio, including one in Toledo, are behind the effort to permanently spike slots competition at the tracks. The Supreme Court had previously put the slots plan on hold pending the outcome of November's vote.

LetOhioVote.org had filed the required campaign finance reports, but it listed a single source of income, New Models. Ms. Brunner issued subpoenas to the main players with LetOhioVote.org and New Models. They, in turn, sued to stop her from forcing them to appear at depositions to reveal the sources of their money.

"Shouldn't we expect our secretary of state, as Ohio's chief elections officer, to aggressively investigate instances where our election laws appear to be exploited?" asked Acting Chief Justice Paul Pfeifer in his concurring opinion.

Ms. Brunner applauded the ruling.

"I am pleased that the Supreme Court of Ohio has ruled in favor of Ohioans' right to learn who funds campaigns to overturn their state's laws and to amend their state constitution," she said.



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