Lack of cash will keep
most council candidates off TV

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The rich get richer; the poor get poorer.

The world of Cincinnati City Council politics this year is starting to resemble some sort of Third World nation, where opulence and incredible wealth live side-by-side with abject poverty.

In 1997, there is almost no such thing as a middle-class candidate for Cincinnati City Council when it comes to campaign fund-raising.

If you are a council candidate, you are either rolling in dough or scraping to get by.

And, as in most nations where the middle class is virtually non- existent, there are a lot more of the poor than the rich.

Friday, the 18 candidates vying for nine seats on city council this fall did something no council candidates have ever done before - they filed campaign finance reports in September, showing where their respective campaign committees stand in the business of grubbing for money.

Some of them didn't particularly want to, but they had to do it; the early filing date is a requirement of the campaign finance reform law city council passed two years ago. In the past, candidates had to reveal their fund-raising only twice - once about two weeks before the election and again about a month after.

But the extra reporting period showed that the other aspect of the campaign finance reform law - the part that sets contribution limits on individuals, political action committees and PACs - has slowed down some of the candidates.

Two years ago, an 18-candidate field spent a record $2.32 million on the council campaign. Friday, this year's crop of 18 came in at just over $1 million; and, if the past is any indication, the fund-raising will slow down considerably and the field is likely to fall short of the 1995 record.

But that does not mean that at least one enterprising money-raiser out there will not break his own record for individual spending.

Republican Phil Heimlich - who wants badly to finish first and be mayor - set a record for spending by a single candidate two years ago with $362,342.

In the report he filed Friday, he showed that he has already raised $316,774 for this year's race, plus about $20,000 he had left over when the year began.

Think about what that means: There are 18 candidates for city council. They have raised $1.072 million so far. And just about one of every three of those dollars has gone to one candidate - Mr. Heimlich.

Only two other candidates reached six figures - the incumbent mayor, Roxanne Qualls ($173,051) and Republican Charles Winburn ($164,645).

Put the three of them together and they have vacuumed up two of every three dollars raised so far.

The other 15 are left scrambling for crumbs.

The ''middle class'' of this council field consists of two incumbents - Democrat Dwight Tillery ($76,880) and Republican Jeanette Cissell ($60,083).

Everyone else falls well below the poverty line.

The practical effect of this is that if you are a Cincinnati voter, you will hear little from most of the field competing for seats on your city council.

It is not that they won't be speaking; it is that they will be like someone trying to hold a conversation in Delhi Township when the jets are flying over - they will simply be drowned out by a handful of candidates at the top who have nailed down the money and bought the television time. There will be little left for anyone else when the top tier is finished.

Money in political campaigns, the U.S. Supreme Court said 20 years ago, is speech. If that's right, some candidates are shouting into bullhorns. The rest are just talking in their hats.


Howard Wilkinson covers politics for the Enquirer. His column appears on Sundays.