Got a rich opponent? It's your lucky day

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Today, we offer free advice for young people who want to play Russian roulette with your family's good name and pursue a career in politics.

If, for example, your dream is to become governor of Ohio and you find yourself locked in a primary election struggle, make sure you run against somebody who is just stinking rich.

Somebody who is loaded; somebody who has enough jack in his or her nest egg to finance a statewide campaign by just opening up the family checkbook and writing a big one, with lots of zeroes.

Run against somebody like Democrat Bruce Douglas, the Toledo millionaire businessman, who, although he has never run for public office before, is willing to spend at least $800,000 of his own money to take on the party favorite, Lee Fisher, in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

You see, if Mr. Fisher had had an opponent who was just a run-of-the-mill, workaday politician who has to go out each day and grub for campaign money just like the next guy, he wouldn't have had the campaign fund-raising bonanza he has had in the last three months, where he raked in $1.1 million in some rather large chunks.

Ordinarily, candidates for state office in Ohio are limited to accepting contributions of $2,500 from individuals, making scraping up a million or two a formidable task.

But there is a quirk in Ohio campaign finance law that allows a candidate to ignore the campaign contribution limits if his or her opponent spends at least $100,000 of his own money on the campaign. Well, Mr. Douglas has beat that by a long shot; and probably has not yet reached the bottom of his considerable pockets.

For Mr. Fisher, this was almost as good as hitting the Lotto.

Suddenly, his caqmpaign began raking in checks of $25,000, $50,000, even $100,000 in the no-holds-barred, all-bets-are-off atmosphere.

The biggest bundle came in the form of a $100,000 check from Michael "Mitch" Boich of Dublin, a coal marketer whose family has been a big financial supporter of the present governor, Republican George Voinovich.

If Mr. Fisher were running against a merre mortal instead of a multimillionaire spending his own money, Mr. Fisher would have had to go out and find 40 Mitch Boich-clones to come up with that kid of do-re-mi.

And then there was Richard Jacobs, owner of the Cleveland Indians, who wrote Mr. Fisher a check for $50,000. He, too, has been a big Voinovich fan, giving the governor $166,000 since 1992.

In fact, an extraordinarily large amount of the big-time checks Mr. Fisher has been depositing in the campaign account lately have been from Cleveland-area business types, people who generally give to Republicans.

Some Republican Party leaders in Cleveland have complained that they have had a hard time keeping their money people on the side of the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Bob Taft.

Mr. Fisher is form Cleveland; Mr. Taft is from Cincinnati and lives in Columbus. The business interests in Cleveland have gotten rather used to having a governor from Cleveland; they have had one for 16 years - first with Dick Celeste and now with Mr. Voinovich.Many of the normally Republican business people in Cleveland are apparently willing to overlook the "D" behind Mr. Fisher's name to make sure they have one of their own calling the shots inte statehouse.

Predictably, when the big checks starting rolling into Fisher campaign headquarters, the Ohio Republican Party started huffing and puffing about how Mr. Fisher was "trying to buy the governor's mansion."

What they didn't note, though, was that the Republicans in the legislature wrote the campaign finance law that allowed the limits to be lifted; and Mr. taft, as secretary of state, thought it was a swell idea.

So, at least through the May 5 primary, Mr. Fisher has struck gold and those big, fat bank drafts will keep pouring in.

It provides a wonderful object lesson for the aspiring Ohio politician. If Mr. Douglas loses the primary, as most believe he will, you gubernatorial wanna-bes should call him on May 6.

Maybe you can talk him into running against you next time.

Howard Wilkinson's politics column runs on Sundays. Call 768-8388.


Howard Wilkinson's politics column runs on Sundays. Call 768-8388.