Thursday, November 11, 1999

2% bill appears headed to nowhere

Panel: Law unnecessary, ineffective

Enquirer Columbus Bureau

John Holcomb
        COLUMBUS — A panel of Ohio lawmakers appears unwilling to approve legislation that would bar thousands of local government employees from donating money to their elected bosses' campaigns.

        State Rep. Jeff Jacobson, R-Vandalia, had hoped a Cincinnati Enquirer story showing how Butler County Prosecutor John F. Holcomb built a $155,000 campaign war chest through employee donations would give his bill a boost.

        The Oct. 24 story said most of Mr. Holcomb's employees give 2 percent of their paychecks to his re-election fund.

  • Voluntary donations questioned Oct. 24
  • About the 2 Percent Club Oct. 24
  • Prosecutor defends employees' donations Oct. 26
  • Legislator seeks to end '2 Percent Club' Oct. 27
  • Prosecutor's '2 Percent Club' splits parties Oct. 28
  • Lawmakers slam 2% Club Oct. 30
  • A stink in Butler Co. Oct. 31, 1999
  • '2% Club' warrants more study, auditors say Nov. 6
  • Lawmaker to urge employee-gift ban Nov. 10
  • Editorial Nov. 10
        Several members of the House Technology and Elections Committee called Mr. Holcomb's tactics “despicable” during a public hearing Wednesday. They also called Mr. Jacobson's bill unnecessary, ineffective and too restrictive.

        “I don't think we should change the entire system because a handful of people are abusing it,” said Rep. Rose Vesper, R-New Richmond.

        Rep. Ray Miller, D-Columbus, said the bill goes too far.

        “This is sort of an outright denial of the opportunity to contribute,” he said. “It's implied that all employees are being forced to contribute, but that may not be the case.”

        Mr. Jacobson's bill would expand to all local government workers a 1995 law prohibiting state employees from giving to their bosses' campaigns. It would also ban any employee contributions to a candidate running to head their office or agency.

        While the 1995 law blocked local government officials from asking for donations, it did not stop voluntary giving. Mr. Jacobson said that left a loophole that lets local officials strong-arm employees for money.

        “Imagine a secretary making $19,000 a year — quite often a single mom — who has to come up with $400,” Mr. Jacobson said. “That's money that could clothe and feed her children, but it's going into a campaign fund.”

        After the hearing, Mr. Jacobson expressed doubt his bill will pass. He has tried three times in three years to advance the idea, to no avail.

        “You know these (lawmakers) have ties to local politics, and local politicians like getting campaign funds from their employees,” he said. “You can witness that because, even when I was chairman of the committee, I was never able to call the bill up for a vote.”

        Ms. Vesper said the bill may make local officials more devious. She noted that a public employee's spouse or relative could still legally donate to the boss' campaign.

        “I'm sitting here and I can already think of three ways you can get around this,” Ms. Vesper said.

        The committee chairman, Rep. Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster, said he's not sure the bill is needed. He said it's possible the Butler County prosecutor's so-called “2 percent club” already violates the ban against soliciting money.

        “That's one of the things we have to examine a little bit,” Mr. Amstutz said.

        Mr. Holcomb has repeatedly said he's done nothing wrong, and that his employees' contributions were voluntary. Although some current employees who spoke with the Enquirer said they were glad to give, some ex-employees said co-workers pressured them to contribute.

        Estimates provided by the Ohio Bureau of Employment Services show there are 519,370 people working for county and city governments and in public schools. There are another 61,852 full- and part-time state employees, according the Ohio Department of Administrative Services.

        The practice of public employees donating a certain percentage of their paychecks is far from uncommon. Hamilton County employees used to donate 2 percent of their pay to politi cal parties until Joseph Deters, then the county clerk of courts, called for an end to it in 1992.

        Dusty Rhodes, the Hamilton County auditor, said he stopped the payments in his office in 1991. He supervises about 130 public employees.

        But Mr. Rhodes, a Democrat, said there is nothing wrong with an employee giving him an unsolicited contribution. He said he received checks from eight or nine staffers during his last campaign.

        “I think people should be allowed to give what they want,” he said. “I'm aware that some of my people have given to Republicans and I think that's fine. That's their right.”

        Warren County Auditor Nick Nelson agrees. His office includes about 50 employees.

        Said Mr. Nelson: “I don't see anything wrong with it.”

Previous stories
About the 2 Percent Club Oct. 24, 1999
Prosecutor defends employees' donations Oct. 26, 1999
Legislator seeks to end '2 Percent Club' Oct. 27, 1999
Prosecutor's '2 Percent Club' splits parties Oct. 28, 1999
Lawmakers slam 2% Club Oct. 30, 1999
A stink in Butler Co. Oct. 31, 1999
'2% Club' warrants more study, auditors say Nov. 6
Lawmaker to urge employee-gift ban Nov. 10
Editorial Nov. 10

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