Tuesday, November 23, 1999

Campaign funds chase continues unabated


Group questions reform law's bite

BY MICHAEL HAWTHORNE
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Campaign contribution limits failed to slow the money race for Ohio's statewide and legislative offices last year, according to an analysis released Monday.

        The report by Ohio Citizen Action, a government watchdog group, showed that candidates for governor, other statewide offices and the General Assembly collected $80 million during the 1997-98 election cycle. Incumbents raised nearly four times as much as challengers, and those who raised more money won 88 percent of the time.

        Backers of a campaign finance reform bill enacted four years ago had vowed the measure would make it easier for average citizens to have a say in the political process.

        Citizen Action's analysis suggests that loopholes in the law often can render limits on contributions from individuals and political action committees (PACs) meaningless. The biggest givers during the last election cycle were the two major political parties and legislative caucus funds, which can collect larger or unlimited sums and act as funnels for special-interest money.

        “Right now we have a government where some people give thousands of dollars and get more access than those

        who don't give,” said Laura Yeomans, Citizen Action's research director. “I think candidates know what kind of money is contributed to the parties and then passed through to them.”

        Individual and PAC contributions are limited to $2,500 under the campaign finance law. Political parties are limited to giving $523,000 to statewide candidates, $104,500 to Senate candidates and $52,000 to House candidates.

        However, there are no limits on “in-kind” contributions that finance direct mail, TV ads, campaign staff and polling.

        One example of how the new system works was the race last year between former Sen. Janet Howard, R-Forest Park, and then-Rep. Mark Mallory, D-Cincinnati.

        Of the $658,266 that fueled Ms. Howard's unsuccessful re-election effort, 86 percent came from Republican Party committees, the analysis shows. Most of that money came from the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, an organization that operates virtually every aspect of targeted campaigns.

        Republican causes gave Ms. Howard nearly twice the total raised by Mr. Mallory, and more than six times the “hard money” cap imposed on political parties.

        Of the $279,154 raised by and for Mr. Mallory, 47 percent came from Democratic Party committees.

        “My race is the only one I know of where this method didn't work,” Mr. Mallory said. “Usually the incumbent wins when the party caucuses plow in huge sums of money.”

        The state's top individual contributor, Montford Will of Dublin-based Everen Securities Inc., gave $385,575. But instead of directing it to individual candidates, Mr. Will gave most of the money to the Ohio Democratic Party.

        Mr. Will couldn't be reached for comment.

        Reform advocates are pushing for electronic filing of contribution reports to be posted on the Internet. A bill pending in the Ohio Senate also would require the Secretary of State's Office to provide a free Internet link at all local libraries so candidates could file their reports electronically.

        Any Ohioan with a computer and modem can review the latest report from Ohio Citizen Action on the group's Web site: www.ohio citizen.org.

        Brian Hicks, Gov. Bob Taft's chief of staff, said the campaign finance reform law is working as it was intended. Mr. Taft helped shepherd the bill while he was secretary of state, Ohio's top elections officer.

        “I don't think anybody thought it would reduce the amount of money in the political process,” Mr. Hicks said. “But I think it has reduced the amount of undue influence by individuals and increased disclosure about who is giving.”

        The report by Citizen Action also found:

        • Only five lawmakers, including Rep. Gregory Jolivette, R-Hamilton, raised one-third or more of their campaign cash from contributions of $200 or less.

        • Republicans, who swept all five nonjudicial statewide races and maintained control of the General Assembly, raised $46 million. Democrats raised $34 million.

        • Political parties contributed $29 million to campaigns. Banks, Realtors and insurance interests gave $9.4 million; lobbyists and lawyers combined for $8.3 million; and manufacturing and other businesses donated $5.6 million.

       



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