Sunday, April 16, 2000

Tactics of GOP ethical?

Taft tied to fund-raising

BY Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer
and The Associated Press

        Using invitations to the Governor's Mansion, seats in the governor's box at Ohio State University, and chances to visit other tax-payer-owned sites, Gov. Bob Taft enticed big-money donors to the state Republican Party in exchange for $25,000 pledges.

        Though political experts say there is nothing illegal about the practice — done under the auspices of an obscure state law — critics contend the tactic is unethical.

Gov. Bob Taft
        In a signed letter dated Sept. 10, 1999, according to published reports, Mr. Taft invited prospective contributors to join “Team Ohio.” Those who contributed to the party would have access to “exclusive Team Ohio events,” featured in an accompanying 1999 event calendar.

        Events promised included an Oct. 8 reception at the Governor's Mansion, hosted by Mr. Taft and his wife, Hope; a chance to sit in the governor's box the following day at the Purdue-Ohio State football game; and a political briefing with members of Ohio's congressional delegation. The briefing was canceled because of lack of interest.

        Few of the people at the reception and no one who attended the football game with Mr. Taft were Team Ohio members, Taft spokesman Scott Milburn said Saturday.

        “Those event's weren't exclusively for them,” he said.

        Brian Hicks, Mr. Taft's chief of staff, also said there was nothing improper about the fund-raising technique. But he added that such requests would not be made in the future.

        “The appearance is certainly inconsistent with the governor's commitment to the highest ethical standards,” Mr. Hicks said. “He has told me this won't happen again.”

        Philip Richter, executive director of the Ohio Elections Commission, said it is legal to use taxpayer-owned sites to raise money or to reward political contributors.

        Most of the Team Ohio money went to a Republican Party operating fund, which can receive unlimited contributions that do not have to be reported publicly.

        Such funds were created in a campaign finance reform bill passed by the Republican-controlled legislature in July 1998 and strongly supported by Mr. Taft, who was secretary of state at the time.

        Some on the other side of the aisle say the plan has already raised questions about the commitment of the governor and the Republican Party to campaign finance reform.

        “I'm not shocked that the governor would conduct a fund-raiser using the Governor's Mansion. ... I'm absolutely shocked that (the names of those who contributed) can't be disclosed,” said Hamilton County Democratic Party Co-chair Tim Burke.

        “The whole purpose of campaign disclosure is to let the media and the public see who is currying favor ... or worse, pur chasing access to the politicians,” he said. “It really makes someone question just how serious the governor is about campaign finance reform.”

        David Leland, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said the Republicans were trying to hide money and protect the anonymity of the party's biggest contributors by funneling contributions into the party's operating fund.

        “Why are they hiding hundreds of thousands of dollars? I'm disturbed with the lack of reporting,” he said. “Nobody's paying those kind of dollars to get a seat at the football game. What they're really doing is paying to get access to the governor.”

        Hamilton County Republican Party Chair and State Treasurer Joe Deters defended the governor Saturday.

        “I've always known the governor to be a very ethical person,” he said, adding that while he didn't know of the Team Ohio initiative, that kind of practice is common on both sides of the aisle.

        He said the professed shock of the Democrats is hypocrisy.

        Mr. Hicks was reported to have said he did not know of the calendar included in the letter and felt it should not have been sent.

        Mr. Milburn said Saturday that Mr. Taft will continue to actively support the party.

        However, he added, the governor “made it quite clear to everyone over the past few days that this type of fund raising is not what he wants to see happen.”


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