Sunday, October 15, 2000

Judicial race soft on rules

        It sure is a good thing there are rules in politics. Otherwise, political people would have to summon up their pyscho-kinetic powers and find a bunch of spoons when they wanted something to bend.

        There are lots of rules, for example, concerning how money can be raised and spent in political campaigns, but they have become about as meaningless as blue laws in New Orleans.

        Al Gore and George W. Bush each got $68 million in public financing for their general election campaigns, but their political parties are spending twice that much in “soft money” TV advertising, money that they get from every interest
group imaginable — organized labor, trial lawyers, HMOs, defense contractors and dozens more.

        So much for public financing limiting the influence of special interests on presiden tial campaigns.

        But rule-bending is not limited to national politics.

        In Ohio, we have a very contentious Ohio Supreme Court race going on.

        Justice Alice Robie Resnick, a Democrat from Toledo, is running for re-election. She is opposed by Republican Terrence O'Donnell, a Cleveland appeals court judge.

        The business community in Ohio believes Justice Resnick can't wear a hat without cutting holes in it for the horns growing out of her head. To them, she is the devil incarnate because she provided the majority vote in Ohio Supreme Court decisions throwing out limits on jury awards in personal injury cases and reversing a state law requiring injured workers prove employers deliberately and intentionally injured them before collecting damages.

        Justice Resnick and Judge O'Donnell agreed before the campaign began to live by a $500,000 judicial campaign spending limit set by the Ohio Supreme Court, even though a federal judge re cently ruled judicial campaign spending limits unconstitutional.

        But, in the end, something near $5 million is likely to be spent on the race.

        Ohio business leaders formed Citizens for a Strong Ohio, which has booked $3 million in TV ad time on Ohio TV stations.

        Ohioans for Fair and Independent Judges, an insurance industry group, will spend its own wad of money; and a pro-Resnick group funded by trial lawyers and unions will spend another $1 million touting the Democrat.

        In other words, the O'Donnell-Resnick agreement means nothing.

        Citizens for a Strong Ohio has the most prominent TV ad right now. In it, a narrator goes on about Judge O'Donnell's volunteer work for children at Our Lady of the Wayside; and talks about his background as “a teacher, lawyer, distinguished judge.” It ends with these words plastered on the screen: “Follow a good example, volunteer in your community.”

        The fact is, they don't particularly care whether you volunteer. The goal is to drive up Judge O'Donnell's name recognition and create a warm, fuzzy feeling for him. The next round of ads is just beginning, and they beat on Justice Resnick like a drum.

        In a manner mindful of the rules, of course.



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