Thursday, October 26, 2000

CFC execs invest in court race

$59,000 in donations dwarfs that of others

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Executives and agents of Cincinnati Financial Corp. have given $59,410 to two candidates for Ohio Supreme Court, a government watchdog group said Wednesday.

        Since 1999, Cincinnati Financial Corp. executives and agents gave Cuyahoga County appellate court Judge Terrence O'Donnell $25,820 and Justice Deborah Cook $33,590.

        The $59,410 in donations to the two Republican candidates far exceeds amounts donated by people affiliated with other organizations with a stake in this year's high court races.

        The figures were compiled by Ohio Citizen Action. Its latest study shows four Supreme Court candidates got $2.5 million from lawyers, insurance companies, real estate developers, manufacturers and labor unions through September.

        “Disclosure allows voters to see the flow of money in Ohio politics, to know before voting the economic interests supporting a candidate,” said Laura Yeomans, a Citizen Action researcher.

        Justice Cook is running for a second term against Democratic Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Tim Black. Judge O'Donnell is challenging two-term Justice Alice Robie Resnick, a Toledo Democrat.

        Though each candidate promised to spend no more than $500,000 on the campaigns, business-backed groups have spent at least $4 million on commercials aimed at defeating Justice Resnick.

        Business and insurance groups are upset with Justice Resnick over several 4-3 high court decisions that voided laws meant to cap expensive lawsuits and reform worker compensation rules.

        An Aug. 1 letter to shareholders signed by CEO John J. Schiff Jr. shows Cincinnati Financial is very concerned about Supreme Court races in Ohio and Alabama.

        “Candidates who advocate the judicial restraint model are Appellate Judge Terry O'Donnell and Justice Deborah Cook in Ohio,” Mr. Schiff wrote. “We will support those who see their duty as interpreting laws, reserving for legislators the duty of writing or rewriting laws.”

        Scott Gilliam, Cincinnati Financial's government relations director, said executives and linked insurance agents donated to Judge O'Donnell and Justice Cook because they know the effect the Supreme Court can have on the industry.

        “Our company is saying these candidates have attributes that would be welcome on the Supreme Court,” Mr. Gilliam said.

        Campaign finance laws restrict corporations from donating to individual campaigns.

        Mr. Gilliam said Cincinnati Financial has not given any money to Citizens for a Strong Ohio, a business-backed “issue advocacy” group that does not have to report its finances to state election officials.

        Cincinnati Financial listed $2.1 billion in revenues and $11.4 billion in total assets on its 1999 annual report. The company provides property, life, fire, health and casualty insurance, through five subsidiary companies.


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