Tuesday, November 07, 2000

Attacks on Resnick may have violated law


Campaign ads to be reviewed

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — A multimillion-dollar ad campaign targeting Supreme Court Justice Alice Robie Resnick may have violated Ohio's campaign laws, but election officials will not decide until after the election.

        A day before polls open, the Ohio Elections Commission found probable cause that ads questioning Justice Resnick's integrity may have broken laws that make political action committees take limited donations and report donors' identities.

        The 3-2 decision reverses a ruling in which commissioners said election restrictions did not apply to a business-backed group called Citizens for a Strong Ohio. Commissioners said the group was not a political action committee because its ads did not specifically call for the election or defeat of a candidate.

        Commissioner William Connelly reversed himself after Common Cause Ohio and a group called the Alliance for Democracy filed two new complaints.

        The groups said ads run by Citizens for a Strong Ohio — and similar ads run by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — are obvious attempts to defeat Justice Resnick, a Toledo Democrat, and elect Republican Cuyahoga County appellate court Judge Terrence O'Donnell. As such, they said the groups and their ads fall under state law.

        The two business groups have used unlimited donations to spend up to $4 million on ads that do not mention either judge as candidates in Tuesday's election. Both have aired commercials that claim Justice Resnick often rules with trial lawyers who have given $750,000 to her campaign.

        Mr. Connelly said he changed his mind because a U.S. Supreme Court decision that special interest groups rely on to run these “issue advocacy” ads is 24 years old. He said it may be time for the high court to review its decision.

        An Elections Commission decision on the ads could create a case the U.S. Supreme Court could use to re-examine the issue, Mr. Connelly said.

        “The only way you can get some kind of review is to find there may be some liability,” he said.

        The full commission has not set a hearing date in the complaints.

        Chip McConville, leader of Citizens for a Strong Ohio predicted the commission will find his group has done nothing wrong.

        “I'm still confident of our position, that we're not subject to regulation by the Elections Commission,” Mr. McConville said.

       



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