Thursday, December 28, 2000

Campaign money targeted

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A petition effort is under way to limit the amount of campaign contributions accepted or given during Cincinnati political races.

        But one Republican councilman is calling the effort a funding scheme that will force taxpayers to pick up the tab for local candidates.

        “It's insane,” Councilman Pat DeWine said Wednesday. “Think of the council member you like least. Should the government really take your money and force you to pay for his campaign?”

        Dell Heitkamp, secretary for the Ohio League of Women Voters, sees it differently. She said she hopes it will restore public confidence in a political system that many believe is for sale to the highest contribution earner.

        “If you control the amount of spending, you allow the little guys to get in,” Ms. Heitkamp said. “This will allow everyone a better shot.”

        The effort mirrors an ordinance passed by Cincinnati City Council in 1997 and rescinded a year later. It would reward candidates who limit the amount of contribu tions they accept. For instance, a candidate who raises $50,000 — the most allowed any council candidate — would be given $100,000 out of the city's general fund. A mayoral candidate would be allowed more since the rates are based on council and mayoral salaries.

        It would also restrict the amount that a person, company, political action committee and party could contribute to a campaign.

        The petition asks for support in changing the city's charter, which can only be done through a popular vote.

        Campaign finance reports filed in December 1999 with the Hamilton County Board of Elections showed that the 20 council candidates who ran for office in the last election spent $2,498,070, breaking the $2.32 million mark another 20-candidate field spent in 1995.

        Mr. DeWine, a first-time candidate and son of U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, was the second-largest spender, with $363,176.

        Under the proposal, if 20 people ran for council and each received $100,000, then the city would pay out $2 million.

        Mr. DeWine said there are other problems with the proposal, including legal pitfalls and inequities with an elections board that will be set up to oversee the election. He said the mayor would appoint two or three members of the five-member board and the mayor's political party would appoint another.

        “Under the scheme, 80 percent of the commission can owe their jobs to the people they are supposed to regulate,” Mr. DeWine said. “This hardly inspires confidence in the system.”


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