Thursday, January 04, 2001

Campaign ad false, judge rules

Criminal charges possible in election involving shopping mall

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — A prosecutor must decide whether to bring criminal charges against groups backed by Cleveland mall developer Richard Jacobs.

        A judge Tuesday ruled a TV ad campaign the groups paid for contained false statements.

        Judge Lisa Sadler of Franklin County Common Pleas Court upheld a finding by the Ohio Elections Commission that Citizens To Save Northland and the Richard E. Jacobs Group violated campaign finance laws by claiming tax money would benefit a competing mall developer.

        Neither Prosecutor Ron O'Brien nor The Jacobs Group returned calls.

        The groups could be charged with prohibited practices in advocating or opposing an election issue, a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $5,000.

        In appealing the commission's ruling, the Northland group had argued the statements at issue were opinion and no actual malice was shown.

        Judge Sadler ruled there was “ample evidence to support” the commission's finding involving the 1999 ads, which sought to repeal a special tax district at Polaris Centers of Commerce, north of Columbus in Delaware County.

        The tax district is generating money to build roads near Polaris, where developer Herbert Glimcher is building a mall that will compete with the older Northland Mall, which Mr. Jacobs owns.

        Mr. Jacobs paid for the campaign against the district, but the commission cleared him of any personal responsibility for the ad.

        The referendum to repeal the district was defeated Nov. 2, 1999, but Judge Sadler said that did not “negate the misdeeds which were committed.”

        “While campaigns on important issues to Greater Columbus voters should be hard-fought, they must also be fairly fought,” she wrote in her 17-page ruling.

        In its ad, Citizens To Save Northland said the tax district would help Mr. Glimcher build a new mall with taxpayer dollars.

        The Elections Commission ruled the ad was false because the property-tax money from the district would go to build public roads and make other improvements in the area, not build a mall or go directly to any developer.


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