Friday, August 03, 2001

Petitions reviewed for errors

Anti-tax group seeks to block campaign-finance ballot issue

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        An anti-tax group is working overtime to keep a Cincinnati charter amendment for partial public financing of city election campaigns off the November ballot.

        Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) is combing through more than 300 petitions containing more than 11,000 signatures hoping to find enough flaws to prevent the campaign finance reform package from reaching the ballot.

        “The law allows us to do this and we are going to do everything we can to see that this does not qualify for the ballot,” said State Rep. Tom Brinkman Jr., the founder of COAST.

        The anti-tax group is opposed to the campaign finance reform measure because it would include matching public funds for mayoral or council candidates who agree to a campaign spending limit.

        “It's not only a waste of taxpayers' money; it's an attack on free speech,” Mr. Brinkman said.

        Backers of the proposal argue the campaign finance reform package — which includes limits on campaign contributions, as well as partial public financing — is needed to bring the costs of running for office in Cincinnati under control and take away the perception that big money contributors are buying politicians.

        Last week, Citizens for Fair Elections, a coalition of groups backing campaign finance reform, presented its petitions to the Hamilton County Board of Elections.

        Elections officials verified that the group has more than the 6,994 signatures of registered Cincinnati voters it needs to make the ballot.

        But elections officials only verify that the names on the petitions are those of registered voters. COAST members — principally Mr. Brinkman and lawyers Chris Finney and David Langdon — are going over copies of the petitions to see whether the circulators conformed to Ohio election laws.

        Three years ago, some of the same COAST activists scrutinized petitions for a plan for direct election of the mayor and were successful in keeping the issue off the ballot.

        Mr. Brinkman said they are looking for such things as petitions circulated by persons who are not registered Cincinnati voters or circulators who signed their own petitions.

        In a hearing before the board of elections, Mr. Brinkman said, COAST could make an argument that all the signatures on those petitions should be thrown out.

        If COAST officials find enough problems with the petitions, the board of elections could hold a hearing to determine whether the petitions are valid.

        The board will advise Cincinnati City Council, which must vote by Sept. 7 for the issue to be on the Nov. 6 ballot.

        Bill Woods, one of the organizers of the petition initiative campaign, said he is convinced that organizers took enough care briefing the nearly 100 petition circulators on how to do it properly that COAST will not be successful.

        “We bent over backwards to follow all the guidelines,” Mr. Woods said.

        Public financing of city campaigns may become an issue in the mayoral race. Mayor Charlie Luken opposes it, while Charter candidate Courtis Fuller thinks it's a good idea.


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