By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau
COLUMBUS - Just like any big party or wedding, the inaugural of Ohio's governor doesn't come cheap. Fortunately, Gov. Bob Taft has a lot of wealthy friends.
Eager to show their support of the man they helped re-elect, a short list of Ohio's political, social and business leaders will help underwrite Monday's inaugural events - shelling out a combined $350,000. That will cover most of the inaugural's expected $500,000 bill - none of which is charged to taxpayers.
Several Greater Cincinnati names are on this A-list of corporate sponsors. Included are Cinergy, Cincinnati Insurance Co., Middletown's AK Steel and American Financial CEO Carl Lindner.
The big three automakers, Daimler-Chrysler, General Motors and Ford, are on the list. So is AT&T and Columbus-based Nationwide Insurance.
The Wholesale Beer and Wine Association of Ohio will help fill the plates, if not the glasses. There's a cash bar at the ball.
In return for their $10,000 donations, each sponsor can sit in a reserved seating section for the swearing-in ceremonies. They also can attend a private pre-inaugural ball dinner that includes personal photo opportunities with the Tafts.
"It's a thank-you for the sponsors' support," said Orest Holubec, the governor's event coordinator and future spokesman.
"It's a day to celebrate all of the good things about the state," Mr. Holubec said. "It's an event people want to celebrate and be a part of."
Scott Gilliam, Cincinnati Insurance's government relations officer, said company CEO Jack Schiff Jr. became a corporate sponsor because he's a proud Ohioan, a friend of the governor and a supporter of his causes.
Because 2003 is Ohio's bicentennial year, he said there's a heightened sense of history.
He said the company also backs legislative efforts to limit the money juries can award in lawsuits. After passing a bill that capped medical malpractice awards in December, the General Assembly is expected to weigh additional limits for personal injury and product liability suits over the next two years.
The event is an opportunity for political allies to demonstrate their support. H.C. "Buck" Niehoff, vice chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, gave $2,500.
"This would be the third or fourth inaugural I've supported," Mr. Niehoff said. "I also helped sponsor Gov. (George) Voinovich's inaugurations."
While corporate and personal donations are the traditional financial fuel inaugurals run on, not everyone is happy with the practice. Jack Noragon, chairman of campaign finance reform group Common Cause Ohio, said it sends voters a bad message.
"It simply reinforces the prejudice or bias that's out there, that those who contribute mightily have special privileges ordinary citizens do not have," Mr. Noragon said. "This doesn't guarantee influence, but it does grant access."
Mr. Gilliam said he's not aware of anyone at Cincinnati Insurance who plans to attend the dinner. He said corporate donations are far better than tax dollars.
"In the current economic situation, this is the last thing we'd want taxpayers to be funding," he said.
Steve Brash, spokesman for Cinergy, said the company contributed in part because Mr. Taft is a fellow Cincinnatian.
"These types of events really could not occur without corporate donations," he said. "We felt it was part of our corporate responsibility to assist."
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