Sunday, October 24, 1999

With limits off, buy-a-council resumes at record pace




BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Before you decide that campaign finance reform is an inside-the-Beltway issue, nothing more than grist for the Sunday morning network talking-head shows, and has nothing to do with life back home, consider the following:

        Been there, done that: In 1997, for one Cincinnati City Council election, this city had what America as a whole has not — meaningful campaign finance reform.

        Yes, the campaign spending limit law that was passed on a 5-4 vote by council in 1995 was, predictably, thrown out by courts. But the campaign contribution limits were not.

        Those were thrown out last year by five council members who, after filling council chambers with a lot of blue smoke about how contribution limits ground the wealthy under the bootheel of oppression, voted to repeal the limits of $1,000 for individuals, $2,500 for political action committees (PACs) and $10,000 for political parties.

        The five, in case you are keeping score, are all running this year — Republicans Charlie Winburn, Phil Heimlich and Jeanette Cissell, and Democrats Minette Cooper and Paul Booth.

        These five lifted the yoke of oppression from the necks of the special interests — who are interested only in good government, of course — just in time for the 1999 election cycle.

        Let freedom ring.

        It's payday!: Now, with campaign contribution limits gone, the well-heeled are free to write checks 'til they drop, and those checks can trail zeroes from here to infinity.

        When the pre-election campaign finance reports were filed Thursday, it was apparent that after a 1997 election in which total spending dropped (those darn contribution limits, you know), the council buy-a-thon is back on track, and with $1.9 million in the kitty so far, we are headed for a record-breaking year in council campaign spending.

        Seventeen of the 20 candidates on the ballot filed reports. The three independents did not, but independents usually end up spending only what they can find wedged between their sofa cushions anyway.

        That's an average of $111,297 per candidate, with Republican Phil Heimlich, the George W. Bush of local fund-raising, at the high end with $395,105, and Republican Ken Anderson, who has been stiffed by the GOP big boys, at the low end with $3,225.

        Incumbency pays off: With the exception of Republican challenger Pat DeWine, who ranks second among all candidates with $279,406 raised, the big money is in the hands of the incumbents.

        Seven incumbent candidates have sucked up 55 percent of the money raised so far; 10 nonincumbent candidates have the rest.

        And remember: These reports only go through Oct. 13. There is more money to be reported.

        Nearly every candidate, incumbent and nonincumbent, reported contributions that far exceeded the contribution limits that were in effect in 1997.

        Only one, Democratic challenger Jane Anderson, who has raised $60,084, has imposed on herself the limits that two years ago were the law.

        Not so for Mr. Campaign Finance Reform, Democrat Todd Portune, who sponsored the 1995 legislation.

        He raked in $15,000 from the carpenters' union and $8,000 from lawyer Stan Chesley, among other contributions that would have been illegal under the law he authored four years ago.

        The opponents of campaign finance reform will tell you that contribution limits stifle free speech, a basic right of Americans. To them, money equals speech.

        If that is true, then no money equals no speech.

        In Cincinnati, like Washington, if you want to play, you have to pay.

        Howard Wilkinson column runs Sundays. Call him at 768-8388 or send e-mail to hwilkinson@enquirer.com.

       



Voluntary campaign donations questioned
About the 2 Percent Club
Enquirer endorsements for Cincinnati city council
Enquirer endorsements for Cincinnati school board
HOW WE CHOOSE
- With limits off, buy-a-council resumes at record pace
Do voters care enough to send the very best?
Hospitals' deepest cuts still ahead
Area hospital groups
The object is the art
Dine art adorns Cincinnati homes
Dine Exhibit schedule
Major roads closed this weekend
McConnell saves soft money
Study: Airport driving growth
Wade song tops Web's blues chart
Jennifer Love Hewitt is hard not to like
Answerman knows it all
Children's Museum turns 1 ranked No. 3
Children's Museum programs changing
GET TO IT
Dear sales callers: I already have everything I need
CONCERT REVIEW
CSO assistant conductor debuts
Earhartdebut definitely women's work
THEATER REVIEW
DANCE REVIEW'
Martin backers show politics' stupid side
Allergic kids trade away most Halloween treats
Bluegrass' extended family gathers for fans
Campaigners stop at New Hope
City braces for cost of Elsmere jail
Cold front brings hint of winter
Isphording retired, not inactive
BENCHMARKS
Kenton, cities agree on sirens
Kids answer call to make a difference
Local EPA experts helped N.C.
Six-car collision halts bridge traffic
CAPITOL INSIDER
TRISTATE DIGEST
UC student interned with E. Timor activist
United Way push near 75%
Unused latex paint finds home as recycled Nu-Blend
Uptown clock adorns Oxford logo
Urban Appalachian Council marks 25 years