Saturday, July 22, 2000

Drug education ads feature 2 Butler candidates

Opponents say their use is unfair

By Janice Morse and Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Two Butler County officeholders running for re-election are using thousands of drug-seizure dollars to pay for drug-education advertisements that include their names and photographs.

        Butler County Prosecutor John F. Holcomb and Sheriff Harold Don Gabbard say there's nothing wrong with the practice. But their political opponents say it's not right because the ads serve as pre-election exposure for the incumbents — at no cost to the officeholders' campaigns.

        Sheriff Gabbard, a Republican, has used these types of ads, chiefly on billboards, regularly for seven years. Earlier this month, Mr. Holcomb, a Democrat, started a $25,000 advertising campaign, running large newspaper ads that urge parents to contact his office for information on how to prevent their children from using drugs.

        Ohio law allows use of money seized from drug offenders for public drug awareness education.

        “Even though (the ads) don't say vote against somebody or vote for somebody, they do tend to be campaign advertisements,” said Mike Chanslor, a research specialist at the Julian P. Kantor Political Commercial Archive at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.

        “Clearly when you run things this time of year with your picture in them ... it's hard to imagine doing that without thinking in some way that it's going to help with your re-election effort.”

        Sheriff Gabbard, however, uses the informational ads all year long, sometimes without his photo, said Col. Richard K. Jones, the sheriff's chief deputy. The sheriff also stops the ads in August to avoid accusations that they're being used for political purposes, Col. Jones said.

        Still, Alan Laney, the Democratic candidate for sheriff, said he thinks it's wrong for an officeholder to include his name and likeness in such ads.

        “To me, those drug funds are to fight drugs,” he said. “I don't think it's appropriate to use that money to champion an individual's efforts so that notoriety is obtained.”

        The sheriff spent roughly $4,000 on the ads this year, Col. Jones said.

        The sheriff's campaign fund held about $131,000 as of mid-April — and that's tough enough for a challenger to fight, said Mr. Laney. He said he put about $8,000 of his own money in his campaign fund, which had a zero balance as of mid-April.

        Mr. Holcomb has an even bigger campaign fund: about $164,200, much of it resulting from the controversial “2 Percent Club.” Many of his own employees contribute about 2 percent of their salaries.

        In contrast, his opponent, Republican Robin Piper, had $3,800 in mid-April.

        Mr. Holcomb said the cost of running the anti-drug ad in The Cincinnati Enquirer and two local newspapers was $24,882 — money that came from the drug-seizure fund, not his campaign fund.

        Mr. Holcomb said the purpose of the ad is to gain a wider distribution of a drug-education pamphlet for parents.

        “It gives parents signs of drug use to watch for and it talks about parenting skills and the importance of listening to your kids when they're talking,” he said.

        One ad features a photograph of a woman and her daughter happily walking down a street, eating ice cream cones. Another shows a man and his son at the dinner table.

        A line at the bottom of the ad says, “For a free pamphlet on how to talk to your kids about drugs, call Prosecutor John Holcomb at 887-3492.”

        “It does have my name on the bottom of it, but that's just to say who issued the ad,” Mr. Holcomb said.

        Mr. Holcomb defended the ad and accused Mr. Piper of raising a phony issue.

        “There's nothing in the ad that says to vote for me or that heaps accolades on me,” Mr. Holcomb said. He noted that other officeholders have issued educational pamphlets, sometimes bearing their photographs.

        But Joe Statzer, political director of the county Republican party, said he sees differences between the sheriff's use of the ads and Mr. Holcomb's.

        “The sheriff uses this on a regular basis and doesn't use this in a cheap campaign stunt like John Holcomb does, three and a half months before the election,” Mr. Statzer said.

        Don Daiker, chairman of the county Democratic party, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

        Enquirer reporter Howard Wilkinson contributed.


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