Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Taft, Blackwell seek disclosure of campaign funding

By John McCarthy
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Donors to two types of campaign funds that are exempt from campaign disclosure laws would have to be identified under legislation Gov. Bob Taft and Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell planned to announce today.

        Contributions to political-party operating accounts and issue advocacy groups have drawn fire in recent years.

        In March, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that investment banker Frank Gruttadauria contributed $50,000 to the Hamilton County Republican Party operating fund. Those contributions, whose donors do not have to be disclosed, are intended for party-building activities.

        The county party has contributed $300,000 to the campaign of Treasurer Joseph Deters, whose office has done business with Mr. Gruttadauria. However, Mr. Deters has said the contributions did not come from the operating fund.

        In 2000, Mr. Taft offered Ohio State football tickets, private receptions and other perks to donors of at least $25,000 to the Ohio Republican Party's operating fund. Mr. Taft said although he supported disclosure, he was within the law. He has since stopped the practice.

        Also in 2000, an issue advocacy group known as Citizens for a Strong Ohio spent $4 million from anonymous donors on ads attacking Ohio Supreme Court Justice Alice Robie Resnick. Justice Resnick won with 57 percent of the vote.

        Mr. Taft believes the Legislature should require full disclosure of such campaign accounts, even though the U.S. Supreme Court has sided with issue ads because of free-speech concerns, spokeswoman Mary Anne Sharkey said.

        “That's always a balancing act between the First Amendment and disclosure. His (Mr. Taft's) support has been of full disclosure,” Ms. Sharkey said.

        Blackwell feels the time is right to institute disclosure guidelines on all accounts, spokesman Carlo LoParo said. The Federal Elections Commission is setting guidelines for the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law President Bush signed this spring.

        “It is the appropriate time for Ohio to review its campaign finance law. To do so before the (federal) regulations were set would have been imprudent,” LoParo said.

        Chip McConville, political director for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and a trustee of Citizens for a Strong Ohio, said operating funds could fall under contribution-reporting requirements because political parties are involved directly in electing candidates. But the purpose of advocacy groups is to educate voters on issues, he said.

        “Can some legislation be drafted in a way that's constitutional? I think that would present great difficulty, just on First Amendment grounds,” McConville said.


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