By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau
COLUMBUS - Ohio's two political parties spent more than $48 million in the 2001-2002 election cycle, but they may spend $75 million or more this year.
Figures released Wednesday by the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity show Republicans outspent Democrats 3-to-1. The Republicans also enjoyed a fund-raising advantage - $23 million to $9 million.
Republicans, led by Gov. Bob Taft, took every statewide office in 2002, kept control of the Ohio House and Senate, and won two key state Supreme Court races.
The campaign money picture was much different in Kentucky, where Democrats raised $7.5 million to $3.7 million for Republicans.The two parties spent $8.5 million, with Democrats spending $4.8 million to $3.7 million for Republicans.
Ohio party leaders say they could easily spend millions more this year to sway Ohioans to vote either for President Bush or his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry. Ohio has already been identified as key battleground in the presidential race.
"I could see both sides spending up to $75 million," said Bob Bennett, the Republican Party chairman, a key figure in the effort to re-elect Bush. "TV stations and radio stations are going to love us."
Denny White, the Ohio Democratic Party chairman, said both sides could easily spend more than $75 million.
"It will be record spending in Ohio," White said.
For its national study, the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity collected campaign finance reports from 229 state party and caucus committees.
The group found that both sides raised nearly $819 million in the 2001-2002 election cycle.
Democrats collected $433 million to Republicans' $385 million. The biggest contributors to state parties nationwide were the national parties. A total of $303 million came from six national party committees in Washington.
Labor unions topped the list of big donors both nationally and in Ohio. Unions gave $41 million to different states' party coffers - most of which went to Democrats. In Ohio, government employees, auto workers, teachers and the AFL-CIO were the top contributing organizations, providing $1.2 million, - most of it to Democrats.
Banks, mortgage brokers and investment companies were among the top contributors to Ohio Republicans. Nationally, banks, business groups, investors and pharmaceutical companies donated most of their money to the GOP.
The author of the analysis, Derek Willis, said many contributions couldn't be linked to an interest or business.
Willis said total spending on the presidential election could well outstrip the amount both parties spent in Ohio in 2000. Just how much will be harder to track because of new federal limits on campaign giving.
Millions that both parties spent in largely unregulated "soft money" contributions in 2000 are now illegal.
But that could mean much of the money will go to outside interest groups and committees that will run their own campaigns separate from the parties and the candidates.
There's a question whether these interest groups are going to be effective in states like Ohio, Willis said. "Will they be able to coordinate their efforts with the parties - or even amongst themselves?"
Bennett said he thinks the efforts put on by Democrat-allied groups, such as Moveon.org, are very coordinated. He said any look at how much is spent on this presidential election must include the amounts spent by these third party groups.
"It all has to be counted together," he said.
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