By Gregory Korte
Enquirer staff writer
Conservative activists fighting a gay rights ballot measure in Cincinnati bought more than $500,000 worth of television ads on Sept. 30, local stations say.
But two weeks later, their campaign claimed to have raised only $145,081.
That disparity - along with a finance report that fails to disclose donors beyond a Sharonville-based anti-pornography group and its chairman, Phil Burress - has led gay rights activists to accuse the Equal Rights Not Special Rights campaign of circumventing campaign finance laws.
"All of our contributors are public. They are proud to have contributed to our campaign," said Laura Randall, spokeswoman for the Citizens to Restore Fairness. "When you look at their report, whoever's supporting them doesn't even want to be identified. People need to ask themselves why."
The CRF is campaigning to repeal Cincinnati's Article XII, a 1993 charter amendment that prohibits City Council from passing a gay rights ordinance. They urge Cincinnatians to vote yes on Issue 3 next Tuesday.
It was the Burress-led Equal Rights Not Special Rights Committee that pushed the passage of Article XII with 62 percent of the vote 11 years ago. Burress also heads the Citizens for Community Values, the sole contributor to the Equal Rights Not Special Rights campaign.
Burress said there's nothing sinister about the group's campaign financing, and the motives of the people behind it.
"That accusation can be made all day long. It's not dealing with the issue as far as I'm concerned," he said.
The television time wasn't disclosed in the campaign finance reports because the group didn't know whether it would use it to promote Ohio Issue 1, a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, or to oppose Cincinnati's Issue 3, a lawyer for the group said.
The CCV's Action Fund, a non-profit chartered under a provision of the federal tax code that allows it to engage in political activity, paid for the television time.
"We obviously pay very close attention to the lobbying requirements," said David R. Langdon, attorney for the Citizens for Community Values. "It's completely legal."
However, neither the Issue 1 nor the Issue 3 campaign disclosed the expenditure, either as a cash contribution or in-kind assistance, in last week's campaign finance report.
Opponents say Citizens for Community Values was acting as a campaign committee under Ohio law, and should be required to disclose its contributors.
"You essentially are trying to use a committee to shield where the contributions are coming from," said Alan Melamed, chairman of the committee opposing the effort to ban gay marriage through a state constitutional amendment.
"What they're trying to do is bypass the entire intent of Ohio campaign finance law, which is to allow the public to see who's financing the campaign," he said.
Burress, who said he was meeting even today with a Tennessee contributor who wished to remain anonymous, said his contributors feared being subjected to hate mail if their identities were known. He said he was not required to disclose who's funding the campaign.
"Aren't they doing to same thing?" said Langdon. "Who's given money to Procter & Gamble? The Human Rights Campaign? General Electric? They're all corporations, the same as the CCV Action Fund. They're getting money from corporations. Ours just happens to be a non-profit corporation."
The largest cash contributors to the "Yes on 3" campaign include $30,000 from Procter & Gamble, $25,000 from philanthropist Otto Budig, $20,000 each from Federated Department Stores and the New York-based Human Rights Campaign, and $10,000 each from Christ Church Cathedral, former Mayor Jerry Springer, arts patron Richard Rosenthal, GE Aircraft Engines and Hewlett-Packard.
All told, the repeal campaign has had $556,244 to spend this year. As of Monday, the Citizens to Restore Fairness had paid for $239,885 on television time on WKRC (Channel 12), WCPO (Channel 9) and WLWT (Channel 5).
That gives the Citizens for Community Values, with $569,400 in TV ad time on the three major stations, more than a two-to-one advantage. But they're not the only group urging a no vote on Issue 3.
The Focus on the Family Cincinnati Committee has bought several full-page ads in Cincinnati newspapers featuring Hamilton County Commissioner Phil Heimlich.
That committee, which has not yet disclosed its contributors, is affiliated with the Colorado-based ministry of Dr. James Dobson, a pediatrician whose daily 90-second commentary is carried on 95 stations nationwide, including WCPO. Focus on the Family and other conservative Christian groups have launched a nationwide boycott of Procter & Gamble because of the company's support for repeal.
In the ad, Heimlich rebuts claims from repeal supporters that Article XII has cost the city millions in lost convention business.
Heimlich conducted the study while he was a paid consultant to the Citizens for Community Values. CCV paid Heimlich $55,000 in 2002, according to the group's tax return and Heimlich's state ethics disclosure form.
"They asked me at the time to take a look at the economic impact, and they told me, 'We don't want you to tilt it one way or the other. Just give us the facts,' " he said.
The facts, Heimlich said, show that Cincinnati's convention business actually grew since 1993, and that only one of 224 conventions that bypassed Cincinnati cited Article XII as the reason.
Enquirer reporter Cliff Peale contributed to this story E-mail email@example.com
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