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Monday, November 14, 2005

Ohio Elections Commission Rules Against Corporate-Backed Group

As John McCarthy reports for AP, the Ohio Elections Commission ruled last Thursday that the Citizens for a Strong Ohio committee crossed the line of issue advocacy with its 2000 ads against Alice Robie Resnick, then a candidate for the Ohio Supreme Court.

Different laws apply to groups which do different kinds of activities. Generally, groups that try to influence the outcome of elections (known as "electioneering") face stronger disclosure requirements and limits on contributions than do groups which educate the public about issues. Organizations that want to raise big money and/or hide where their bucks are coming from often characterize themselves as "issue" groups.

Citizens for a Strong Ohio ran ads depicting Resnick as a shill for her campaign contributors, including images of a judge changing her vote after bags of money were dropped on her desk. Citizens claimed that the ads, run in an election year, weren't meant to influence the outcome of the election, and that therefore the group wasn't subject to campaign laws governing election activity.

Courts have already ruled that Citizens for a Strong Ohio was electioneering for the purposes of disclosing its contributors, which were mostly insurance companies that contributed six figure donations to the group. Now the elections commission has weighed in, this time to apply truth-in-campaigning laws to the group.

It's good that the courts and the elections commission saw the arguments by Citizens for a Strong Ohio for what they were: little more than legal sheep's clothing. Unfortunately for the voters of Ohio, the group still was able to spend millions of dollars to influence an election without the electorate knowing who was funding the ads. Timely enforcement mechanisms can prevent wolves like Citizens from hiding their donors from the rest of us.

**In a tangentially related story, check out Steve Eder's story in the Toledo Blade about embattled political fundraiser Tom Noe laundering campaign contributions to justices on the Ohio Supreme Court.

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