web page consultants:
track funding through Ohio loopholes
|By SEAN RICE
The Daily Standard
Finance reports show a Cincinnati bank donated $5,000 to the Mercer
County Republican Central Committee. Two weeks later, a Columbus bank donated $5,000
to the same "state candidate fund."
Both the amounts exceed the legal limits of what can be donated
directly to a candidate. Donations to a state candidate fund are not as restricted.
Weeks later, $10,000 was donated to Secretary of State Kenneth
Blackwell's "Ohioans for Blackwell" reelection committee, from the account that
took in the two donations.
Blackwell's challenger Bryan Flannery says the secretary of state is
"circumventing" campaign finance laws by having contributions
"funneled" through Mercer County.
Blackwell's office contends the donation from Mercer County's
"state candidate fund" to Ohioans for Blackwell was fully legal and fully
"Here's a guy who's campaigning on campaign finance reform, and
he's funneling money through legal loopholes," Flannery told The Daily Standard
during a telephone interview Friday. "It's legal money laundering."
Norman Cummings, a spokesperson for the Ohioans for Blackwell campaign
said there was no wrong-doing in Mercer County Republicans donating to Blackwell.
"What is legal money laundering? If it's legal how can it be
laundering?" Cummings rhetorically asked. The donations were "fully disclosed in
accordance with the law."
In late January the Mercer County Republican Central Committee issued a check
to Blackwell's campaign from the committee's state candidate fund for $10,000. In that
account at the time was $10,285.
Fifth Third Bank's political action committee (PAC) of Cincinnati made a
$5,000 donation in January. Weeks before, in December, Bank One Corp PAC donated $5,000 to
that same fund, according to campaign finance reports.
The December donation was deposited Dec. 31, putting it on the 2001
reports. The second donation came in January, putting it in the 2002 reports.
According to the secretary of state's Web site on campaign finance,
Blackwell's $10,000 donation from Mercer County was included on his 2001 finance report,
though it was received on Jan. 24, 2002.
The legal limit PAC's can contribute to candidates is $2,500 per
"Here's the secretary of state, whose supposed to uphold these
laws ... but he's not doing it because he's benefiting from it," Flannery said.
"It's a laundry machine and the people are sick and fed up with it."
Cummings said state candidate funds from around the state were
"crucial" to Blackwell's campaign.
Flannery said he estimates Blackwell raked in $700,000 funneling
dollars through county committees.
"These state candidate funds are frankly a complication of a very
complicated reform law of 1996," Cummings said, adding that one of Blackwell's goals
is to require that state candidate funds are filed with the secretary of state's office
rather that in county offices.
"We believe a centralize repository would be a more fully
disclosed source of funding contributions," Cummings said of the goal.
Cummings said that Flannery has been too "loose" with his
"He's been so loose the elections commission has found him in
violation of the law," Cummings said. "He talks a good game, but all his term in
the legislature, up until this year, he never showed any evidence of even being able to
spell campaign reform, let alone introduce any legislation."
Mercer County Republican Central Committee Chairman Owen Hall said the
donation to Blackwell's campaign was legitimately done within the boundaries of the law.
"We've done this in previous years, these funds are submitted to
us and I think we can use them as we like," Hall said Friday.
"Several years ago we established that fund, I researched it very
carefully with Columbus attorneys because I didn't want to expose our county to any
liabilities," Hall continued. "And I'm sure this is within the election laws and
Mercer County Democrat Central Committee Chairman Mark Uhlenhake said
state money funding local races and outside money moving through Mercer County makes him
"sick to his stomach."
When asked if the bank donations were "earmarked" for
Blackwell when they were sent to Mercer County, Cummings said, "I don't know what
earmarked is. Celina certainly knew that were trying to help raise money for us ... of
course, that's what state candidate funds are for.
"Ultimately it's the decision of the Mercer County party, not
ours, where the money goes," he continued.
"We should know who's influencing these elections and where the
money is coming from," Flannery countered.
Earlier this month The Associated Press reported that Democrat
candidates have pointed out similar funding transactions in races for state treasurer and
Blackwell this month said he will audit the campaign finance reports of
four counties that Democrats claim are funneling money to statewide candidates. They are
Clark, Geauga, Mahoning and Montgomery counties.
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