Citizens United comes to Ohio

Thanks to the 5 members of the appointed for life US Supreme Court who voted for the Citizens United case back in January, we now have this…

Shackles taken off corporate political donations in Ohio
Spending on ‘express advocacy’ now is unfettered; direct giving not OK
Thursday, September 16, 2010 02:54 AM
By Darrel Rowland
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
http://www.dispatchpolitics.com/live/content/local_news/stories/2010/09/16/copy/shackles-off-political-donations.html?adsec=politics&sid=101

Unlimited corporate cash can now flow freely in Ohio political campaigns because of a federal court agreement yesterday.

“This is a game-changer for Ohio,” said Mike Gonidakis, executive director of the Ohio Right to Life Society, which brought the lawsuit against a state ban on corporate involvement in the elections process.

“Prior to (yesterday’s ruling), we couldn’t use the resources we had at our disposal,” he said. “Now, it allows us to hopefully impact the election this fall.”

Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner said “it’s turning into the Wild West out there” because of legislative inaction to regulate corporate cash in politics.

A consent decree signed by U.S. District Judge George C. Smith allows corporations to engage in “express advocacy” for or against a candidate, as long as it’s independent of the candidate’s campaign. Direct contributions to a candidate or party are still not allowed.

Yesterday’s agreement specifically brings Ohio races under the umbrella of the Citizens United case decided by a 5-4 vote of the U.S. Supreme Court in January. The high court declared that a federal ban on corporate spending violated the First Amendment.

The Ohio Elections Commission and secretary of state, who were defendants in the lawsuit, were part of yesterday’s agreement.

Brunner said the state law became unenforceable after the Supreme Court decision. Shortly after the ruling, she proposed changes to assure transparency and accountability, but they’ve been ignored.

Ohio’s ban on corporate cash, enacted more than a century ago, was designed “to prevent the corruption of elections and political parties by corporations.”

The elections commission agreed this month that independent corporate involvement in partisan politics could no longer be regarded as an elections-law violation in Ohio. The commission asked that corporations voluntarily disclose their campaign contributions, but there is no legal requirement.

“Such a filing would manifest the foundation of Ohio’s campaign-finance laws: public disclosure,” the commission said.

Philip Richter, executive director of the commission, said he’s not sure that dire predictions of corporate influence on elections will come true.

“I just don’t see it being this massive infusion of cash from corporations,” he said.

Ned Foley, former state solicitor and current director of the election law center at Ohio State University’s law school, also was skeptical.

“Whether that is a ‘game-changer’ depends on whether Citizens United is itself a ‘game-changer,'” he said. “It is certainly possible that it is, at least in the specific sense that it now permits corporations and labor unions to do what they couldn’t do before. On the other hand, whether as a practical matter it radically affects the dynamics of the campaign itself, that’s more open to question.”

But Gonidakis said there’s even more at stake; the Ohio statute contained a clause that if any of the law was deemed unconstitutional, all of it would be automatically repealed. That means provisions involving candidate disclosure and other key issues could now be off the books.

He said the federal court is scheduled to take up that matter in a few days.

While Right to Life has endorsed some Democrats in legislative races, it is backing a straight Republican ticket in statewide contests.

Dispatch reporter Mark Niquette contributed to this story.

drowland@dispatch.com

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