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Report from NYU’s Brennan Center Finds Ohio Campaign Finance Laws among the Worst in the Midwest

March 19, 2007

For Immediate Release
Monday, March 19, 2007

Jaclyn Kessel (646) 452–5637o/ (508)951–9737c

Report from NYUs Brennan Center
Finds Ohio Campaign Finance Laws among the Worst in the Midwest

National Think Tank Urges Lower Contribution Limits, Consistent Disclosure Requirements, and Public Financing

Columbus, OH Today, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law joined with Ohio Citizen Action to release a new report finding that Ohios campaign finance system is broken and badly in need of reform.

The report, Campaign Finance in Ohio, is the fourth of five studies of campaign finance systems in the Midwest by the Brennan Center. The study finds that sky-high contribution limits – in a system riddled with loopholes- create massive opportunities for special interests to corrupt Ohios political process.

Contribution limits are meant to curtail the influence of money in politics.  But with limits set at $20,000, its clear that special interests can still have enormous leverage in Ohio politics, stated Suzanne Novak, Deputy Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center and lead author of the report. Limits in the tens of thousands virtually guarantee that wealthy interests can co-opt candidates.

The report finds that Ohios contribution limits consistently rank among the highest in the nation for those states with contribution limits.

$1,628,000 limit on state and county political parties to statewide candidates ranks highest in the nation
$20,000 limit on individuals to statewide candidates ranks third highest in the nation
$10,000 limit on individuals to PACs ranks fourth highest in the nation

Novak discussed several significant loopholes in Ohio law that can be exploited to circumvent prescribed limits on campaign contributions, including a wealthy donors ability to give freely to a political party for the purpose of party-building or voter-registration drives.

A look at Ohios contribution limit system, in the context of the rest of the Midwest and the rest of the country, is sobering. Ohios limits – some of the highest in the nation- are easily evaded, meaning the system is almost an open invitation to corruption, Novak said.

In addition to reining in campaign contribution limits, the report recommended that Ohio restore the ban on all corporate giving, implement consistent disclosure laws, and create a generous public financing system for all statewide, legislative, and judicial candidates.

When Ohio lawmakers passed House Bill 1 in 2004 in the aftermath of a series of scandals, they hailed the improved disclosure laws as a bulwark against corruption. Unfortunately, the legislation opened the flood gates for special interests by dramatically increasing contribution limits and lifting the ban on corporate gifts for the first time since 1908, Novak continued.  If Ohios elected officials are serious about reducing the role of special interest money in politics, they should offer a serious funding alternative.

Local advocates welcomed the Brennan Centers report and urged the Governor and Legislature to act on its recommendations.

This report makes clear that Ohios campaign finance system has fallen into disrepair and our state is lagging behind other states in the region in keeping special interest money out of politics, said Catherine Turcer, Legislative Director of Ohio Citizen Action.

Ohio voters deserve the chance to elect people who arent beholden to big money, Turcer said. This report provides a clear headed analysis of the problem and a solid foundation for reforms that will level the playing field and give regular people a fair shot at being heard in Columbus.

Related Documents
Campaign Finance in Ohio