Ohio Judge Strikes Down Republican Campaign Finance Bill, Wrong Bill Signed

ePluribus Media OhioNews Bureau

ONB COLUMBUS: An Ohio common pleas court judge struck down a Republican-pushed campaign finance bill Thursday because the wrong version of the legislation was signed by former Gov. Bob Taft and then filed with the secretary of State, making it the law of the land.

The controversial campaign finance bill was rammed through a lame-duck session of the legislature in 2006 by the GOP, which at the time enjoyed veto-proof margins in both chambers of the legislature and had a Republican governor willing to sign the bill.

THE CASE OF THE MISSING AMENDMENT

Critics of the bill, mainly Democrats and union leaders, said Republicans were so eager to pass their lopsided bills because of their voting margins that they gave little time for debate on legislation they said would put an end to “pay-to-play” politics. This slogan, made famous due to the many state investment scandals that occurred under Republican rule, was successfully used by Democrats last year to reacquire seven seats in the Ohio House and four of five statewide offices including that of governor.

The 2006 lame-duck session saw many bills, some of which rose from the dead to walk again and others constructed on the fly, race through both the House and Senate and onto Taft's desk. Republicans were energized to make hay while their sun still shinned, knowing that come the new year they would be no longer control the offices of Governor, Attorney General, Treasurer, Secretary of State (SOS), and would have seven fewer seats in the House, eliminating their veto-override majority.

But in their rush to hold hearings, take votes and pound gavels, they failed to include a late anti-union amendment they passed into a version of the campaign finance reform bill they sent to Taft for his signature. That amendment prohibited unions from contributing more than $2,000 per election cycle to any elected official responsible for approving labor contracts.

Before leaving office, Taft signed the bill and sent it along to the state’s chief keeper of records, the SOS. At the time, Ken Blackwell, a Republican, held the office. His troops officially accepted the bill as legally passed by the legislature and signed by the governor.

Well detailed here, the crux of the problem that Judge Bender ruled on today was that the substitution of pages in an already-filed bill by the Clerk of the House was illegal, and that the claim of doing so based on the contention that it was merely a clerical error didn't hold water.

In a published report at the time" that reported on the brouhaha over the insertion of the missing late-amendment pages into the bill accepted by the office of secretary of state, the argument advanced by House Clerk Laura Clemons and the House majority party chief of staff that it was just an innocent omission and that it was alright because it had happened twice in the previous two years didn't convince Democrats, unions, local elected officials or Judge Bender.

When Clemons arrived at the SOS on January 17th with the anti-union amendment pages, she assured the new SOS, Jennifer Brunner, and her new staff that “this had been done before.” Brunner, an attorney and former judge herself, cooperated; but she asked the question that if she couldn’t give back a bill to Strickland to veto, as Republicans had cried over, why was it alright to allow Clemons to change out pages from an already filed campaign finance bill Republicans had pushed through along party lines?

In his first week in office, Gov. Strickland the first Democratic governor in 16 years, made Republicans go crazy when he vetoed a bill limiting damages in consumer lawsuits that also blocked cities from suing lead-paint manufacturers. The Ohio Supreme Court, all Republicans, ultimately came to the rescue of their legislative colleagues this summer, declaring Strickland’s veto illegal. Lead-paint manufacturers are safe from lawsuits.

Critics of the page-shuffling incident said Republicans were speaking with forked tongues. They asked why it wasn't proper that Brunner return one bill they had passed so Strickland could veto it but it was proper for her to return another bill so they could substantially alter it?

The state constitution makes it very clear that a bill cannot become a law in Ohio unless an identical version is passed by both houses of the General Assembly and then presented to the Governor for his consideration…It appears the Governor was never presented with House Bill 694 as enacted by the 126th General Assembly.

Since this act was never presented to the Governor, we fail to see how it can become law.

Perhaps the most charitable thing we can say about the subsequent paper shuffling by legislative Republicans is that it is irrelevant. In the case of House Bill 694, Governor Taft was never presented with an act of the General Assembly. Thus, House Bill 694 died with the 126th General Assembly.

It will be of critical importance to learn how often legislative Republicans have failed to present governors with acts of the General Assembly – and later shuffled papers around to cover up what really happened. [Democratic Media Release: House Democratic Leader Joyce Beatty, D-Columbus, and Senate Democratic Leader Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo.]

With Judge Benders ruling today, Ohio’s campaign finance law will now revert to what it was before the Republicans passed their self-styled bill. Marc Dann, the new Democratic Attorney General, who as a state senator last year voted against HB694, said he will decide whether to appeal Bender’s ruling. And with seven seats fewer in the House and a Democratic governor, Republicans can kiss any hope of redoing the effort before 2009 goodbye.

H.B. 694 was focused on campaign finance reform and limits those who receive no-bid contracts from the state from giving more than $2,000 to any statewide office holder. The limit is placed on the top officials of government contractors and their families as well as to corporate political action committees of businesses contracting with any level of government. The bill treats collective bargaining units as government vendors for purposes of the limit.

John Michael Spinelli is a former Ohio Statehouse government and political reporter and business columnist. He now serves as the OhioNews Bureau Chief for ePluribus Media Journal.

If ePluribus readers have a news tip or story idea about Ohio politics or government, contact the OhioNews Bureau at: ohionews@epluribusmedia.org

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