City Council To Vote On Campaign Finance Reform Proposal

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A Columbus group wants city council to change the city charter to include a campaign finance reform initiative. Council president Andrew Ginther has reservations about spending public money on campaigns.(Photo: flicker: 401k2013)
A Columbus group wants city council to change the city charter to include a campaign finance reform initiative. Council president Andrew Ginther has reservations about spending public money on campaigns.(Photo: flicker: 401k2013)

Columbus City Council is expected to take up campaign finance reform, tonight. A local group, which has proposed the initiative, said it wants more balance on the all-Democrat city hall board. But as WOSU reports, one expert said the proposal does not go far enough.

“We’re not really having fair and competitive elections in Columbus,” Jonathan Beard said.

Beard leads the Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government. His group wants publicly financed city council and mayoral races, as well as other local campaign finance reforms.

“We don’t have districts here in Columbus that are gerrymandered,” Beard said. “But we are using money to do the same thing to make these non-competitive elections.”

Beard, a democrat, wants council to change the city charter to include voluntary campaign financing regulations. There are a number of provisions, but here’s the big one:

If a candidate opts-in, he or she would receive a share of $300,000 the city gets in casino-tax revenue to help fund their campaign. But the candidate must agree to limit their campaign contributions and expenditures to $85,000 for council races and $350,000 for mayoral runs.

During this past election cycle, city council incumbents raised close to $400,000. More than 60 percent came from in-kind donations from council president Andrew Ginther’s PAC Friends for Ginther. Their challengers collectively raised about $17,000.

Beard said his proposal would level the playing field. He wants to eliminate year-round fundraising and place limits on how much money a PAC can contribute.

“The building of these war chests that are really designed to intimidate other folks from running or to reward your political allies, which is happening right now,” Beard said.

“I think what you’ve seen over the last couple of years is that folks feel pretty good about the direction the city of Columbus is going,” City Council President Andrew Ginther said.

Ginther disputes the notion his PAC intimidates potential challengers. Three people ran against council members this fall.

“The results speak for themselves and feel very confident that the people of Columbus have spoken over and over again at the ballot box,” Ginther said.

And Ginther said he has reservations about spending casino revenue to fund local campaigns.

“I don’t believe that when the voters chose the future and all agreed to do a little more to shape our future together that they intended for revenue that should be funding basic city services and neighborhood services would go into political campaigns,” he said.

Ohio State Moritz College of Law professor Dan Tokaji, who specializes in campaign finance reform, said the basic idea of the proposal is good, but it doesn’t go far enough.

“Candidates would still be able to solicit multi-thousand dollar contributions even if they opt into the public financing proposal,” Tokaji said. Again, as I understand this proposal, there would be no requirements that candidates abide by any contribution limit which I think is an essential element of effective scheme of campaign finance regulation.”

Tokaji said he thinks a better reform model matching system on small contribution. For example, a $10 contribution would be worth $40 or $50 dollars.

“That’s a model that empowers voters to a much greater extent than does this proposal.”

If council votes down the proposal, Beard is prepared to take the issue to voters next year.

“We as democrats have to reform ourselves from within. And that’s what we’re trying to do here is we’re trying to say democrats, worry not, we’re in power in Columbus. We will in power in Columbus for a very long time,” Beard said. “There are not going to be a spate of republican candidates. But what we should be able to do is have democratic challengers to democratic incumbents and right now the party does not allow that to happen.”

It’s uncertain whether the group has enough signatures to get the issue on the ballot. A Franklin County Board of Elections spokesperson says its waiting on the city to decide whether to use turn figures from the 2011 or 2013 elections to set the number of needed signatures.

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