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Statehouse Democrats Push For More Campaign Donation Transparency

Apr 17, 2014

Some minority Democrats at the Statehouse want to introduce legislation to make campaign contributions more transparent.

They say the bill is needed after majority Republicans passed a measure allowing  candidates to accept more money from out-of-state donors. But the plan is likely to face a challenge.  Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports.

The man who wants to be Ohio’s next treasurer, Democratic State Representative John Carney, says he’s worried about a change majority Republican lawmakers made recently that allows foreign corporations the opportunity to put more money into Ohio’s political campaigns.

“The objective of people in office is to look out for the best interest of the taxpayers.  And if we end up with a system where those who have the most money are able to peddle the most influence to get the most generosity out of the taxpayers, that’s disconcerting.”

Democratic State Representative Denise Driehaus says the bill is being drafted but she wants it to require businesses that donate to campaigns to also show if they are getting money from state investments.

“All we are asking for is for full disclosure on what the relationships are when it comes to economic development.  When taxpayer dollars are being spent, and campaign dollars are coming in to a company that is getting incentives from the state of Ohio, we need to understand what the relationships are.  That’s all we are looking for.”

There is a rule that’s been on the books in Ohio that requires people or businesses who give to independent expenditure groups to make that information immediately known.  But Secretary of State Jon Husted, who oversees campaign finance issues, says he won’t be enforcing it. His spokesman, Matt McClellan, says the rule was put in place by Former Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner but there’s no legal reason to enforce it now.

“The issue with this law is we cannot enforce an arbitrary rule that has no law behind it.  And the legislature, if they choose to pass a law to codify some of these provisions, the secretary would support that.  The secretary supports disclosure.”

But last week, when the measure to allow more money into campaigns in Ohio was being debated, amendments that would have allowed disclosure were shot down by Republican lawmakers, who said they were unnecessary.  At that time, Republican House Finance Chair Ron Amstutz said there was no need for more transparency in campaign dollars.

“We have had more transparency, more availability.  I mean I can find out things that I couldn’t find out five years ago much easier now than I could before.  I think the transparency has actually been improving substantially and the electronic world has helped substantially with that.”

But Democrats say that’s not the case. And they say taxpayers and voters are going to be even more in the dark in the future now that Husted isn’t requiring campaign disclosure that had been required in the past.

The Democrats say they will be talking about the need for more transparency when they campaign in the coming months.  But this issue is tough.  It is hard to explain it fully in a thirty second ad.  And if the Ohio Senate adopts the changes in rules for campaign cash in the future, Democrats fear the campaign money might speak louder than the candidates’ words.