CAMPAIGN FINANCE Ohio Senate bill targets donations of employees
Opponents say it would eliminate government workers' rights to support an official who is their boss.
By JEFF ORTEGA
COLUMBUS -- Political officeholders or candidates in counties, cities and townships would not be able to solicit or accept political contributions from county and local government employees under a bill the Ohio Senate is poised to pass today.
On Tuesday, the Senate State Local Government and Veterans Affairs Committee approved the measure, sponsored by state Sen. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown.
Under the proposal, local political officeholders or candidates for their offices wouldn't be able to solicit or accept political contributions from local government employees as a condition for continued employment.
& quot;My intent is to make sure that we do not get campaign contributions from employees that rely on their employment from their boss," Hagan, a Youngstown Democrat, told the Senate committee.
Under current law, state elected officeholders, candidates for state office and their political action committees are barred from soliciting campaign contributions from state employees. The ban was created during the campaign finance reforms adopted by the Legislature in 1995.
Measure of support
Backers of Hagan's measure say the bill would simply extend the prohibition to local officeholders and local government employees.
"You just want to get away from the idea that the people have to contribute to the boss to have the job," said Peg Rosenfield, elections specialist with the League of Women Voters of Ohio, which is supporting Hagan's bill.
State Attorney General Jim Petro, a Republican, also backs Hagan's bill.
But the measure is drawing opposition from at least two groups -- the County Commissioners Association of Ohio and the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association. The CCAO represents county commissioners throughout the state while the OPAA represents county prosecutors throughout Ohio.
The CCAO's legislative committee decried Hagan's measure, saying it would remove a local-government employee's right to contribute to the candidate of his choice.
Hagan's bill, which was amended in the Senate committee to cover only employees directly appointed by the local government official, would extend the penalty for violation by state officeholders under current law to local office holders and their campaign committees -- a first-degree misdemeanor and a fine equal to three times the amount accepted in the violation.
Under Hagan's bill, an officeholder or political candidate who unknowingly accepts a contribution must return it. No civil penalties would be imposed if an officeholder or candidate unknowingly accepts a prohibited political contribution.
Senate approval likely
Senate President Bill M. Harris, an Ashland Republican, said he expects little opposition to Hagan's measure when it is taken up by the full Senate today.
"I think it's a good bill," said Harris, who said he has worked on behalf of Hagan's measure.
Hagan, who's running in Tuesday's Democratic primary for Youngstown mayor, said he developed the measure after some city employees told him they had been asked and felt pressure to contribute to the campaigns of a number of mayoral candidates. Hagan would not give further details.
If passed by the full Senate, Hagan's measure would have to be considered by the GOP-led Ohio House of Representatives as well as signed by Republican Gov. Bob Taft to become state law.