Earlier this week, the Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government filed new petitions seeking a campaign finance reform law for Columbus elections for Mayor and City Council. In late 2013 the Coalition submitted a sufficient number of petition signatures to qualify for the ballot, but a protest by Columbus elector Brian Rothenberg, who was represented by Columbus election lawyer Don McTigue (who also serves as Treasurer of Council President Andrew Ginther’s “Friends for Ginther” campaign fund), resulted in the Franklin County Board of Elections finding deficiencies in the petition form and declaring that the petition would not be on the ballot. Coalition member Joe Sommer remarked “the Franklin County Board of Elections' action here was a victory for the 1 percent, who want to continue imposing their decisions on Columbus regardless of what the city's voters might think.” “Voter suppression comes in many forms,” said Jonathan Beard, Chair of the initiative and Chair of the Editorial Board of the Free Press, “in this case, those entrenched in power will do anything they can to preserve their power, and to stop people from voting on issues that are in the peoples’ best interests. We certainly take responsibility for leaving a back door open in our petition form that those in power could exploit, and as a result we were delayed but certainly not discouraged or defeated. We have corrected the petition format issues and we are back today and will be on the ballot in November asking voters to support more fair and more competitive elections for our city’s top offices.” The Coalition will begin circulation petitions for signature on March 12th, with a goal of securing sufficient valid signatures by early July. The Coalition’s proposal for local campaign finance reform is based on a well-used model where candidates who agree to contribution and expenditure limits receive public benefits for their campaigns. In this case, the Coalition proposes voluntary contribution and spending limits of $500,000 for mayoral candidates and $100,000 limits for council candidates. In exchange for agreeing to limits, candidates are required to participate in a series of debates and get access to low cost public access television time. The proposed law also limits contributions between Political Action Committees to $15,000. The Coalition has been openly critical of Council president Andrew Ginther’s “Friends for Ginther” political action committee, which has provided more than 70 percent of all campaign funding over the past two election cycles – providing from 52 percent to as much as 90 percent of the campaign funding for the other incumbents. Restrictions on the amount of money PACs could contribute to city political campaigns had been originally proposed by a city-sponsored task force in 1994, but were never executed. Willis Brown, a member of the committee of petitioners, said “No one person – particularly the council president – should pull the campaign strings of other council members. It diminishes their credibility, perceptions of their independence, and destroys confidence in our system of governance.” The Coalition reports it is looking for volunteers to do community outreach as well as paid petition circulators who are interested in supporting fair and competitive elections in Columbus. The Coalition can be reached at: volunteercoordinator@columbuscoalition.info , or 595-2986.

Appears in Issue: