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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
December 24, 2004

No on 1 group wont be fined for credit card account mixup

Columbus--While the campaign to defeat Issue 1 broke the law by mishandling a credit card account, a state panel says it was a mistake and they will not penalize anyone.

The Ohio Elections Commission unanimously found on December 16 that Ohioans Protecting the Constitution violated election law, but the commission ended the matter with neither fine nor penalty.

OPC campaigned unsuccessfully to defeat a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages, civil unions, and other relationships outside civil marriage.

The group filed the complaint on itself with the commission December 10 in a procedure known as self referral.

The matter concerned $78,920 of credit card contributions made through the campaign�s web site. According to papers filed with the commission, money and records did not transfer daily from the credit card merchant account to the campaign account.

The campaign also said that political director Ian James, who controlled the account, improperly paid campaign expenses with the money instead of getting checks from treasurer Lynn Greer.

James was dismissed over the matter on October 28, five days before the election.

In the end, the accounts balanced �to the penny� and all transactions were accounted for.

OPC attorney Rick Brunner of Columbus said it was a �technical defect� that kept the campaign from reporting completely and exactly as the law requires.

Brunner said he advised OPC to do the self-referral to avoid Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell questioning its financial statements.

Blackwell is anti-gay and was a spokesperson for the opposition�s campaign to pass Issue 1. He was also a co-chair of President George W. Bush�s Ohio re-election campaign, which encouraged the amendment to get socially conservative voters to the polls.

Brunner represented OPC before the seven-member commission.

Commission director Phil Richter, who is also its counsel, said self-referrals are very rare, adding, �I know of only three other cases over the nine years I have been here.�

Richter said as far as the commission is concerned, the case is over.

It was Richter who recommended this course of action to the commission.

�I think [James] was more independent than [the campaign] would have liked,� said Richter, �but it was handled based on their representations, and nothing they said was refuted or challenged by the secretary of state or anyone else.�

Brunner said that during the hearing only Commissioner William Mallory, a Cincinnati Democrat, questioned him.

�He said, �The issue is that the consultant got his money first�,� said Brunner. �And I answered, �That�s essentially what happened�.� Brunner called the decision �a good result all the way around.�

According to campaign manager Alan Melamed, the campaign has some outstanding bills to pay, but should end up with $20,000 to $25,000 left over.

The campaign will file a year-end report with the secretary of state on January 31.

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