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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
November 4, 2005

CCV challenged on
money switcheroo

Marriage ban backers accused of
hiding political donors behind non-profits

Cincinnati--The anti-gay groups that passed Ohio�s marriage ban constitutional amendment last year have been accused of switching money through their non-profit arms in order to hide their donors in that campaign.

Equality Cincinnati president Gary Wright and former Cincinnati mayor Bobbie Sterne filed a 30-page complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission on October 26, accusing 14 groups and individuals of 18 election law violations.

The complaint is the first step in a process that could result in criminal charges.

The groups were involved in the campaign to pass the ban amendment last November or another campaign to retain Cincinnati�s anti-gay Article 12 at the same time. Some were involved in both.

They include Citizens for Community Values and its politically-oriented CCV Action of Sharonville, Ohio, their president Phil Burress and vice president David Miller, and the related, but non-political charity CCV Foundation, also run by Burress and Miller.

Also named are Cincinnati city council member Sam Malone and the pro-Article 12 political action committee he chaired called Equal Rights No Special Rights.

The complaint includes the Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage, which worked to pass the marriage ban amendment as Issue 1 last November.

Three out-of-state groups are named: Family Research Council Action and its chief fiscal officer Paul Tripuidi of Washington, D.C.; the Alliance Defense Fund of Scottsdale, Arizona; and Focus on the Family of Colorado Springs, Colorado, plus the Focus on the Family Cincinnati Committee and its treasurer Tom Minnery.

Wright and Sterne are asking the commission to investigate the complaints, levy fines, and where appropriate, refer individuals for criminal prosecution.

Fourth complaint against Burress

This is the fourth time Burress and his enterprises have been called before the elections commission for similar complaints about anti-gay campaigns.

Former Gaybeat publisher Josh Thomas brought a complaint in connection with the 1993 campaign by Burress that originally passed Article 12. The elections commission began an investigation, but stopped after Thomas moved out of state and ran out of money to continue. The core issues of the complaint were never addressed.

A complaint against Burress and the marriage ban campaign for the same issues as the current one was filed by Paul Fogarty of Columbus in October, 2004.

Fogarty withdrew that complaint a week before the commission was to hear it because �he didn�t want to be involved any more,� according to his attorney Rick Brunner, who also represents Wright and Sterne.

A third complaint was brought last year over yard signs opposing Article 12�s repeal and the use of Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell�s voice on automated calls supporting the marriage ban amendment. The commission found no wrongdoing.

In for the long haul

Wright says this attempt is different because he and Sterne are committed to seeing it to completion, and Equality Cincinnati is raising the money to pay for it.

�This is not 1993 all over again,� said Wright. �People want an end to this behavior. We are fighting for all who want open elections.�

Wright said he welcomes, as allies, people who disagree with him on the GLBT rights issues, but who believe in fair elections.

The complaint charges two major violations.

First, that the two campaigns, directed by Burress and Miller, schemed to move money and resources between non-profit corporations and political action committees, inside and outside Ohio, to hide the identities of the people funding the campaigns.

Ohio law requires all donors to political campaigns be reported. Charitable non-profits, however, are not required to report theirs.

As one piece of evidence, they point to an October 28, 2004 Cincinnati Enquirer story where Burress explained his motives by saying he was �meeting today with a Tennessee contributor who wished to remain anonymous� saying his contributors �feared being subjected to hate mail if their identities were known.�

Burress� campaign finance reports show that large sums of money were transferred to the campaign accounts from non-profits, some controlled by Burress.

Equal Rights No Special Rights� reports show, for example, that it received only $370 in contributions from four sources, including Burress. The remaining $1,261,354 that it spent came in large cash transfers from non-profits in Ohio and elsewhere.

ERNSR�s reports show only the names of the non-profits, not the original source of the money.

The Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage�s reports show only $11,568 coming from identifiable sources. The other $1,194,962 came from the non-profits.

The complaint also alleges that contributions were made anonymously through the internet. Ohio law prohibits this.

�These election laws are there so big donors don�t pull a fast one,� said Wright. �What they did is money laundering to please a few big people.�

Large sums paid with no details

The second major area of complaint is that of spending, particularly in the Article 12 campaign where, according to reports filed with the Hamilton County Board of Elections, people were paid lump sums as much as $39,000 for �reimbursement for 300 poll workers.�

Ohio law requires disbursements to be made to the 300 workers separately and be itemized.

Wright said he expects Burress and the rest to put up a fight.

�If you go to the effort to hide $3 million, you will surely go through the effort to fight this,� said Wright.

Burress did not return calls for comment for this report.

The commission is scheduled to hear the matter December 1. At press time, no attorney has made an appearance for the defendants.���

 

 

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