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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
February 24, 2006

State panel looks at CCV money sources

2004's anti-gay campaigns accused of illegally
hiding donors behind charities

Columbus--Did two anti-gay campaigns break the law by hiding the source of their money in the 2004 election? The Ohio Elections Commission was set to have its first hearing on the matter February 23.

Backers of the Ohio marriage ban amendment and Cincinnati�s Charter Article 12 are accused of funneling millions of dollars through charities to illegally conceal their donors� names.

The complaint, filed October 26 by Equality Cincinnati president Gary Wright and former Cincinnati mayor Bobbie Sterne, accuses 14 groups and individuals of 18 election law violations.

It focuses on the well-known Cincinnati anti-gay group Citizens for Community Values, its president Phil Burress, and its vice president David Miller.

Burress and Miller directed both the state marriage ban campaign and the one to retain Article 12.

Wright was co-chair of Citizens to Restore Fairness, the successful effort to repeal the anti-gay article.

The case could lead to criminal prosecutions.

The commission was also set to rule on a last-minute motion to dismiss the complaint, filed February 17.

Charities don�t have to name donors

Wright and Sterne charge two major violations in their complaint.

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

Ohio law requires that 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 said 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 charities, some of which are controlled by him.

Reports for the Article 12 campaign, officially named Equal Rights No Special Rights, show that it received only $370 in contributions from four sources, including Burress himself. The remaining $1,261,354 that it spent came in large cash transfers from non-profit charities in Ohio and elsewhere.

The reports show only the names of the charities, not the original source of the money.

The Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage, which campaigned for the marriage ban amendment, reports only $11,568 coming from identifiable sources. The other $1,194,962 came from the charities--the original donors are not named.

Anonymous Internet donations

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

Wright and Sterne are represented by Columbus election attorney Rick Brunner.

Multiple attorneys represent the 14 respondents. Leading the defense is Matthew A. Kairis of the Jones Day firm�s Columbus office. Working with him is David Langdon, who routinely represents Burress and his CCV enterprises from an office at CCV�s address in Sharonville, a Cincinnati suburb.

Officially, Kairis and Langdon represent Burress, Miller, Citizens for Community Values, its political arm CCV Action and its non-profit charity CCV Foundation. They also represent the Burress-controlled Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage Political Action Committee, Equal Rights No Special Rights PAC and its chair, former Cincinnati city council member Sam Malone.

William Todd of the Squire, Sanders and Dempsey firm�s Columbus office represents two out-of-state groups: Family Research Council Action and its chief fiscal officer Paul Tripuidi of Washington, D.C.; and Focus on the Family of Colorado Springs, Colorado, along with the Focus on the Family Cincinnati committee and its treasurer Tom Minnery.

Another out-of-state anti-gay group, the Alliance Defense Fund of Scottsdale, Arizona, is represented by its own attorney Jeffrey Shafer, who is Langdon�s former law partner.

Kairis filed the motion to dismiss the case on behalf of his clients.

It argues in a circular way that since Wright and Stearne don�t know who the donors to the charities were, they have no way of knowing their intentions, or whether they were anonymous or not. Hence, they have no proof that any wrongdoing occurred.

With strong objections, Kairis has stopped every attempt by Brunner to find facts in the case, saying that any discovery would produce the names of the donors and give Wright and Stearne what they want, making the litigation moot.

�Complainants do not identify a single contribution that was intended for a political committee but was instead funneled to a nonprofit organization, nor a single fact that any respondent engaged in such activity,� wrote Kairis.

�Indeed the complaint fails to present any evidence that either CCV or CCV Action ever received or forwarded contributions intended to go to the ballot issue PACs. As such, the CCV respondents are entitled to dismissal of the complaint as a matter of law,� Kairis continued.

Kairis dismisses Burress� comment to the Enquirer about the anonymous Tennessee donor as �reporter�s paraphrase,� then parses it further.

�Again, there is no indication of which �campaign� is at issue, just the vague allusion to �the campaign�,� wrote Kairis, who continued, �These vague, out-of-context conversational fragments are a far cry from establishing that there was a plan to conceal ballot issue PAC contributions, let alone establishing an actual execution of that plan.�

The commission can issue its ruling at any time. If it moves the case forward, it will send it to a common pleas court for civil and criminal action.

 

 

 

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