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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
April 6, 2007

Marriage ban backers accused of hiding donors, again

New complaint against CCV group
is similar to earlier ones

Columbus--New evidence has prompted a progressive government watchdog group to ask the Ohio secretary of state to investigate the campaign to pass the state’s 2004 constitutional marriage ban amendment.

Progress Ohio filed a complaint March 28 with Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner alleging that the campaign used a charity to hide its contributors.

Specifically, Progress Ohio says the non-profit Citizens for Community Values Action acted as a political action committee in its financing of the state ban amendment campaign, plus an unsuccessful one to retain Cincinnati’s anti-gay Charter Article 12.

Non-profit corporations are permitted to contribute to ballot initiatives in line with their expressed mission, but they cannot finance entire campaigns. Ohio law requires campaign committees to disclose their contributions and expenses.

This is the latest in a line of similar complaints against several groups run by Citizens for Community Values president Phil Burress. They allege that political donors gave money to Burress-connected non-profits that aren’t required to report names, and the charities then gave it to the campaigns in their own name.

Most recently, the Ohio Elections Commission heard a complaint by Equality Cincinnati president Gary Wright and former mayor Bobbie Sterne alleging that Burress, along with several national anti-gay groups, concealed the names of donors by first passing the money through CCV Action, thus washing the names off.

The election commission’s February 2006 vote failed to get the four of seven votes needed to take action.

The panel considered their non-action an “administrative dismissal,” meaning they were done with the case, even though it was not resolved nor its merits considered.

The commission is generally not inclined to take action in these matters.

“It’s very very rare,” said director Phil Richter, adding that during his 12 years with the commission that handles more than 1,000 cases per year, “only about ten have been referred to a prosecutor.”

A similar complaint was filed against the ban amendment campaign in 2004 by Paul Fogarty of Columbus, but withdrawn before the commission heard it. Burress’ 1993 campaign to pass Cincinnati’s Article 12 was the subject of a finance complaint much like the present one, filed by Gaybeat publisher Josh Thomas. The elections commission ended its investigation when Thomas moved out of state and lacked the money to continue.

The new evidence that has surfaced was CCV Action’s tax return for the time of the campaign, filed in October 2006. That information was not available for Wright and Sterne’s case.

CCV Action told the Internal Revenue Service that it used “newspaper ads, radio ads, and television ads” to amend the Ohio Constitution.

Progress Ohio spokesperson Sandy Theis said they believe the tax documents confirm what previous complaints have not been able to--that CCV Action acted as a campaign committee, and as such, failed to follow Ohio election law.

“Whether the organization has properly reported its contributions and expenditures, or whether it has failed to do so, either by oversight or a calculated intent to conceal, cannot be known without additional documentation,” wrote Progress Ohio director Brian Rothenberg in the letter to Brunner asking for an investigation.

Brunner, however, may have a conflict of interest investigating the matter, because her husband’s law firm represented Wright and Sterne with Brunner’s assistance, before she was elected secretary of state. Rick Brunner also represented Fogarty in his 2004 complaint.

Brunner spokesperson Patrick Gallaway said her office has referred the matter to Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann for an opinion on what should be done and whether or not Brunner can have a role.

Gallaway said that opinion is expected within a couple of weeks.



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