Big donors fuel cam­paign fundrais­ing surge

Dayton Daily News - - LOCAL - By Dar­rel Row­land The Colum­bus Dispatch

COLUM­BUS — There’s the guy who be­came a bil­lion­aire sell­ing dog food, a cou­ple of sports-team own­ers and the de­vel­oper of an in­ter­na­tional spy mu­seum.

They are among an es­o­teric baker’s dozen of in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies who have led the way in bankrollin­g Ohio po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns dur­ing the past decade. To­gether, those 13 deep-pock­eted donors poured more than $25 mil­lion into state races since 2000.

De­spite lim­its placed on cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions in the mid1990s, Ohioans just wit­nessed the most ex­pen­sive gu­ber­na­to­rial cam­paign in state his­tory. In fact, ev­ery statewide non­ju­di­cial race this year broke spend­ing records, some of which had stood for 20 years.

When he signed leg­is­la­tion cap­ping do­na­tions to can­di­dates, par­ties and po­lit­i­cal-ac­tion com­mit­tees in May 1995, Gov. Ge­orge V. Voinovich said, “I’m con­fi­dent there’ll be a sub­stan­tial re­duc­tion in the amount of money spent on cam­paigns.” Oth­ers read­ily agreed.

In­stead, the price tag for statewide cam­paigns in the past decade leaped al­most 73 per­cent from the to­tal for the 1990s, most of which had no lim­its on po­lit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions, ac­cord­ing to a Dispatch com­puter anal­y­sis of more than 4.3 mil­lion state cam­paign-fi­nance records in­volv­ing more than $1.7 bil­lion in trans­ac­tions.

Out­go­ing Sec­re­tary of State Jen­nifer Brunner, whose of­fice en­forces Ohio cam­paign-fi­nance laws, said, “No mat­ter how well-in­ten­tioned a can­di­date is, if they’re tak­ing large amounts from donors who are not giv­ing for ide­o­log­i­cal pur­poses, there will be tac­itly that pres­sure that they need to give ac­cess to those donors, if not ac­tively work to please them.”

But what mo­ti­vates peo­ple to fork over large amounts of cash to a po­lit­i­cal can­di­date?

The fam­ily of Cincin­nati’s Carl Lind­ner — listed by Forbes mag­a­zine as the world’s 582nd-rich­est man — gives al­most ex­clu­sively the decade’s top con­trib­u­tor to Ohio state races.

Robert T. Ben­nett, for­mer long­time chair­man of the Ohio Repub­li­can Party, of­ten ben­e­fited from Carl Lind­ner’s largess.

“He used to say ‘only in Amer­ica could a guy start out with a UDF store and grow it into the Amer­i­can Fi­nan­cial (Group),’ ” Ben­nett re­called. “They’re look­ing for lead­er­ship, so they put their money there, be­cause they have the money to give.”

At the other end of the state, David Maltz and his fa­ther, Mil­ton Maltz, of Cleve­land, a for­mer me­dia mag­nate who de­vel­oped the In­ter­na­tional Spy Mu­seum in Washington, D.C., fi­nance not only Ohio Democrats but also such causes as sup­port­ing gay mar­riage on the Cal­i­for­nia bal­lot.

The fam­i­lies of Larry Dolan, owner of the Cleve­land In­di­ans, and Clay Mathile of the Day­ton area, who made his for­tune when he sold dog-food maker Iams to Proc­ter & Gam­ble, both are faith­ful GOP sup­port­ers.

“I don’t think money is evil, and I don’t fault can­di­dates for look­ing for as much sup­port as they pos­si­bly can,” said Cather­ine Turcer, di­rec­tor of Ohio Cit­i­zen Ac­tion’s money in pol­i­tics project. “They’re as caught in the sys­tem as much as we are. They need that money to buy those 30-sec­ond spots, to go on tele­vi­sion.”

Like Brunner, Turcer says the prob­lem comes when can­di­dates feel be­holden to peo­ple who sup­port them.

“I’m not talk­ing about di­rect bribery, ex­actly, but un­due in­flu­ence is pretty easy: I’m gonna dance with the guy who brung me.

“The other thing is, these top fam­i­lies would not con­tinue to give, decade af­ter decade, un­less they had re­ally spe­cific rea­sons. The econ­omy has been in this down­ward spi­ral, and yet cam­paign spend­ing is off the charts. There was no re­ces­sion for cam­paign spend­ing.”

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