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City of Columbus

Group calls for campaign finance reform

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Two days after three well-funded Columbus City Council incumbents won re-election, a group of residents called for campaign finance reform.

The Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government said it is trying to bring competition back to political races in the city.

Thursday, Nov. 7, the group took to the steps of City Hall and dropped off petitions representing 23,000 signatures calling for a change in the city charter that would make candidates eligible for public financing, airtime on public-access cable TV and city-sponsored debates.

The charter amendment essentially would encourage office-seekers to opt-in. Council candidates who set voluntary caps on their campaigns -- $85,000 for council and $350,000 for mayoral races -- would have access to $300,000 total in public dollars from casino revenue.

Jonathan Beard, spokesman for the coalition, said the current structure makes it almost impossible for other candidates to compete. City Council routinely appoints candidates to council vacancies.

"The way our city is structured right now does not make it competitive," Beard said.

He said he realizes there are constitutional protections against limiting campaign contributions. He called the proposal an "investment in democracy."

The issue could appear before voters as soon as the primary election next spring.

Democrats currently hold all elected city offices. Nov. 5, council incumbents Priscilla Tyson, A. Troy Miller and Eileen Paley were returned to their seats.

All had a significant cash advantage over their challengers: Republicans Greg Lawson and Brian Bainbridge, and independent Nick Schneider.

For example, each Democrat had $58,000 in in-kind contributions from council President Andy Ginther's political action committee.

Of the challengers, Lawson had the most cash on hand: $2,826.

Bob Fitrakis, a member of the group, likened the process to the machine-style politics of Chicago and New York.

"This functions like a well-oiled, slick political machine," said Fitrakis, who ran for council as an independent in 2003 and was able to raise only $3,000.

Beard said campaign finance is one of four planks in the residents' group's "Dare 2B Fair" initiative, which also calls for ward representation on council, putting public funding of Nationwide Arena up for a public vote, and restoring city funding for public-access TV.

The coalition had tried to put the ward-representation issue on the ballot in 2012, but failed to collect enough valid signatures.

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