German Village Gazette

Arena funding, campaign finance reach elections board

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In what is being called an unusual step, the Franklin County Board of Elections will decide whether two proposed ballot issues will reach the May primary.

At a meeting slated for 9 a.m. today, Jan. 23, the board was scheduled to hear protests against a measure calling for an end to public financing of Nationwide Arena and an issue that calls for campaign-finance reform in the city of Columbus.

An initial challenge to the public-financing issue scheduled for Jan. 13 was postponed.

The Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government had submitted enough valid signatures to get each measure on the ballot. However, both are being challenged at the elections-board level.

Brian Rothenberg, executive director of Progress Ohio, has argued the campaign-finance language is severely flawed and runs the risk of giving well-funded candidates access to public dollars.

Rothenberg said he is acting independently on the matter, not on behalf of the Progress Ohio, a liberal political action group.

Meanwhile, the city of Columbus and Franklin County are using casino-tax dollars to purchase, operate and maintain Nationwide Arena through 2039.

The coalition argues public financing of the arena has been rejected at the ballot box five times and seeks to end public financing by the end of 2016.

Columbus City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr. contends that contracts can't be voided at the ballot box.

Protests aren't uncommon, but they usually involve common mistakes in the petition-gathering process that keep candidates or issues off the ballot, said Ben Piscitelli, spokesman for the elections board.

Piscitelli said the Franklin County Prosecutor's Office is reviewing the ballot language in each case.

"Both of these are fairly unusual for us," he said. "I don't know that it's ever happened."

If there's a tie on the board, the issue will be sent to the Ohio secretary of state, or a judge can be asked to intervene, Piscitelli said.

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