01 July 2014

Columbus City Council President Andy Ginther's recent re-election may appear to have been a shoe-in under the current electoral rules and political landscape, but after an examination of his campaign finances, it appears to be more of a buy-in.

There is big money in politics, and in Ginther's case, that money came from all over. Ginther's friends gave to Ginther, and Ginther gave back.

The Free Press examined Ginther's campaign filings with both the Franklin County Board of Elections and the Ohio Secretary of State's office. The figures in the two sets of documents do not appear to match each other. The Secretary of State's office lists only contributions to and from PACs on it's website, in spreadsheet format, while the Franklin County Board of Elections provides only facsimiles of the actual filed documents.

Ginther began his political career as a consultant and executive at Triumph Communications and worked there during part of his council tenure until 2011. He has not failed to remember the friends that gave him his first leg up. According to their website, Triumph Communications is a full service strategic consulting firm that offers services in coalition building, public affairs, political campaigns and “media buys.” Through Triumph, which has “established excellent relationships with account representatives for stations in Ohio media markets,” Ginther's campaign committee, Friends of Ginther, shovels money at the media. During 2012 and the first seven months of 2013, Ginther's campaign paid Triumph Communications $42,458 for “Media Buys” and another $4,822 in “Radio Time,” along with a single $3,402 “Advertisement.” During the same period, Friends of Ginther paid Triumph $47,500 in campaign consulting fees, management fees and for “fund raising.”

The cost figures for consulting and media do not include all postage reimbursements, travel expenses for Triumph executive Jayme Staley to an inauguration event, and other campaign travel reimbursements. Based on the date of event, it can be inferred that it was the United States Presidential Inauguration. Staley is the only employee of Triumph Communications to receive money from Friends of Ginther individually rather than via charges from the company itself.

The price of electoral triumph is high, but Ginther has friends to help him pay. The Democratic P arty seemingly loves Ginther. In 2011 they expressed this apparent amorous fidelity with contributions of $21,000 to the Andrew Ginther for Council PAC and $11,750 to the Friends of Ginther campaign committee. The Democratic Party love is not unrequited. In 2012, Friends of Ginther gave $6,500 to the Ohio Democratic Party State Candidates Committee. In 2013, his love for his friends seemed to grow, netting $24,857 for the Ohio Democratic Party and $1500 for the Franklin County Democratic Party restricted fund. There seems to be a certain egalitarian quality to these expressions of love as money flowing to Ginther's PACs from Democratic party PACs and back again over the period of 2011 to 2013 is equal to within one percent. In Columbus City Hall, caring and sharing are one and the same.

Friendship with Ginther does not appear to be confined to party regulars or even Ohio residents. In 2013, 17 senior AEP executives gave to Friends of Ginther. Only two live in Columbus. Ginther must have been the talk of the virtual water cooler at AEP as the company's chief administrative officer sent a check from far-off Murphy Texas. People in 11 states as well as Washington DC gave to Friends of Ginther during the last election cycle. Why individuals and PACs in other states have an interest in the friendship of the Columbus City Council President is not apparent.

Friends of Ginther not only receives money from far away places, but has travel expenses to far away places as well. It is not immediately apparent what a local campaign for political office could hope to gain from travel to San Francisco or Charlotte NC, but both were destinations for disbursement listed as “Campaign Travel.” Triumph Communications executive Staley also had her travel expenses paid for by the Friends of Ginther on October 17th 2012. It is not clear from the submitted records where this travel was to, or what it's purpose might have been. It is not clear how this travel may have furthered his electoral endeavors.

The growing grassroots movement in Columbus for campaign finance reform is starkly contrasted by the large amounts of money flowing to and from the coffers of Columbus politicians from both inside and outside the city limits. The New Albany State PAC gave Friends of Ginther $5,000 in 2012. This was the same amount given to Governor John Kasich that year. It is not clear what New Albany hopes to gain from the friendship of Andrew Ginther.

The New Albany PAC, Friends of Ginther and Coleman for Columbus all share the same treasurer, Donald J. McTigue, one of Ohio's most prominent campaign lawyers.

The large amount of dollars flowing into a small amount of hands gives the appearance of a pay-to-play system. The Free Press will remain attentive to the flow of money into political coffers and the growing movement for local campaign finance reform.

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