City Clerk Angie Blevins (far right) and her staff logging in 670 part-petitions containing approximately 23,000 signatures. Photo by Jonathan Beard
On the heels of submitting roughly 23,000 signatures in support of campaign finance reform, the Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government (“the Coalition”) buttressed its claims of a need for change in local election law with an analysis of campaign contributions in the 2013 City Council elections. The Coalition released a press release and analysis drawn from Campaign Finance reports submitted to the Franklin County Board of Elections showing that Friends for Ginther, the campaign fund for Columbus City Council President Andrew Ginther, contributed 70 percent of the campaign dollars in the 2013 election cycle, though Ginther was not on the ballot. Citizens for Priscilla Tyson raised $22,010.35 and also benefited from $58,901.58 of in-kind contributions from Friends for Ginther. A. Troy Miller for Columbus raised $7,110.74 and benefited from $58,751.58 from Friends for Ginther; and Paley for Columbus raised $12,159.30 and also benefited from $58,751.58 contributed in kind from Friends for Ginther. The major in-kind contributions from Friends for Ginther were for radio time and TV time. In total, the incumbent council members (Priscilla Tyson, A. Troy Miller, and Eileen Paley) raised $375,265.63 – of which $ 274,190.64 was contributed by Friends for Ginther. The Ginther PAC thus contributed 62 percent of Paley’s campaign, 72 percent of Tyson’s campaign, and a full 90 percent of Miller’s campaign. In contrast, the three council challengers (Nicholas Schneider, Brian Bainbridge, and Greg Lawson) raised just $16,578.46 for the entire election cycle (primary and general elections). In written comments submitted to Columbus City Council, Coalition member Jonathan Beard said, “When we look at those facts, we don’t see fair and competitive elections that Americans have fought for and Columbus residents should expect. $16,000 is not enough money for three candidates to run a competitive campaign across 225 square miles covering more than 800,000 people. Further, the excessive spending by the Council President gives a suspicion impropriety – a suspicion that votes on council can be influenced by campaign contributions from the council president. This suspicion appears validated when the Council president sponsored Issues 50 & 51 and where every council member agreed with it –even though 69 percent of the electorate voted it down. We have a problem of representation, and when you follow the money it causes concern. Sadly, this is the best that our current system gives us, so it is past time to look critically at our system of elections.” Further analysis of 2011 election spending by The Free Press shows that Friends for Ginther provided $611,218.84 of the $758,010.87 (81 percent) of the money raised for the election of Democratic council incumbents Ginther, Zachery Klein, Herschel Craig, and Michelle Mills. In the 2011 elections, however, the two Republican challengers (Matthew Ferris and Darryl Hennessy) raised a combined $274,969.06 – far more than their counterparts were able to raise in 2013. The Coalition has filed 23,000 petition signatures in support of The Columbus Fair Campaigns Code, a citizen-proposed election and campaign finance law designed to increase the quality of candidate information going to the voters while decreasing the costs to campaigns of providing that information. If sufficient signatures are validated by the Franklin County Board of Elections, the proposed law will go to Council for a vote. If council votes “yes,” then the citizen proposal becomes law. If council votes “no,” the proposal will go onto the next ballot for a vote. Coalition member Willis Brown, one of the five electors who originally filed the petition, said in a written statement: “Governance should be about more than staying in power. True public servants will want to ensure we have a robust, competitive, and fair electoral system, and we are hopeful that the individual members of Columbus City Council can see past their short-term political goals and approve this ordinance based upon the good it provides to residents of Columbus, present and future.”
The petitions prior to boxing. Photo by Denise Benning

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