Column: Shining a light on campaign finance in Ohio


Frank LaRose - Guest columnist



You deserve to know who is funding campaigns aimed to influence the outcome of elections. It’s really that simple.

A variety of motivating factors underlie political donations and many of them are laudable and altruistic. While what inspires those contributions is varied, what should never change is our right to know their source.

Each year around this time, newspapers from around the nation recognize Sunshine Week – an opportunity to highlight the need – the right – for voters to know what makes their government tick. As Ohio secretary of state, it is my mission — in fact, my sworn duty — to protect our elections. I believe that includes an obligation to do what I can to empower Ohio voters with the information they deserve to make an educated decision each election.

Right now, if you wanted to find out who was contributing to your local city council member, or school board member, or mayor – the last place you’d want to look is online. Why? Because today, state law doesn’t even allow local candidates for office to submit their campaign finance reports online. Instead, each campaign is required to go to their local board of elections and drop off their campaign finance report in paper form …. yes, in the year 2019, local candidates are required to submit campaign finance reports in dead-tree format.

Interested in doing a quick search of their contributors? Good luck with that! The only way to do it is by hand. There is no search functionality. It’s just you – slowly and diligently digging through form after form to find the information you need.

Now let’s be fair. The average voter doesn’t often search through campaign finance reports. But do you know who does? The journalists, academics and activists we entrust with the sacred obligation to search out facts relevant to our daily life and report them back to us.

And they could use some extra sunshine.

These campaign finance reports should be each to find and search and available on through your county boards of elections and the Ohio Secretary of State websites. That’s why I’m supporting new legislation being introduced this week by state Sen. Michael Rulli that will allow local candidates for office to finally submit their campaign finance reports online.

It’s 2019. Not 1999. Submitting these reports online is just common sense — and for two decades it’s been the law for state-level candidates. In the last General Assembly, I introduced very similar legislation that unanimously passed the Ohio Senate. Republicans and Democrats came together once on this, and I’m hopeful they will do so again.

In addition to the reforms being proposed in this new Ohio Senate bill, there is much more work to be done to bring true and real transparency to campaign finance reform. For too long, partisans on both sides of the aisle and deep-pocketed special interests have taken advantage of loopholes in campaign finance law to anonymously influence our elections.

Need an example? In 2017, voters were debating Issue 2, a ballot initiative which focused on drug pricing. Without debating the merits of the policy, consider that more than $74 million was spent on the ballot issue by both sides — making this the most expensive campaign in Ohio history. What’s worse is that this money, spent to motivate voters, was completely anonymous. The two entities on either side of this contest reported their money in and money out, as required by law — but who really were the Ohioans in the “Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue” and “Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices” organizations? We’ll never know specifically where that money came from. Unless we do something about it, there’s nothing to stop this from happening again and again for both issue campaigns and independent efforts seeking to help one candidate or another.

I’m committed to finding ways for state law to help reform this broken system. It’s simply the right thing to do for the health of Ohio’s civic life. It’s about time we begin shining a bright light on the dark money that influences our politics. Voters deserve the opportunity to be fully informed when they make their voice heard in each and every election. Together, we can get it done.

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Frank LaRose

Guest columnist

Frank LaRose took office as Ohio’s 51st Secretary of State on January 14th, 2019. Prior to being elected to statewide office, he served two terms in the State Senate representing the 27th Senate District in northeast Ohio. Call him at 614-466-2655

Frank LaRose took office as Ohio’s 51st Secretary of State on January 14th, 2019. Prior to being elected to statewide office, he served two terms in the State Senate representing the 27th Senate District in northeast Ohio. Call him at 614-466-2655