Current Law

 

Ohio campaign finance law is very complicated. Ohio law requires that all contributions to candidates and political parties be reported. This information is available on the Ohio Secretary of State’s website.

Individuals and Political Action Committees (PACs) are limited to contributing $10,000 per candidate per election (Primary and General elections are considered two elections).

Children under age seven are not permitted to contribute to candidates.


Political Parties

Direct corporate contributions are permitted only to the political party committees for operating expenses. These corporations are limited to $10,000 per election. However, during federal election years, the political parties’ “Levin Accounts” may accept direct corporate contributions up to $10,000 for “party building.”

There are no limits on candidate-to-candidate or candidate-to-political party giving and there are no limits on in-kind contributions from the political party committees to candidates. This effectively means that there are no limits on transferring funds between and among candidates, which allows candidates to circumvent contribution limits. For the political parties, this has another upside – candidates and office holders who are good fundraisers are able to help candidates who are in more competitive races.

When we think of political parties, we usually think of the two major political parties – Democrat and Republican. The Ohio Democratic Party and the Ohio Republican Party each have a committee to support candidates. Each of the 88 counties also has a local county political party committee. Only contributors who reside within the county of that county political party committee are permitted to give to the county political party.


Electioneering Communication

In Ohio, disclosure extends to “electioneering communication” or those television or radio advertisements that include candidates from the time when the candidate files for office through to 30 days prior to Election Day. These ads may be paid for with direct corporate and union dollars. The traditional understanding of “electioneering” is that it is intended to influence the election. However, in Ohio’s Alice-in-Wonderland-like law, “electioneering communication” is not intended to influence elections. These communications simply include candidates or are “issue ads.”

During the 30 days immediately prior to the primary or general election, any ad with an identifiable candidate is considered to be “for the purpose of influencing the election.” During these 30-day periods, only “direct advocacy” is permitted and “electioneering communication” (as described above) is prohibited. “Direct advocacy” or PAC advertisements may not be paid for with direct corporate or union dollars. This is quite different from the definition of “electioneering communication” in the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA, also known as “McCain-Feingold”). Ohio law means that there is full disclosure of ads with candidates for an extended period of time, well beyond the scope of BCRA.

It is unlikely that Ohio’s definition of “electioneering communication” will be upheld as constitutional. It flips the definition of “electioneering communication” to mean communication that does not affect elections. Also, Ohio law requires disclosure beyond the 30 days before the primary and the 60 days before the general elections that was upheld as constitutional in McConnell v. FEC in 2003.


No-Bid Contracts

Ohio law limits campaign contributions from firms and individuals who receive no-bid contracts to $1,000 per candidate in the two calendar years prior to a contract’s approval. A contractor may give after securing a state contract and a contractor also may have other members of his/her company give. A contractor may give a maximum of $10,000 per year to a county political party State Candidate Fund, provided he lives in that county. Contractors may also give to state political parties. There is no special disclosure requirement for government contractors. As a result, the Ohio Secretary of State and the Ohio Elections Commission are unable to track who is receiving government contracts and whether the government contractors are violating the contribution limits.


Tax Credits

Any Ohioan who pays state income tax is entitled to claim a 100 % tax credit for contributions to Ohio candidates, up to a limit of $50 per individual or $100 for two persons filing jointly. The tax credit applies only to statewide (including the Ohio Supreme Court but not including U.S. Senate) and to state legislative candidates.


Ohio Elections Commission

The Ohio Elections Commission
was created in 1974 as a result of the circumstances surrounding the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s. Similar to the Federal Election Commission, the Ohio Commission was created as a means of enforcing the state’s campaign finance and fair campaign practices laws. The Ohio Elections Commission has seven members. Six members (three from each major political party in Ohio) are appointed by the Governor upon recommendations from the Democratic and Republican caucuses of the General Assembly. The seventh member may not be affiliated with either major political party and is appointed by the six partisan members of the Commission.

The Ohio Elections Commission provides advice on Ohio election laws, but it does not have investigative powers. It functions similarly to a court and it hears complaints from the Ohio Secretary of State, the county Boards of Elections, or members of the public. The vast majority of its cases deal with candidates, campaign committees, PACs or corporations that either file late or fail to file the required campaign finance reports.

The remainder of the cases concern whether someone did or did not include a disclaimer on their political literature, corporate activities in the political arena or the inclusion of allegedly false statements in campaign materials. Individuals may file a complaint but only if they have direct knowledge of some election or campaign finance misdeed. This makes enforcement of campaign finance and election laws difficult.