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.
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.
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.
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.