FILE - Ohio State Capitol

An Ohio state flag flies in front of the Ohio Statehouse in ColumbusOhio.

(The Center Square) – A bill proponents say takes a step forward in Ohio eliminating political dark money drew praise Wednesday from state churches, a group dedicated to campaign finance reform and Ohio’s secretary of state.

“Secret money in elections has eroded voter confidence and the dark money surrounding House Bill 6 has highlighted how easily political advertising dollars can be misused without transparency and accountability,” Brandi Slaughter, policy director for the Ohio Council of Churches, testified before the Ohio Senate Government and Oversight Committee. “It’s been 10 years since Citizens United v FEC. Voters should not have to wait any longer. We have a problem and we have a clear solution – closing the dark money loophole.”

SB 347 continues as part of the fallout from a multi-million bribery and racketeering scandal that led to the indictment of former House Speaker Larry Householder and others.

The bill would eliminate an Ohio law that prohibits corporations and labor unions from engaging in any candidate-related political spending. However, that restriction was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010, but Ohio law never changed.

The bill includes specific contribution requirements and prohibitions, along with reporting and disclaimer regulations.

Senate Government and Oversight Committee chairman William Coley, R-Liberty Township, asked Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose if SB 347 had been in place, would the issues surrounding HB 6 still have occurred?

“If this was to be amended with the sub-bill we’re considering and working with house members on right now, then a lot would have changed,” LaRose said. “I’ll tell you what wouldn’t have changed, the ability of people and corporations and labor organizations to spend their money. That’s a guaranteed free speech right. They can spend as much money as they want under this proposed legislation. Simply, they just have to disclose who they are.

“If you’re held accountable to the things you are saying with your money, I think you’re maybe inclined to be a little more responsible with what you saying. Certainly, the voters are more well-informed because ultimately, as we know, all power in this state rests with the citizens.”

Catherine Turcer, with Common Cause Ohio, urged passage but also offered what she called improvements, such as requiring disclosure of the original source of funding, disclaimers should contain contact information and more clear boundaries are needed between candidates and independent expenditures.

“It’s time to close the dark money loophole,” Turcer said. “We are now experiencing the consequences of not having adequate disclosure. I urge you pass Senate Bill 347 and shine a light on the funding of all political advertisements.”

Regional Editor

An Ohio native, J.D. Davidson is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. He has served as a reporter, editor, managing editor and publisher.