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Ohio Members in Remap Fight

With a Federal Election Commission ruling in place allowing them to raise soft money, Ohio Republican lawmakers have begun trolling for several hundred thousand dollars in hopes of defeating a November redistricting initiative that could imperil their political careers.

Recognizing the GOP’s dominance of the state’s Congressional delegation could be at stake, several Ohio Republican lawmakers have pledged to raise money and contribute strategic advice to the campaign against the redistricting proposal, which would take responsibility for drawing district maps away from the state Legislature and hand it to an independent commission.

“I think most every member of the delegation has been involved,” said an aide to a senior Ohio GOP lawmaker.

Both supporters and opponents of the Ohio redistricting proposal are expected to spend several million dollars on that issue, as well as three other reform-related constitutional amendments that will be on the November ballot.

It is not yet clear which members of the state’s delegation are spearheading the effort, or the exact amount of soft money they hope to raise. But sources said some Ohio lawmakers have already begun asking members of the Washington, D.C., corporate lobbying community for checks of as much as $25,000 that could help fund the anti-reform effort, which is led by the group Ohio First.

That organization is being spearheaded by state Rep. Kevin DeWine (R), the cousin of Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio). Kevin DeWine told the Akron Beacon Journal last week that he expected his group to spend “at least a million [dollars] a week” on television ads against the four proposed amendments.

Ohio First has assembled a large roster of consultants and fundraisers in both D.C. and Ohio, and the group has hired the Alexandria, Va.-based firm Stevens Reed Curcio & Potholm to produce its ads.

On Oct. 3, the Ohio First Voter Education Fund registered with the IRS as a Section 527 organization. The state wing of the group registered with the Ohio secretary of state’s office, though neither the federal nor the state accounts has reported any contributions or expenditures yet.

By filing with the IRS after Oct. 1, Ohio First ensured that it will not have to report any of its activities until January, long after the initiative votes have occurred.

In raising money to defeat the redistricting plan, Ohio lawmakers are taking advantage of a recent change in how the rules governing soft money are interpreted.

In August, the Federal Election Commission ruled on a 5-1 vote that Members of Congress could raise unlimited amounts of soft money in support of state initiatives, despite the supposed ban on lawmakers raising such funds imposed by the McCain-Feingold bill that became law in 2002.

The FEC’s ruling came in response to a request by California Reps. John Doolittle (R) and Howard Berman (D), who hoped to be able to raise soft money to oppose a redistricting initiative on the Golden State’s November special election ballot.

In making their case to the FEC, Doolittle and Berman argued that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) was allowed to raise unlimited sums of money to support the redistricting measure and that they should have the same opportunity. Critics of that argument, meanwhile, contended that allowing Members to engage in such activities would undermine the McCain-Feingold law.

Since the ruling, Doolittle and Berman have pushed forward with their fundraising efforts, while California Reps. Bill Thomas (R), Jerry Lewis (R) and Devin Nunes (R), among others, have helped raise money to support the measure.

Though money has already begun to flow in California and Ohio, Kent Cooper, who helps run the campaign finance Web site politicalmoneyline.com, said it was too early to tell whether donors would pour forth with soft money on a larger scale in the wake of the August ruling.

“I think there’s going to be a natural leeriness, at least at the national corporate level, when it comes to making 527 donations,” Cooper said. “But in the Ohio corporate community I’m sure they’d instantly fill up the pot.”

While California’s current map has given the state’s Democrats a 33-20 advantage within the House delegation, Ohio’s map is skewed the other way. Twelve of the state’s 18 districts are held by Republicans, despite the fact that the state appears to lean only slightly toward the GOP and President Bush defeated Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) there by just 2 points in 2004.

The mere fact that Ohio lawmakers are participating in the fundraising effort could become an issue in the war of words between the two sides.

Ohio First has sought to portray the movement in favor of redistricting reform and the other ballot initiatives as part of a plot funded by non-Ohioans.

“Out of state liberal special-interests, backed by their billionaire donors, have forced their way onto the November ballot in an effort to hijack Ohio’s election process,” reads the opening statement on protectyourvote.org, Ohio First’s Web site.

But reform proponents argue that it would be disingenuous for Ohio First to make such charges if it plans to enlist Members of Congress to raise money from the Washington, D.C., donor community.

“I find it terribly hypocritical that they’re raising out-of-state money when they’re raising such an issue with some of our fundraising,” said Keary McCarthy, spokesman for the ballot initiatives’ sponsoring group, Reform Ohio Now.

While some Democratic lawmakers have spoken out in favor of the reform proposals, Reform Ohio Now officials said they had not enlisted any Members to help with their fundraising.

The Ohio Republicans’ efforts are going beyond just fundraising. Last week, Ohio GOP Reps. David Hobson, Deborah Pryce and Patrick Tiberi met with the editorial board of the Columbus Dispatch to make their case against the redistricting initiative.

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