Saturday, April 29, 2006

Non-Ohioans pour nearly $2 million into governor's race

Non-Ohioans pour nearly $2 million into governor's race

Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio - California businessman Robin P. Arkley II has a horse in Tuesday's primary race in faraway Ohio. So does Penna Dexter in Plano, Texas, a regional representative for Concerned Women for America.

New Jersey developers Howard and Betty Lou Schwartz, who also list a retirement address in Florida, have given $40,000 split equally between a Democrat and a Republican running for Ohio governor.

Out-of-staters have poured almost $2 million into Ohio's 2006 race so far, more than an entire gubernatorial election costs in many states. Democrat Howard Dean's 1998 victory in Vermont, for instance, came in a race where the candidates raised $775,880 combined.

The non-Ohio contributions are helping push up the price of the election to what may ultimately be a record-breaker for the state.

In a race being watched around the country, the two Democrats and two Republicans have raised a combined $12.2 million even before the primary - over half the $20.5 million spent in the state-record 1996 contest in which Gov. Bob Taft beat then-Attorney General Lee Fisher.

Perhaps most significant in Ohio, though, is not the amount of the contributions but their geographic diversity - particularly those going to Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. Blackwell's campaign finance reports list donations from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Arkley, a $10,000 donor in Eureka, Calif., and Dexter, who gave $50, evidence the breadth.

Blackwell's was the one major campaign to which the Schwartzes didn't donate. Affiliated with Livingston, N.J.-based Millenium Homes, the couple gave $10,000 each to Attorney General Jim Petro, a Republican, and the same $20,000 sum to Democrat U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland. A telephone message seeking comment from the couple was not returned.

John Stemberger, president and general counsel for the Florida Family Policy Council, said Blackwell's name is well-known among Christian "values voters" across the country who oppose abortion and gay marriage.

"Our organization doesn't endorse candidates, but I'll tell you I was going to cut Blackwell a check from my own personal account," said Stemberger, a member of the Arlington Group, a group of politically influential conservatives that holds closed monthly meetings whose attendees are asked not to disclose specifics of their discussions. Blackwell has counted himself as both a member of the group and a presenter at their meetings.

"Frankly, I think that race is the most important in the country this time around, period. I think Ken Blackwell has the potential to be a national leader in the Republican Party. He could potentially be president of the United States someday, and the first black president at that."

Nearly a quarter of the $3.8 million Blackwell has reported raising before Tuesday's primary has come from out-of-staters, more than any other candidate.

About 11 percent of Petro's money has come from other states, including decent chunks from Florida, the favored location of many Ohio retirees, and Pennsylvania.

Strickland has collected 14 percent of his $4.2 million from out of state, the most from the Washington area where he has served as a congressman since 1996.

Campaign spokesman Jess Goode said it is more reasonable to get a tenth than a quarter of one's campaign money from non-Ohioans.

"We have kept our efforts focused on Ohio and Ohioans," he said. "That's clearly not what Ken Blackwell has done."

Democrats also see national potential in Ohio this year, viewing Strickland as their best chance in years to take back a state that has been run by Republicans for more than a decade. They are bolstered by a wide-ranging state investment scandal that has tarnished statewide officeholders, including Taft, and motivated by the fact that Ohio has been crucial in electing Republican President George Bush in the last two presidential elections.

Strickland has collected donations from 37 states, Petro from 24, and former state Rep. Bryan Flannery, a Democrat, from 14. All three candidates also have donors from Washington, D.C.

According to figures from the Institute on Money in State Politics, the cost of gubernatorial races around the country can run from the absurdly expensive - take New York Gov. George Pataki's 1998 contest against billionaire B. Thomas Golisano at $141 million - to the barely breathing.

Sue O'Connell, a spokeswoman for the institute, said it depends on each state's campaign giving restrictions, how contentious the race is, the number of candidates running, and whether any are self-funded and therefore exempt from certain caps.

So specific is circumstance to the cash outlay that patterns are difficult to spot.

Blackwell campaign spokesman Carlo LoParo said Blackwell's strong showing outside the state shouldn't diminish the fact that he has collected more than 14,000 donations from Ohioans, the most of the four candidates.

"The Republican Party is a national party. People are going to have an interest in Republican candidates who share their points of view," he said.

According to campaign finance filings, however, thousands of Blackwell donors gave less than $10, with the smallest recorded Ohio donor giving 52 cents, so that his average per Ohio donor is $173. The average Ohioan who donated to Strickland gave $399 and the average Ohioan who gave to Petro gave $528.

Strickland had raised the most money from Ohioans overall, as of last week's filing deadline: $3.5 million, compared with Blackwell's $2.9 million, Petro's $2.4 million, and Flannery's $43,960.

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