Will voters have to decide whether to toss out Issue 6 — the campaign-finance reform charter amendment — before it can take effect? Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Monzel has joined the effort.
Last fall a very slim majority of voters passed Issue 6, which includes public campaign funding for city council candidates who agree to spending limits (see Buying Back Council, issue of Jan. 4-10, 2001). The charter amendment also created the five-member Cincinnati Elections Commission to monitor campaigns.
Monzel plans to introduce a charter amendment, possibly at the council meeting Wednesday, that would repeal the public funding mandated by Issue 6. If Monzel can't get five other council members to vote with him, a repeal amendment would need 9,300 signatures to get on the Nov. 5 ballot.
The city can't afford the estimated $1.5 million to $2 million Issue 6 would cost every two years, according to city staff. The cost could reach $2.5 million during mayoral races.
"We're basically trying to save the city money," Monzel says.
Mayor Charlie Luken wants to prevent public funding of campaigns.
"From my point of view, this is strictly a budget consideration," Luken says. "I have no problem with the (contribution) limits."
As mayor, Luken can't vote on council items, but he does support the petition drive to stop public campaign funding before it begins. Luken says the city is running at least $22 million short this year, and he'd rather spend money to keep parks and recreation centers open than on financing political speech.
Luken has been reluctant to support council decisions that bypass voters' wishes in other matters. For example, he says he supports repeal of Article 12 — the charter amendment prohibiting laws protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination — but wants citizens to gather signatures to put repeal on the ballot, rather than council doing so.
As for repealing Issue 6, long-time campaign finance opponent John Kruse seems to have better odds than Monzel. Two months ago Kruse began gathering the 9,300 signatures needed to repeal the charter amendment. Kruse, who unsuccessfully ran for city council as a Republican in 1993 and 1995, successfully sued to repeal a 1994 charter amendment that restricted campaign spending.
Earlier this year Citizens for Fair Elections — the 14-group coalition behind Issue 6 — heard Kruse might try to repeal the charter amendment, so its members went to council members and argued he shouldn't receive better treatment than they did, according to Bill Woods, co-chair of the coalition. The coalition spent two years gathering signatures to get Issue 6 on the ballot; city council declined a request to put the proposal to voters.
"We think that it should have a chance to go into effect (in 2003)," Woods says. "Most of them agreed."
Those same conversations led Woods to believe repeal won't get the two-thirds council approval needed to put it on the ballot.
"We felt that there weren't enough votes," Woods says.
Council members Minette Cooper, John Cranley, David Crowley and Jim Tarbell are firmly in the Fair Elections camp, according to Woods.
Kruse agrees with the head count but is working with Monzel.
"The bottom line is (Monzel) doesn't have six votes," Kruse says.
Kruse acknowledges he is probably going to have to pay people to gather signatures. By late July the repeal campaign collected about 1,000 uncertified signatures, with only five weeks until the filing deadline.
"We're a long way away," Kruse says.
Now he is asking contributors to last year's $70,000 campaign against Issue 6 — which included $20,000 from the Hamilton County Republican Party and $10,000 from Fifth-Third Bank — to help pay for hired signature collectors. The standard fee for such work is $1 per non-validated signature, Kruse says.
"We've had some success," he says. "We need more successes."
If fund raising goes well, Kruse believes the group could have 3,000 to 5,000 signatures in a couple of weeks.
Even if Kruse and Monzel fail, they will have come closer to their goal than the city's gay rights supporters, who have been unable to repeal Article 12 after nearly 10 years.
BURNING QUESTIONS is our weekly attempt to afflict the comfortable.