The Lonely Centrist

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Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Saga of Dr. Noe is No Reason for More Campaign Finance Reform

Dan Tokaji is a professor at Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. Tokaji is a smart guy, but he has written an article for FindLaw that displays the kind of goofiness that besets the campaign finance reform community.

Tokaji is writing on a current scandal in Ohio politics, that can be briefly summarized as follows:

A dealer in rare coins named Tom Noe (que the Bond theme) made a lot of campaign contributions to Republican candidates over many years. As a well known Republican activist - both he and his had chaired the Lucas County (Toledo area) Republican Party - and successful businessman, Noe was appointed to the Ohio Turnpike Commission in 2003, to the board of Bowling Green State University in 1991, and to the Ohio Board of Regents in 1995. These latter two appointments seem to particularly irk Professor Tokaji, as Noe dropped out of Bowling Green to start his coin business. In a manner typical of how reformers feel compelled to talk about these issues, Tokaji makes much of the fact that Noe and his wife also contributed to George W. Bush in 2004, and that Noe intervened on the side of Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell in a suit filed by Democrats regarding the counting of provisional ballots in Ohio - a suit in which Noe's legal position was upheld by the 6th Circuit - even though the events underlying the scandal occured long before 2004 and involved interactions with state, not federal officials. In the late 1990s, the Ohio Workers Compensation Bureau gave Noe a contract to invest state funds in rare coins, baseball cards and the like. Now it turns out that Noe is unable to account for nearly $12 million in state money. Some coins, valued at several hundred thousand dollars, were literally lost in the mail.

Not a pretty sight. I think the lessons that most of us would draw from this are:

1. State funds should probably not be deposited into more esoteric investment forms such as rare coins;

2. Voters need to hold elected officials who make appointments responsible for the actions of those appointees - and Ohio voters will get that chance;

3. Laws against malfeasance and misuse of public funds should be enforced - as seems to be happening here, as Noe may go to prison.

But Tokaji's conclusions are quite different. He concludes:

1. Contributors to political campaigns should not be eligible for government appointments to things such as the Board of Regents;

2. The Supreme Court should uphold the constitutionality of campaign finance reform; and

3. Campaigns for judge should be paid for by the government, not through private fund raising.

Hmm. Let's consider these:

1. Who does Tokaji think a Governor should appoint? I think a governor should appoint people who share his ideas. Most of these people will have supported his campaign, many of them with monetary contributions. The idea that contributors should not be appointed to government would separate campaigning from governing, something that is both impractical and undesirable.

2. Ohio and the Feds both have in place the campaign finance restrictions that Tokaji wants the court to uphold, and neither stopped this scandal. But Tokaji goes further. He calls for prosecutors and investigative agencies to be "more vigilant in investigating large fundraisers, "to determine whether these fundraisers are in fact making an end-run around campaign finance laws." Whatever happened to "probably cause" and the like? And he headlines the recommendation, "Federal campaign finance laws should be enforced," even though the scandal revolves around state laws, and those laws are being enforced.

3. Tokaji's third recommendation hardly merits comment, given that the scandal has nothing to do with judges.

This is how restrictions on political activity have always advanced - any time a scandal comes along, reformers tie it campaign finance, whether or not doing so makes any real sense. Tokaji is trying to do that here, and the good voters of Ohio will find themselves all the poorer if they let this be an excuse to pass more campaign finance reform, restricting their own freedom, rather than to punish those responsible at the ballot box.

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