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Reform Panel Considers Disclosure Requirements For Developer Campaign Donations

Cincinnati City Hall
Nick Swartsell
Cincinnati City Hall

A panel tasked with suggesting reforms to the development process in Cincinnati is considering a requirement for public officials to disclose certain campaign donations. The Economic Development Reform Panel heard from Ohio Elections Commission Director Phil Richter at its third meeting Friday.

Richter said campaign donations have been deemed a First Amendment right by the Supreme Court, so he wouldn't recommend banning developers from donating to council or mayoral candidates. And Richter says requiring officials to disclose such donations could have its own unintended consequences.

"I think what you're trying to accomplish is excellent and worthwhile, but it's also not going to come without some form of expense in terms of having another office open, with the personnel to review all those kind of filings," Richter said. 

A few members of the panel say they wouldn't be in favor of banning donations from developers even if it was an option.

Panelist KZ Smith is the senior pastor at Corinthian Baptist Church. He says some developer donations may be a clear red flag:

"If a project is going on and a developer gives [to a] person already in office, then that becomes pretty well suspect," Smith said. 

City Council passed an ordinance in December 2020 to create the panel in response to the arrests of three council members on federal corruption charges.

The panel will hear from other state and local experts, as well as the public, before making its recommendations in August.

The group will meet next on March 26. 

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Becca Costello