No Money from Nobody! At Last A Judicial Candidate with Real Integrity!
Horray for Bill O'Neill, Democratic candidate for Ohio Supreme Court. He's doing it the hard way...and the right way. Refusing to accept money for his campaign, O'Neill handily won the Democratic nomination at the polls. Now, he will face off, again from the well-funded (Yes, that was $17,000 in cash in my car trunk) GOP candidatge Terrence O'Donnell who has yet to meet a contribution he didn't like.
Here's the Columbus Dispatch's take on the O'Neill campaign:High-court candidate shuns cash Pledge not to take contributions has court watchers’ attention Sunday, May 21, 2006James Nash THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
William O’Neill, standing in his garage print shop, is running a bare-bones campaign for an Ohio Supreme Court seat.
Out in the garage of William O’Neill’s suburban Cleveland home, son Shawn, 24, is printing fliers promoting his dad’s candidacy for the Ohio Supreme Court. Nearby, Brandon, 19, is running the rusty machines that fold the fliers and cut them in half. From her home in Portland, Ore., daughter Katie, 24, is coordinating the distribution of the humble blue-ink leaflets across Ohio.
William O’Neill, meanwhile, is serving as his own campaign manager while working as a court of appeals judge by day and a registered nurse at night.
Is this any way to run a statewide political campaign?
For O’Neill, making his second run at the state Supreme Court, it’s the only way.
O’Neill defeated Judge A.J. Wagner in the Democratic primary for a Supreme Court seat this month by 113,000 votes even though Wagner raised more than $100,000, spent thousands on political consultants and professional printers, and had the endorsement of the Ohio Democratic Party.
O’Neill raised no money and had a political organization consisting of a few friends and family members.
Now, in an experiment that’s attracting attention from court watchers around Ohio, O’Neill is trying to replicate his success in the Democratic primary by refusing to raise money in his bid to unseat incumbent Supreme Court Justice Terrence O’Donnell, who defeated O’Neill in 2004.
If he prevails, O’Neill would be the first challenger to unseat an incumbent Supreme Court justice in 20 years. And he would become only the second candidate since 2000 to win a seat on the court despite being outspent in his campaign.
That election six years ago — in which outside groups swamped the campaign with millions of dollars in often sharp-edged advertisements — cast a harsh light on the role of money in the judiciary.
While the role of outside groups has diminished slightly since 2000, candidates for the court generally have raised $1 million or more to get elected.
O’Neill, working with only his homemade fliers, speeches and free media exposure, said he will run his campaign as a referendum on O’Donnell’s fundraising prowess.
"I intend to make his millions an albatross or an anchor that will pull him to the bottom of Lake Erie," O’Neill said. "The question will be, should a justice take thousands of dollars from special interests who have cases coming before the court? You’ll get a resounding ‘no’ from anyone you ask."
O’Donnell has defended his fundraising as legal and properly disclosed. His campaign manager, Michael Gonidakis, declined to respond directly to O’Neill’s charges and said O’Donnell will campaign in a "dignified and professional" manner.
"Justice O’Donnell is going to campaign the same way every justice in Ohio campaigns," Gonidakis said.
In 2004, O’Donnell defeated O’Neill 61 percent to 39 percent while spending $1.5 million to O’Neill’s $79,000. That year, O’Neill accepted maximum donations of $10 per person and $1,000 per organization. This year, he said he will fund the campaign entirely out of his own pocket. Campaign-finance reports show that O’Donnell received $195,000 in contributions as of April 20, with $171,000 in the bank.
Political operatives will be watching this race closely to see whether a cash-poor challenger can gain any traction against a well-funded incumbent.
The Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan research institution at New York University’s School of Law, is tracking campaign advertising in the Ohio Supreme Court race this year along with ads in several other states. Deborah Goldberg, director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, has not heard of any other state Supreme Court candidates eschewing campaign contributions. "If you’re an elected judge, you don’t have that luxury," she said. "You can’t run a campaign without raising and spending money."
Lawyer Clifford O. Arnebeck Jr. fought a five-year battle to force a group aligned with the Ohio Chamber of Commerce to disclose who bankrolled $4.2 million in advertising in the 2000 Supreme Court races. Arnebeck said he hopes O’Neill’s underdog candidacy transforms him into a "folk hero" and counters his inability to buy advertisements.
Still, Arnebeck cautioned against reading too much into O’Neill’s victory over Wagner in the primary. Arnebeck noted the similarity between Judge O’Neill’s name and the late C. William O’Neill, a revered former governor and Ohio Supreme Court justice. The O’Neills are not related.
"One of the reasons he could be viewed as an aberration is he has one of the magic names in Ohio politics," Arnebeck said. "These judicial races are almost a name game — the money doesn’t matter as much."
But money does seem to count for something. Since 2000, the leading fundraiser has gone on to win a seat on the Supreme Court in six of the seven contested races. The exception was the 2000 race that pitted O’Donnell against incumbent Justice Alice Robie Resnick, where Resnick won 57 percent of the vote even though O’Donnell outspent her. O’Donnell also was promoted by Citizens for a Strong Ohio, the chamber-aligned group that aired ads attacking Resnick as beholden to her contributors.
Citizens for a Strong Ohio plans to be involved this year but has not determined its precise role, said Linda Woggon, the chamber vice president who manages the group. Other outside groups that have spent money in court races — such as trial lawyers and insurance companies — have not revealed their intentions.
O’Neill said he expects support from the Ohio Democratic Party, even though it endorsed Wagner in the primary and did not support O’Neill’s 2004 bid. Parties can air advertisements and create slate mailers promoting candidates without the office seekers’ participation.
Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Brian Rothenberg said the party hasn’t determined how it will support O’Neill.
"Chairman (Chris) Redfern has made a commitment to all the Democratic candidates statewide," Rothenberg said."