CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Money is pouring over Ohio borders from out of state, funding attack ads which are attempting to influence who will control the Ohio Supreme Court.
A lot is at stake, as the High Court this session will likely take up everything from re-districting to abortion.
Republicans have ruled the Ohio Supreme Court for 36 years. Now Democrats see a chance to flip the court left, which means both sides are getting help from outside. They are getting help from Super PACs, like the Washington, D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee, which on its own web site admits funneling $21 million into states—including Ohio.
An ad the RSLC funded attacking Democrat Supreme Court candidate Marilyn Zayas and supporting Republican Pat DeWine, prompted a rebuke from the Ohio Bar Association, saying it is damaging the public trust in our judicial system. Local 12 interviewed Zayas on Monday.
"The integrity and the independence of the court is of the utmost importance,” she said.
But now there is another rebuke by the Ohio Bar, this time for an ad that attacks DeWine and supports Zayas. So, Local 12 went back to Judge Zayas.
“Would you agree with the Bar Association that these ads should be taken down?” Local 12 asked.
“Any ad that is outside of the bounds of what we should be as judges, that are violating the election requirements that we have to hold as judges, should be amended or taken down,” she replied.
Zayas says she had no knowledge or control over the ad, or the PAC that funded it, left-leaning Forward Justice, who did not reply to Local 12’s request for an interview.
On a panel Friday sponsored by Ohio Common Cause, Douglas Keith, Counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, gave a stark warning about “dark money.”
“Judges aren’t supposed to decide cases based on political preferences or the preferences of their supporters," Keith said.
These dark money PACs are able to hide from where their donations originate. Fair election advocates say dark money ads can influence how judges decide cases.
“They are more likely to rule harshly in criminal cases, because so often we see these ‘Soft on crime’ ads that we’re seeing across the country right now,” explained Keith. “And judges are afraid of being tagged ‘soft on crime’ in the next election.”
The Ohio Bar Association has no enforcement powers in Ohio, especially when it comes to ads distributed by outside PACs. This is best exemplified by the fact that the Bar says it has not heard back from any of the PACs, and when we asked the Republican State Leadership Committee about it, the RSLC said, "We could care less about what the Bar Association says."
Here is the panel discussing how dark money is influencing Ohio's Supreme Court.