Ohio Judge Contests Campaign Restrictions

     (CN) – The strict limitations Ohio state judges face for fundraising violate the First Amendment, one judicial candidate claims in Federal Court.
     Colleen O’Toole and Friends to Elect Colleen O’Toole brought her April 26 federal complaint in Columbus against Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, disciplinary counsel Scott Drexel, and Richard Dove, the director of the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct.
     Presently a judge on Ohio’s 11th District Court of Appeals, O’Toole recently announced her candidacy for election in 2016 to the Ohio Supreme Court.
     She claims that the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct is doing its best to keep her campaign on the ground, by prohibiting judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions unless they are speaking to a general audience of at least 20 people, and making candidates legally responsible for the actions of their campaign committees.
     The rules also restrict candidates from raising funds earlier than 120 days before the primary election, or from using the title “justice” or the verb “judge” on campaign literature, without identifying the court on which they currently serve.
     Since the deadline for filing a declaration of candidacy is 90 days before the primary election, O’Toole says “Friends to Elect Colleen O’Toole will only have a 30-day window in which it can solicit and raise funds before Colleen O’Toole will have to file her declaration of candidacy and petition in order to be a candidate for the Ohio Supreme Court in the 2016 Republican primary election.”
     Sitting Ohio Supreme Court judges meanwhile may have campaign funds left over from a prior judicial race, which they can use to support their candidacy at any time.
     Chief Justice O’Connor, for example, spent almost $25,000 in 2012 and 2013, even though she was not permitted to receive campaign contributions during these years as she was not running for office, the complaint notes.
     According to 2014 campaign finance reports, O’Connor’s campaign has $52,000 prepared to spend on her upcoming campaign. Another candidate, Patrick DeWine, has $245,000 in ready funds.
     “Because such campaign committees have significantly more retained funds from prior judicial races than Friends to Elect Colleen O’Toole, those other campaign committees are able to engage and do engage in significantly more speech in support of their respective candidates utilizing a significantly lesser percentage of their retained funds,” O’Toole claims.
     Her campaign also wishes to seek election to the Ohio Supreme Court without the cumbersome requirement of identifying the current court she services on, “i.e., without being compelled by government dictate to alter its core political speech,” and objects to the regulation of font sizes on judicial campaign literature.
     O’Toole personally claims that the prohibition on personal solicitation of campaign funds violates “the constitutionally protected rights of freedom of speech and association of potential contributors to receive information and ideas directly from judicial candidates, including a direct and personal request from a judicial candidate for a campaign contribution.”
     This last claim may be dead in the water, as the U.S. Supreme Court decided in a different case Wednesday that states can prohibit judicial candidates from direct, personal solicitation.
     O’Toole seeks a permanent injunction against the enforcement of these provisions of the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct as unconstitutional.
     She is represented by Curt Hartman in Cincinnati.

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