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City Elections Commission Offers Guidance On Campaign Finance Change

city hall
Bill Rinehart

Members of the Cincinnati Elections Commission this week approved an advisory opinion that a City Charter amendment making changes to campaign contributions from LLCs cannot be applied retroactively.
In November, city voters overwhelmingly approved changes to Article XIII of the City Charter, which deals with campaign finance. The changes took effect December 1, 2018.

The ballot measure said an LLC (limited liability corporation) cannot contribute to mayoral or city council candidates "solely in the name" of the business.  Those donations must be associated with the person, owner or partner making it.  

Cincinnati attorney Micah Kamrass had asked the elections commission "whether contributions made to a city council or mayoral candidate by an LLC will be counted as contributions made by an individual if the contributions were made prior to the effective date" of the Charter amendment.

A legal opinion from the city solicitor's office, and accepted this week by the elections commission, said no because Ohio Revised Code states: "a statute is presumed to be prospective in its operations unless expressly made retrospective."

"Regarding any contributions received prior to December 1, 2018, a contribution attributed to an LLC as an entity will be considered a contribution by the LLC rather than by any individual, in accordance with the prior Charter language and the commission's 2005 advisory opinion," written in the latest advisory opinion.

The 2018 Charter amendment was the direct result of something that happened in the 2017 mayoral race.  The donation limit for an individual is $1,100.  But before the change, the rules of the elections commission had allowed one person to give $1,100 under as many LLCs as they own.

In the 2017 mayoral race, incumbent John Cranley raked in $260,950 in LLC contributions, prompting a majority of city council members to place a Charter amendment on the ballot making LLC contributions illegal.

(WVXU's Howard Wilkinson contributed to this story.)