By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau
COLUMBUS — The gubernatorial race’s mudslinging hit something of a brick wall yesterday when the Ohio Elections Commission ruled unanimously that two complaints – one by Democrat Lee Fisher, one by Republican Bob Taft – are without merit.
The complaints centered around an opposition television ad that allegedly twisted the truth.
The Taft ad in question omitted two words from a sentence in a Cleveland Plain Dealer article in a way the Fisher camp says changes the statement’s meaning. The Fisher ad said only Mr. Fisher was proposing a property tax cut, when Mr. Taft said he too proposed one, for some senior citizens.
But unlike last Friday, when the commission ruled against the Taft campaign for an ad it said had a “reckless disregard for the truth,” a subcommittee of the commission voted 3-0 in each case not to pursue the accusations any further. The panel said that the commission’s job is to find violations of law, not dispute fine shades of meaning in television ads.
“I think we’re getting too sophisticated,” commissioner Norton Webster said. “There is room for debate on these issues.”
The dispute over the Plain Dealer article had been raised before, when a Franklin County judge temporarily ordered the ad off the air because it was “false” and “misleading.”
The Ohio Supreme Court later ruled that the judge did not have jurisdiction over the matter, and that it must be forwarded to the elections commission.
Meanwhile, the Fisher campaign announced that all four gubernatorial candidates will be signing a pledge to run a “clean campaign” from here on out. But that’s not what two of the candidates say.
“I’m not ready to sign anything,” said Frank Reed, chairman of the Reform Party, whose candidate is John Mitchel. He said a few issues remain, including negative TV advertising, that he wants addressed. He said they cannot be cleared up in time for tonight’s four-way debate sponsored by The Blade.
The other minor-party candidate, the Natural Law Party’s Zanna Feitler, said she will not sign a pledge unless all four parties agree.
Without all four parties on board, the pledge’s sponsor, the Ohio Project on Campaign Conduct, cannot go ahead with it because it is a tax-exempt group that cannot exclude a candidate.
Taft spokesman Brett Buerck said Mr. Taft is expected to sign the agreement early today. Mr. Fisher has signed.
Mr. Reed criticized the Fisher camp for talking about the negotiations leading up to a pledge.
“Nobody was supposed to talk about it until there was an agreement,” he said.
The Ohio Project said it would prefer if candidates not discuss any accord until it is completed.
“We stress to them the fact that, when the negotiations remain confidential, you can have a much more frank discussion,” said Elizabeth Long Rhodes, state coordinator of the Ohio Project.
Fisher campaign chairman Alan Melamed said the campaign wants “everything out in the open” and that a lack of communication may have led to the dispute over who could release information.
“I had been contacted and advised that all four campaigns were ready to sign,” he said. “There was nothing about us not doing our own release.”
Ms. Rhodes would not comment on whether an agreement has been reached among the four.