Cordray attacks Montgomery on worker’s rights; Attorney general foes joust

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 4

COLUMBUS — Attorney General Betty Montgomery is trying to deny state employees the basic workplace protections guaranteed for other workers, Democrat Richard Cordray said yesterday.

Mr. Cordray, who faces Ms. Montgomery in her re-election bid, said that on at least three basic protections guaranteed under federal law – protection from age discrimination, accommodations for the disabled, and family medical leave – Ms. Montgomery has argued in court they don’t apply to state workers.

“This is a radical and sweeping assault on the rights of state employees,” he said.

Spokespeople for Ms. Mont gomery said that assertion is absurd and that the cases Mr. Cordray cites are simply procedural disputes over what court cases should be heard in.

Earlier this year, Mr. Cordray had made an issue of Mary Ann Thomson, a former administrative assistant at Ohio State University Hospital in Columbus, who was forced to quit her job when her boss denied her unpaid leave to care for her father after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

The Family and Medical Leave Act, passed by Congress in 1993, requires companies with at least 50 workers to grant up to 12 weeks unpaid leave in such cases.

But Ms. Montgomery argued in court that an exception had to be made for state governments, which she noted could not be sued in federal court.

Mr. Cordray has criticized the incumbent ever since as trampling on workers’ rights in the case. But yesterday, he said that Ms. Mont gomery’s “right-wing agenda” extended beyond family leave.

He pointed to at least three other cases in which the attorney general made a similar argument, including cases involving protections under the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

In each case, he said, Ms. Montgomery argued that state employees did not have the same rights to workplace protections as other workers.

“Betty Montgomery has aggressively attacked the civil rights of the people of Ohio by calling these laws unconstitutional,” Mr. Cor dray said.

State Solicitor Jeffrey Sutton said Mr. Cordray’s attacks are off base and that the dispute is simply over whether the cases should be heard in the state court of claims or federal court.

“The debate is not over whether they can sue,” he said. “These laws are great. The question is just where you go.”

But John Marshall, an attorney representing clients in two cases where Ms. Montgomery has made this argument, said that the state wants the cases to go to the Ohio Court of Claims, where they could not have a jury trial.

“The Court of Claims is not a good place to be in these cases,” Mr. Marshall said. “Betty Montgomery should be thinking of the rights of the people of the state and not protecting state government.”

Mr. Cordray – still wearing a hospital bracelet after his wife gave birth to twins on Sunday – said that his opponent’s denials signal a lack of ethics and a willingness to “fuzz the truth.”

He pointed to Friday’s decision by the Ohio Elections Commission to reprimand gubernatorial candidate Bob Taft’s campaign for making a false statement about Democrat Lee Fisher. Mr. Taft had said in an ad that Mr. Fisher, a former attorney general, had cut crime-fighting staff by 15 per cent while in office.

That statement, judged false by the commission, was originally made by Ms. Montgomery in her successful 1994 campaign against Mr. Fisher.

“It’s not just a Taft statement, it’s a Montgomery-Taft statement that was judged to be false,” Mr. Cordray said.

Ms. Montgomery’s spokesperson, Susan Verble, said the candidate would have no comment on her 1994 allegation. “She’s busy with her own campaign now,” she said.

U.S. treasurer backs Democrat Donofrio for her former state post

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 4

COLUMBUS — John Donofrio, the Democratic candidate for state treasurer, has received what may be the most widely circulated endorsement in the nation.

Mr. Donofrio, who is running against Republican Joseph Deters, was lauded yesterday by Mary Ellen Withrow, the Treasurer of the United States, whose personal signature appears on every piece of U.S. paper currency.

Ms. Withrow held the office Mr. Donofrio is seeking from 1983 to 1994. A Clinton administration appointee, she is the only person in American history to serve as a county treasurer, a state treasurer, and U.S. treasurer.

“John Donofrio has been an excellent county treasurer for 20 years, and he’ll be an excellent state treasurer,” Mrs. Withrow said. “Doesn’t it make sense to elect a county treasurer to be the state treasurer? It’s a no-brainer.”

Mr. Donofrio has been the Summit County treasurer since 1979. Mr. Deters is the Hamilton County prosecutor – a point Mr. Donofrio has criticized in this campaign.

“Taking care of the public’s money is very different from being a prosecuting attorney,” Mrs. Withrow said.

She singled out for criticism Mr. Deters’ stance on the state’s linked deposit programs. Under the programs, created by Mrs. Withrow, the state agrees to deposit a small portion of its money in a local Ohio bank. In exchange, the bank makes the money available to small businesses and farms for loans at 3 per cent below the standard interest rate.

Mr. Donofrio runs a similar program in Summit County, for which he received an Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties.

In a newspaper interview in June, Mr. Deters called the program a “subsidy” and said that “if a business can’t survive in today’s economy, it probably shouldn’t be in business.”

Mrs. Withrow disagreed.

“It’s an investment, not a subsidy,” she said.

Last week, Mr. Deters accused Mr. Donofrio of spreading “inaccurate information” and said he supports linked deposit, with additional tools to detect abuse.

As a result, the Donofrio campaign changed its television ad, which had said that Mr. Deters “will cut link deposits.” The ad, which began airing statewide yesterday, now says that Mr. Donofrio “will continue” the programs.

Donofrio ads aim at funny bone; Candidate’s name often mangled

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 3

COLUMBUS — At a time when politicians are being raked over the coals for negative advertising, state treasurer candidate John Donofrio is trying to lighten things up.

Mr. Donofrio, treasurer of Summit County and a Democrat, debuted his first TV ad yesterday. It plays off the mispronunciations of his name he faces on the campaign trail.

“Donna Frio? Who’s she?” a woman asks.

“Don-o-ri-to?” queries a young boy.

“Don-awf-rio?” asks a senior citizen.

The ad, which begins running today, goes over the programs Mr. Donofrio – he pronounces it da-nuh-FREE-oh – has proposed, and takes a few shots at Mr. Donofrio’s Republican opponent, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, saying he has no experience as a treasurer.

Then comes the kicker:

“No matter how you say it, vote for John Donofrio.”

“We just wanted to inject a little bit of humor into the campaign,” said Donofrio campaign director Tim Barnhart.

“We think it’ll help people differentiate between this ad and all the other ads on the air, and it’ll encourage people to come out and vote.”

The ad says Mr. Donofrio supports the state’s current Link Deposit program, which provides low-interest loans to businesses around the state.

“His opponent will cut Link Deposits,” the ad says.

But Deters spokesman Tim Clark said Mr. Deters has no intention of cutting the program.

“We fully support the program, and want to see it continued,” Mr. Clark said.

Mr. Barnhart said that Mr. Deters had been critical of the program previously, calling it a subsidy, and had changed his mind only after his negative comments were made public. Mr. Clark said that wasn’t true.

The ad also claims that “Donofrio has a plan to collect $100 million in delinquent property taxes which will be used for schools.”

But Donofrio aides said they would not say what that plan is until a press conference scheduled for Oct. 27.

Meanwhile, Mr. Clark said that the state treasurer has no constitutional authority to collect delinquent property taxes – that is a job that is reserved for county treasurers.

However, Mr. Clark said he would wait to see the plan next week before passing judgment on it.

Taft TV ad found in violation of election law; Campaign promises to focus on positive

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 1

COLUMBUS — The campaign of Bob Taft was found to have violated Ohio elections law by making fraudulent statements in a television ad.

“We are extremely gratified that the commission has come out against the lies and the deception of Bob Taft,” said Alan Melamed, campaign chairman for Mr. Taft’s gubernatorial opponent, Lee Fisher, who brought the charges.

The Ohio Elections Commission, which has jurisdiction over all elections matters, ruled that the ad about Mr. Taft’s law-enforcement proposals had a “reckless disregard for the truth” by unfairly representing Mr. Fisher’s record as attorney general and an endorsement made by a police union.

“We heard the commission today,” said Brian Hicks, Taft campaign manager, who said the campaign will focus on positive ads now. “We accept the responsibility.”

Philip Richter, the OEC’s executive director, said he knew of no previous case of a gubernatorial campaign being found in violation. The commission issued a reprimand to the campaign as punishment.

Mr. Taft, who as secretary of state is Ohio’s highest elections official, and his running mate, Maureen O’Connor, were personally cleared of the charges because the commission found they did not have direct knowledge that the ads were false. Their campaign, Taft/O’Connor ’98, made the violations, the commission said.

The campaign could appeal the decision, but Mr. Hicks said he will recommend to Mr. Taft that they accept the ruling.

“Our campaign has been diverted by this,” he said. “We accept the decision.”

Mr. Fisher’s campaign had made four complaints to the elections commission about the ad, which began running on Sept. 18.

On two of those – one regarding a claim that Mr. Fisher had raised the attorney general’s public relations budget when he held that office, and another regarding a statement that Ohio’s police supported Mr. Taft’s policies on crime – the commission found no violation. On the first, the vote to find no violation was 4-3; on the second, 7-0.

But the campaign was found to have violated elections law on two other complaints regarding the same ad.

The commission voted 5-2 that the ad misrepresented Mr. Fisher’s record as attorney general. The spot claimed that Mr. Fisher had cut crime-fighting personnel by 15 per cent while he was in office, from 1991 to 1994.

Among the problems with that claim, according to Fisher lawyers: It included data from Mr. Fisher’s predecessor to inflate the “before” numbers; it excluded a group of special agents who changed departments but not job descriptions; and it improperly included one group of agents at the beginning of Mr. Fisher’s term, but excluded them at the end to create the appearance of a decrease.

“The numbers are just wrong,” said Republican commission member Robert Duncan. “They had the means to find the right numbers, and it took an utter disregard for reality not to go get them.”

“The figures were juggled to get whatever answer they wanted for their advertisement,” said commission member Dale Bayer, a Democrat.

The other violation the campaign made, according to the commission, was claiming that “Ohio’s police” have endorsed Mr. Taft. In fact, the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, which represents all police officers in the state, endorsed Mr. Taft, but the commission voted, 4-3, that it was inaccurate to say “Ohio’s police” had endorsed anyone.

Mr. Fisher’s attorneys said that five police organizations have endorsed the Democrat.

“Bob Taft has found his place in history,” Mr. Melamed said. “He will go down in Ohio’s Hall of Shame for being convicted of lying to the people of Ohio.”

But two commission members, who voted not to find a violation on all four counts, said the OEC’s votes were violations of the First Amendment.

“This is bastardizing the First Amendment,” said commissioner Mary Sullivan, a Republican. “Frankly, I’m shocked at what is happening.”

“I fear this will have a truly chilling effect on political discourse,” said Republican commission member William Connelly, a Toledo attorney.

Mr. Hicks said that he personally accepted responsibility for the commission’s decision, and that the Taft campaign has ordered both of its currently airing ads – both of them negative in tone – off the air immediately.

“Bob Taft will take full moral and ethical responsibility for this,” Mr. Hicks said. “He is ultimately responsible for this campaign.”

Today, the Taft campaign will debut an ad Mr. Hicks called “100 per cent positive” and which will feature the candidate speaking directly into the camera – something he has not done in any previous commercials, a point of criticism from the Fisher camp.

Mr. Bayer was the only member to suggest that Mr. Taft and Ms. O’Connor should be held accountable personally for the ads. “I just get tired of candidates sitting back and saying `I wasn’t involved in this,”‘ he said. “You need to be responsible for what your campaign says.”

The OEC does not have the power to levy any punishments other than a reprimand. It can vote to refer a matter to a criminal prosecutor, but it chose not to do so in this case.

Yesterday’s commission rulings come less than a week after Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge John Connor ordered a different Taft TV ad off the air because it was, in his words, “misleading,” “fraudulent,” and “false.”

The Ohio Supreme Court overruled Judge Connor on Wednesday, saying he did not have jurisdiction in the matter, and referred that case to the elections commission, where it is pending. A Fisher ad currently airing statewide quotes the judge’s comments.

Candidate wants state to spread bank deposits

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 3

COLUMBUS — State treasurer candidate John Donofrio wants to change the way Ohio deposits its money.

Yesterday, Mr. Donofrio, a Democrat facing Republican Joe Deters in the Nov. 3 election, announced a plan to commit $150 million to a program he calls Deposit 2000. It would make it easier for small, local banks around Ohio to take advantage of the money the state deposits every day.

Now, that money goes almost completely to a few large banks, Mr. Donofrio said. Under Deposit 2000, the state treasurer’s office would set up a computer network linking all the state’s banks and set aside part of each day’s deposits for smaller institutions.

Then, the banks would bid electronically for the deposits.

Mr. Donofrio said the bidding would resemble the way U.S. Treasury bills are sold.

“It works like a treasury auction. The money we deposit is from all the taxpayers, and it should help taxpayers all across the state, not just areas with the largest banks.”

If smaller banks gain state deposits, they will have more money to lend, he said.

He said the guarantee of giving some deposits to smaller banks would not decrease interest revenue that the state earns. In fact, he said, the added competition among the banks could raise interest revenue.

Deposit 2000 is the second major plan Mr. Donofrio has announced that he would enact as treasurer. His other plan, Schools First, would give discounts for early tax payments by businesses and earmark money gained from investing those early payments for education.

Women voters’ league seeks end to politics in reapportionment

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 3

COLUMBUS — The League of Women Voters wants to take politics out of the way political boundaries are drawn in Ohio.

The league announced yesterday that it is gathering signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November, 1999, to change the way the lines between state legislative districts are drawn.

Under the current system, the political party that controls two out of three statewide offices – governor, auditor, and secretary of state – gains control of the Apportionment Board at the start of each decade.

After each census, conducted every 10 years, the board gets to redraw the lines of House and Senate districts, a process that normally benefits the party in control.

The league’s proposal would take that power from the Apportionment Board and allow any citizen to propose a redistricting plan for the state. Then, the secretary of state, using a precise set of rules, would select the plan that does the best job of keeping districts compact and avoids breaking up counties and cities.

Democrats controlled the Apportionment Board in 1971 and 1981. Republicans took control in 1991 and are favorites in next month’s election to keep it in 2001.

Democratic Party chairman David Leland said he had not yet analyzed the details of the league plan, but he liked the idea.

But Norm Cummings, campaign manager for Republican secretary of state candidate Ken Blackwell, said he thinks politics should have a role in the process. “Our government is run by politics.”

One of the most notable local casualties of redistricting by the last Apportionment Board was former Democratic state Rep. Donald Czarcinski, of Toledo. He served District 46 in the House for 10 years until the lines of his district were redrawn by Republicans after the 1990 census.

“They gave most of my district to Barney Quilter, a bunch of it to Casey Jones, and one ward to Tim Greenwood,” he said. “I was redrawn and quartered.”

He was left with only one ward from his old district, with the rest of his district new to him and mostly Republican. He ran against Sally Perz and lost in 1992.

But Mr. Czarcinski said he still would not support the League of Women Voters proposal because party politics is part of the game. “It’s a political process; everyone knows that going in,” he said.

Judge says Taft’s ad can stay on the air; Fisher requests lifting of order

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 1

COLUMBUS — The judge who pulled an allegedly fraudulent Bob Taft campaign ad from Ohio’s television airwaves last week has agreed to let it back on.

Judge John Connor of Franklin County Common Pleas Court yesterday lifted the temporary restraining order he issued Saturday at the request of Mr. Taft’s gubernatorial opponent, Democrat Lee Fisher. The reason, he said: Ohioans and the media have been talking about the ad, and people now have enough information to judge for themselves whether it is truthful.

“I feel the public has been informed,” Judge Connor said during a hearing. “There has been a full and open debate about the ad throughout the state of Ohio.”

The disputed ad quotes an article from the Oct. 6 Cleveland Plain Dealer. A narrator quotes the article as saying “Taft didn’t raise the taxes.”

The ad was meant to refute an earlier Fisher ad claiming taxes had risen while Mr. Taft was a Hamilton County commissioner.

The Plain Dealer article actually said: “But Taft didn’t raise the taxes himself.”

The Fisher campaign said that the editing out of “but” and “himself” constituted a fraudulent change in the article’s meaning.

They took the case to court during the weekend, and Judge Connor agreed, banning the 30-second ad until yesterday’s hearing. But the ads played on TV stations through Sunday because advertising personnel at the stations did not work during the weekend.

Both sides attempted to spin Judge Connor’s decision their way. Those on Mr. Fisher’s side called it a victory because the judge reaffirmed his belief that the ad contained false and misleading material.

“This shows that you can’t use the First Amendment to protect false political speech,” said Alan Melamed, Fisher campaign chairman.

Meanwhile, the Taft campaign called it a “vindication,” even as Mr. Taft’s lawyers filed a motion saying Judge Connor should remove himself from the case because he had called the ad “false” and “misleading.”

“I am relieved that our rights have been restored,” Mr. Taft said in a statement. The Republican said the ad will begin running again immediately, in what his staff called a medium-to-heavy purchase of air time.

Judge Connor, whose action had come under fire from free-speech experts, criticized both sides in the gubernatorial campaign for being “too negative.”

“I think this gubernatorial campaign has reached new lows in advertising,” he said. “If there is a low voter turnout, I think the type of political campaign going on will be a reason for it.”

The Taft campaign had been critical of the judge for not reclusing himself from the case after it was learned that his campaign had given $125 to Mr. Fisher’s campaign. But Judge Connor said that he had volunteered the donation information to Mr. Taft’s lawyers before Saturday’s hearing and told them they should make an issue of the donation if they wanted to.

They did not raise the issue at Saturday’s hearing, although their statements to the press later repeatedly mentioned the donation.

“This isn’t something the Taft people came up with,” Judge Connor said. “I’ve attended more Republican fund-raisers than Democratic fund-raisers over the years.”

Mr. Fisher’s attorneys said the donation issue was meaningless because many judges throughout the state had given money to a candidate.

Three Supreme Court justices have given money to or received money from either Mr. Taft or Mr. Fisher, they said.

Yesterday, The Plain Dealer printed an editorial condemning the ad, saying the sentence from its article was taken “out of context” and that “Taft should have known better.”

Despite the lifting of the temporary restraining order, the case is still alive before Judge Connor, who must now rule on motions from Mr. Taft’s attorneys seeking to get him off the case.

Mr. Taft’s attorneys asked the Ohio Supreme Court to transfer jurisdiction in the matter to the Ohio Elections Commission.

The timing means that yesterday’s action was probably the last in court before the Nov. 3 election. The elections commission could take action earlier.

Hours after the hearing, the Fisher camp unveiled its newest commercial, which officials said was intended to respond to a growing public dissatisfaction with the negative tone of the campaign.

The 30-second spot, scheduled to begin airing last night, opens with bold, block letters on the screen: “Don’t believe Taft.”

It then mentions the temporary restraining order and an investigation the Ohio Elections Commission is conducting on another Taft television ad.

But the ad shifts quickly into a more positive vein, specifically Mr. Fisher’s health care proposals. The candidate is pictured holding a senior citizen’s hand and speaking at a town hall.

Top court asked to reinstate banned political ad

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 3

COLUMBUS — Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Taft has asked the Ohio Supreme Court to throw out a judge’s order that caused a controversial campaign ad to be pulled from Ohio’s television airwaves.

Mr. Taft’s attorneys filed the motion yesterday afternoon, calling the ruling Saturday by Judge John Connor of Franklin County Common Pleas Court an unconstitutional restraint of freedom of speech.

Mr. Taft’s opponent in the governor’s race, Democrat Lee Fisher, sought the temporary restraining order during the weekend, claiming the advertisement was fraudulent.

“Shame on Lee Fisher,” said Mr. Taft in a statement yesterday. “He is abusing the power of the court of common pleas with this lawsuit because he has determined he cannot win the battle of ideas in the court of public opinion.”

Answered the Fisher camp: “This is all just to divert attention from the simple fact that Bob Taft is lying in his television ads,” Fisher spokesperson Judy Barbao said.

The dispute centers around a line in which the ad quotes an article from the Oct. 6 Cleveland Plain Dealer. The ad narrator quotes the article as saying “Taft didn’t raise the taxes.” That ad was meant to refute an earlier Fisher ad claiming taxes had risen while Mr. Taft was a Hamilton County commissioner.

The Plain Dealer article actually said: “But Taft didn’t raise the taxes himself.” The Fisher campaign said that the editing out of “but” and “himself” constituted a fraudulent change in the meaning of the article.

They took the case to court, and Judge Connor agreed, banning the 30-second ad from the airwaves until a hearing, scheduled for 10 a.m. today, which will determine if the temporary order will become permanent.

“They’re creating their own reality by changing words,” Ms. Barbao said.

In their filing, Mr. Taft’s lawyers argue that the court order is a violation of free speech, and that the Franklin County court had no jurisdiction over the matter, since campaign-related disputes are supposed to be heard by the Ohio Elections Commission.

The Supreme Court has not determined if or when it would hear the case, a spokesman said.

Free speech experts tended to come down on Mr. Taft’s side of the issue.

“I know of no precedent for this sort of action,” said Professor Frank Askin of Rutgers University, who specializes in freedom of speech issues. “If it is defamatory, they can sue for damages, or they can answer with their own ads.”

“This is unprecedented in many ways,” said Scott Greenwood, the general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. “The solution for deceptive speech, which is what the Fisher campaign is alleging, is more speech, not less, and certainly not a restriction.”

Candidate puts campaigning on hold to do job

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 3

COLUMBUS — It’s an odd campaign strategy.

Republican state treasurer candidate Joe Deters – locked in what the polls say is the tightest statewide race – will take a week off from campaigning to fulfill a promise.

Mr. Deters is the Hamilton County prosecutor, and next week his office will put on trial Joseph Paul Franklin, the racist serial killer who has admitted to more than a dozen murders across the country.

Franklin has confessed to the shooting that left Hustler publisher Larry Flynt paralyzed, and the 1980 shooting of presidential confidant Vernon Jordan in Fort Wayne, Ind. He has said he was trying to start a race war; he is now on death row in Missouri and has been sentenced to six life sentences in two other states.

In Cincinnati, Franklin is accused of the murders of Donte Evans Brown and Darrell Lane, two children, 9 and 10, shot dead in Cincinnati in 1980.

Mr. Deters said that, when his office indicted Franklin last year, he promised the children’s parents he would prosecute the case personally.

“He’s the incarnation of evil,” he said. “I’m going to keep my promise.”

As a result, beginning Monday, Mr. Deters will be in Cincinnati, in front of a judge, instead of around the state, in front of voters.

“I told them [his campaign staff] to clear out the schedule completely,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate from the perspective of those of us working on the campaign,” campaign spokesman Tim Clark said. “But it’s fortunate for the families of the children.”

Franklin has said he will file a motion to postpone the trial sometime this week, but Mr. Deters said he will oppose it. “The families have waited long enough,” he said.

Mr. Clark said it is unclear how long the trial might last, but he estimated it would take at least four days. “We just hope it doesn’t go into the next week,” he said.

If it did, that would mean Mr. Deters would be off the campaign trail just eight days before Election Day.

Those lost days of campaigning aren’t meaningless to Mr. Deters. While most Republicans in statewide races have pulled to double-digit leads in their races, Mr. Deters leads Democrat John Donofrio by only five points in recent polls. Neither is particularly well-known statewide, and each could use as much publicity as possible.

Tim Barnhart, Mr. Donofrio’s campaign manager, said Mr. Deters was only fulfilling his legal responsibility to the voters of Hamilton County. But he said he wasn’t sure how much of the decision was based on seeking publicity for prosecuting a high-profile murder trial.

Gubernatorial ads keep negative tone; Insurance contributors, tax issues raised in air attacks

By Joshua Benton and James Drew
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 3

COLUMBUS — The governor’s race kept its negative tone yesterday, when both major candidates presented television ads attacking each other.

Democrat Lee Fisher struck a new theme: accusing his opponent, Bob Taft, of being too cozy with an insurance company that has cut services to some elderly Ohioans.

Mr. Taft stuck with an older focus, raising taxes: both charging Mr. Fisher with a history of tax hikes and defending himself against accusations of the same.

The Fisher ad, which began airing statewide last night, refers to the decision last July by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield to discontinue a Medicare plan for 20,000 seniors in 19 southern Ohio counties and parts of three others. Becky Howe of Piqua, O., organized opposition to the move, and she appears in the ad saying that Mr. Taft did not respond.

As a blurry color picture of Mr. Taft appears, the narrator states: “Taft held a fund-raiser at Anthem headquarters and took thousands from the insurance executives.”

Ms. Howe adds: “How could Bob Taft take money from the insurance company knowing that there was 20,000 Ohioans out there at risk? The way I see it, Bob Taft is in the pocket of the insurance companies.”

On June 2, the Taft campaign raised $17,750 from a fund-raiser at Anthem’s headquarters in Cincinnati. The campaign did not disclose the occupations of 11 of the 17 executives in a campaign finance report it filed.

Campaign officials blamed a staff oversight, but Alan Melamed, Mr. Fisher’s campaign chairman, said yesterday that it was a “cover-up.”

In June, Mr. Fisher started a petition drive to pressure state lawmakers to pass a bill that would shift power from managed-care administrators to physicians and patients. A month later, Mr. Taft released a plan similar to Mr. Fisher’s.

Taft press secretary Brett Buerck said Mr. Taft responded to Anthem’s decision by urging Ohio’s congressional delegation to increase the amount of money Medicare pays to insurance companies covering rural counties.

That letter was sent on Sept. 25 – nearly four months after Anthem’s decision and Mr. Taft’s fund-raiser at Anthem.

“The fact of the matter is Lee Fisher’s grandstanding does not fix the problem,” he said.

Last month, before Mr. Taft’s letter, Anthem announced that it will continue coverage for seniors in six rural counties that don’t have access to another health maintenance organization.

Mr. Taft’s ad, which begins airing statewide today, continues the negative tone of his last spot. “If things work, you continue on along the same vein,” said campaign chairman Brian Hicks.

“Poor politician Lee Fisher,” the ad opens, the voice intoning over a freeze-frame of the Democrat, mouth awkwardly agape. “His negative ads are way wrong.”

It then attacks a previous Fisher ad by saying that Mr. Taft “never raised property taxes” while a Hamilton County commissioner from 1981 to 1990.

Taxes did rise 14 times and 46.5 per cent in that period, but Mr. Taft did not vote as commissioner on whether to approve those increases. He simply voted to put them on the ballot.

The original Fisher ad never said that Mr. Taft raised the property taxes himself. It said that while he was in office, “property taxes were hiked 46 per cent” – a statement supported by the Taft campaign’s documentation.

To support its argument, the Taft ad says it “says right here on the front page of the Plain Dealer: `Taft didn’t raise the taxes.”‘ That statement actually appeared on page six of the Oct. 6 edition.

The Taft ad continues, referring to Mr. Fisher’s promise not to raise taxes without a statewide vote: “Can you believe it? From the same guy who gave us the largest income tax increase we’ve ever had?”

That’s a reference to 1983’s 90 per cent income tax surcharge. It passed the Senate 17-16, with Mr. Fisher as one of the 17. Voters decided not to overturn the increase that November, by a 400,000-vote margin.

The ad concludes by saying “the press says it’s `indefensible,’ and `schools lose’ with Lee Fisher.”