Debates over campaign finance laws date back to the beginning of the 20th century when Teddy Roosevelt was running for president. Most of these debates over time have focused on the issue of limiting campaign contributions and increasing transparency. Regardless of where you stand on those issues, just about everyone can agree that taxpayer money should not be funneled into campaign activity. On June 5th, Governor Kasich signed into law a bill that originated in the Ohio House of Representatives that puts in place more stringent punishments for misusing public funds.

House Bill 326 imposes criminal penalties on public servants who use public funds for political purposes, such as contributing to a campaign or candidate running for office. Anyone guilty of this activity will be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor. While this activity has always been illegal in Ohio, until now a criminal penalty was not part of the punishment. The government’s money comes from taxpayers who work hard every day to make our state better. Those tax dollars should be used solely for conducting state business and must be protected from every kind of misuse.

Although it is most commonly associated with contributing to a candidate or political party, there are many other examples that people would not often consider. In fact, HB 326 was inspired after a recent audit of the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority (TARTA), a publicly funded entity, revealed it had loaned nearly $67,000 to a political action committee geared toward funding TARTA levy campaigns.

No one would argue that it is simply wrong. Those funds should be used to support public transit. That underlies the important difference between private and public money. A private business can contribute to a campaign or candidate because its money is not guaranteed, but rather depends on the will of the market to buy its products. In other words, consumers can choose to whom they give their money. A business could be punished by making a political contribution that customers disagree with.

People do not, however, have the option of not paying taxes. That money is collected each year with the mission of providing services that benefit the entire public. Taxpayers should not see their hard-earned dollars being used to fund a political cause they may find objectionable.


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