Strickland leads in campaign contributions

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins The Associated Press

COLUMBUS – Democrats’ leading candidate for governor benefited the most from a new law boosting individual campaign contribution limits to $10,000, although the party complained the loudest about the change.

U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, the likely Democratic nominee, received 86 contributions of $10,000 in 2005, compared to 63 for Republican Kenneth Blackwell and 19 for Republican Jim Petro, according to campaign finance reports.

Almost all – 72 – of Strickland’s $10,000 donations are from Ohio, the reports said. By contrast, almost half, or 27 of Blackwell’s $10,000 contributors came from out of state. Eleven of Petro’s $10,000 contributors, or just over half, came from out of state.

Strickland raised almost $2 million since the last filing deadline in July, giving the eastern Ohio congressman a fundraising total of $3 million. The campaign has more than $2.1 million on hand after expenses.

Blackwell, Ohio’s secretary of state, raised $1.5 million since July, for a 2005 fundraising total of $2.7 million with $1.5 million on hand, the reports said.

Petro, the state attorney general, has raised only $872,458 since July but still has $2 million on hand.

All the candidates received contributions from out of state but Blackwell topped the list, with 2,553 donations from people outside Ohio.

Blackwell also relied on small contributions from people in Ohio and elsewhere, including 3,192 contributions of $25 out of his total of more than 15,000.

Petro received 253 contributions of $25 while Strickland got 518.

Blackwell said donors are responding to a fundraising effort last summer by Ohio Democrats dubbed, “Help Us Stop Ken Blackwell.”

Out-of-state donors to Blackwell include businessman James Leininger of San Antonio, Texas, an influential conservative known for backing causes such as school vouchers.

Blackwell is a favorite of religious conservatives for his positions opposing gay marriage and abortion and for his anti-tax stands.

Blackwell said he knows Leininger and has worked with him on other issues. Leininger could not be reached for comment; there was no listing for him in home and business directories.

“Don’t think the $10,000 givers just give willy-nilly,” Blackwell said. “They understand who I am and what I stand for.”

When Republicans passed a bill in 2004 increasing individual contributions to $10,000, Ohio Democrats called it a power grab that would increase the GOP’s already sizable fundraising advantage.

Republicans hold all statewide offices in Ohio, control the Legislature and all but one seat on the Ohio Supreme Court.

Strickland called his edge in $10,000 contributions “kind of surprising” but said it reflected his broad base of support, including among some who might have voted for a Republican in the past.

Democrats are hoping to break a 16-year GOP lock on the governor’s office with help from Ohio’s ongoing government corruption scandal.

The scandal, including $300 million in investment losses at the state insurance fund for injured workers, led to Gov. Bob Taft’s historic criminal conviction last year on ethics violations.

Meanwhile, Petro and Blackwell traded jabs yesterday over the accuracy of a poll commissioned by the Ohio Republican Party to persuade one of them to drop out before the primary.