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Campaign Rebate

By Stephanie Dunlap · September 28th, 2005 · All The News That Fits
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Knowing who's kicking which candidate how much money can be invaluable for tracing back favors and unholy alliances, but sometimes the exercise resembles schoolyard bickering: Who did you sit next to at lunch? Aren't we friends anymore?

Such is the case with a $200 donation that anti-gay, conservative Republican Christopher Finney made March 22 to the campaign of Jeff Berding, running for Cincinnati City Council as a Democrat. It's rumored some Democrats and gay rights activists got so mad that Berding returned the money.

"He sent me a contribution, and I made a decision to return it," Berding says. "It's really as simple as that."

He declines to explain, and Finney says he doesn't know.

"I don't know anything about who asked or why but I know I got (the donation) back," Finney says. "Jeff's a friend of mine, and I think he'll make a great member of council."

Jenny O'Donnell, co-chair of the Cincinnati Democratic Committee, declined to comment. But some Democrats were pretty riled that the Hamilton County Democratic Committee endorsed Berding in the first place.

In 2000 Berding supported County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus, a Republican, in his re-election campaign against challenger Todd Portune, a Democrat. When Portune won, becoming the first Democrat on the county commission in 36 years, Bedinghaus went to work at the Cincinnati Bengals, where Berding serves as director of sales and public affairs.

Berding was also instrumental in convincing voters to approve a half-cent sales tax in 1996 to build new stadiums for the Reds and Bengals.

The county commissioners are now suing the Bengals for pressuring voters into the deal by allegedly using misleading tactics.

Berding says he's worked on campaigns that elected Democrats to state and federal offices. He evidently makes a convincing argument to traditionally left-leaning groups; he's won the endorsement of the local AFL-CIO and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the city workers' union. So while a small-government advocate like Finney supports privatization, Berding pledges that he doesn't.

Berding also advocated for, and helped convince the local Chamber of Commerce to endorse, the repeal of Article 12 of the city charter. In 1993 Finney had helped write and pass the charter amendment, which barred legislation protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

"We have not always been on the same side of every issue," Finney admits.

In fact, Berding was campaign manager for David Mann, the Democratic congressional candidate whom Finney helped defeat in 1994.

Finney says he approves Berding's commitment to government reform. Berding authored the ballot language that voters approved to implement the new "strong mayor" system in 2001. Part of Berding's platform is changing election laws to elect council members by districts instead of at-large.

"I look at whether or not people are open to change and willing to reform," Finney says. "I think that Jeff is on the cutting edge."

Gary Wright, who led the grassroots campaign that repealed Article 12 and now serves as president of Equality Now, says he's keeping an open mind.

"I think it's a little bit of a tempest in a teapot," he says. "I know some people are concerned. We have no indication that Jeff is anything but supportive. Jeff was with us on the repeal of Article 12; and if Chris Finney wants to support someone who supports the gay community, it's a little odd, but I think the candidate should spend the money."

Berding notes that he's not the first person to have his true-blue Democratic colors scrutinized. City Councilman David Pepper, who is running for mayor, and Councilman John Cranley frequently field that particular partisan fire. But even David Crowley, arguably the most left-leaning Democrat on council, and controversial activist the Rev. Damon Lynch III have enjoyed Republican support, Berding says.

"It's certainly not newsworthy to think there's a Democrat that has some Republican support," he says. "If I'm not sufficiently partisan for some people, I'm sorry."

Finney's says the returned money went to good use.

"I had a couple good dinners on it," he says.



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