Lawyers, law firms pony up donations in Ohio Supreme Court races

By: - February 12, 2020 1:00 am

Pictured is the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center where the Ohio Supreme Court meets. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons..

The candidates vying for two Ohio Supreme Court justice positions are seeing their cases bolstered by deep support from the legal profession. 

Hundreds of private law firms and individual attorneys are putting their best feet forward in supporting the four candidates with campaign contributions, a review of campaign finance records by the Capital Journal has found.

The 2020 races for the Ohio Supreme Court include Republican incumbent Justices Sharon Kennedy and Judith French running, respectively, against Democratic challengers John O’Donnell and Jennifer Brunner. There are no contested primaries and the four candidates look ahead to the November General Election.

Sharon Kennedy

The Republican Party currently holds a 5-2 majority on the Court, but an O’Donnell/Brunner sweep would give Democrats a 4-3 majority. 

The two Republican candidates received the most total cash from these sources. The two Democrats, with much smaller war chests as the pivotal 2020 election approaches, have a higher proportion of their donations coming from legal interests.

Ohio political candidates must regularly submit campaign finance filings, which include donations and expenditures, with the most recent deadline coming on Jan. 31, 2020, to disclose donations received through Dec. 31, 2019. 

The Capital Journal has analyzed the four Supreme Court candidates’ filings to determine how much money they’ve received from legal sources. Money from law firms and their political committees were clearly stated in filings; among individual donors, the filings include their employer names which identified them as working in the legal profession.

For the purposes of this review, the Capital Journal only included donations of more than $100. 

Jennifer Brunner

French has 123 such donors, totaling more than $102,000. This reflects 23% of her total contributions reported in the campaign filing. 

Her opponent, Brunner, has 13 such donors, totaling nearly $20,000. But this represents about one-third of her overall contributions. 

Kennedy has 116 donors in the legal profession adding up to more than $77,000. As the greatest Supreme Court fundraiser thus far ⁠— she’s taken in $663,000 ⁠— the legal money amounts to just 12% of her total take. 

O’Donnell has 34 of these donors, adding up to $10,450. This represents about two-thirds of his contributions, having raised the least ($16,000) of the justice candidates. 

Judith French

Combined, the Republican candidates received money from 29 law firms and their political action committees. Kennedy and French both brought in the maximum from Bricker & Eckler and Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease.

Ohio campaign finance law limits the amount of money that can be given to justice candidates. Individuals can donate $3,800 per candidate, while organizations/PACs can give up to $7,000. 

John O’Donnell

The two Democratic candidates received money from 16 law firms, with most giving to O’Donnell. Brunner took in the maximum from the Ohio Association for Justice, a trial lawyers organization, and the Becker Law Firm based in Elyria. 

O’Donnell’s top contributor came from the Bashein and Bashein law firm, based in Cleveland, which donated $1,000. (O’Donnell is a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge.)

The Capital Journal sought insight from the Ohio State Bar Association on these legal donations, but the organization declined to comment. 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan

Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.