Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic won the latest round in a long battle over the city’s campaign finance limits this week, with the 9th District Court of Appeals siding with him.
The court found that Patti Longville, who filed the lawsuit alleging Plusquellic exceeded Akron’s campaign finance limits, lacked the required standing.
“Ms. Longville did not have standing to institute a common law taxpayer action,” Judge Carla Moore wrote in the 2-1 opinion released Wednesday.
Moore also said Longville didn’t show any injury to herself or that “the mayor’s fundraising practices involved the illegal expenditure of public monies or created an illegal debt which Ms. Longville, together with other property holders of the city of Akron, may otherwise be compelled to pay.”
Warner Mendenhall, the Akron attorney representing Longville who also happens to be a longtime foe of Plusquellic’s, said Thursday that he plans to appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court. He said there are conflicting court decisions about what is required for standing in a taxpayer lawsuit.
“This gives us the opportunity to clarify the scope of what a taxpayer can sue over, especially common law taxpayer suits,” he said. “I’m looking forward to that argument.”
Mendenhall and Longville, a longtime community activist, were involved in the unsuccessful attempt to recall Plusquellic in 2009.
They also supported a charter change that Akron voters overwhelmingly approved in 1998 that limited contributions to the mayor and at-large council members to $300 and to ward council members to $100. (These limits have since been raised and currently stand at $450 for the mayor and at-large council members and $200 for ward council members.)
Longville’s lawsuit claims Plusquellic violated the guidelines over several election cycles since 2007, filing campaign finance reports showing donations in excess of the $300 limit, totaling about $73,000. She argues the city’s law director has the duty to enforce the 1998 limits.
Summit County Common Pleas Judge Lynne S. Callahan issued a civil order, known as a “mandamus,” in March 2010, directing the law director to enforce the 1998 law regarding contributions to Plusquellic’s campaign “in the 2007 election and subsequent years.”
Attorneys for the city appealed Callahan’s order. They say Plusquellic was considering running for governor at the time the 2007 donations were made and wasn’t a declared candidate for mayor, which meant he wasn’t subject to the city’s campaign finance limits.
Moore said Callahan erred in issuing a mandamus because Longville lacked standing. She said Callahan was correct in her decision not to award Longville attorney’s fees.
Sheila Farmer, a visiting Stark County 5th District Court of Appeals judge appointed to hear the case, sided with Moore. Farmer stood in for Eve Belfance and Clair Dickinson, who had conflicts. Judge Donna Carr dissented, saying the other judges “decided this appeal on a legal issue that was not raised by either party on summary judgment or on appeal.”
Mendenhall still maintains that the mayor has violated the city’s campaign finance limits and is hoping the high court will settle this issue in his client’s favor.
Cheri Cunningham, Akron’s law director, however, says she has reviewed all of Plusquellic’s campaign finances and has found nothing amiss. She thinks the lawsuit is a “waste of time and effort.”
“He has done everything properly,” she said of Plusquellic. “He properly filed his reports. I did review them all. I issued letters. I found nothing wrong ... There is no violation.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith. Read the Beacon Journal’s political blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/ohio-politics.