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Second Ohio state legislative candidate sues ‘dark money’ PAC over primary ads

July 31, 2018

Second Ohio state legislative candidate sues ‘dark money’ PAC over primary ads

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A former Cuyahoga County state representative who’s running for his old seat has become the second Republican state legislative candidate to sue a secretive Super PAC over attack ads the group aired leading up to this year’s Ohio Republican primary.    

Independence Councilman Jim Trakas this month filed a defamation suit against Conservative Alliance PAC in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. Trakas, a former Cuyahoga County Republican Party chairman, is running for Ohio’s 6th House District, which encompasses southern and eastern Cuyahoga County suburbs, against Democrat Phil Robinson.

The lawsuit seeks $25,000 in damages, and also asks a judge to force Conservative Alliance, which has been quiet since the primary ended, to not air any further ads against him. The lawsuit includes direct-mail pieces from Conservative Alliance that attack Trakas for his past support for a Republican state tax bill, and his association with Rep. Larry Householder, a former Ohio House speaker who has said he plans to run for that job again next year.

“There was plenty of information they could have attacked me on if they wanted to. Legitimate stuff,” Trakas said. “But some of the things they did were absolutely defamatory that, for me as an individual, impedes my ability to conduct business.”

Conservative Alliance PAC spent $745,000 on ads leading up to the May primary this year, many of which targeted state legislative candidates who supported Householder’s speaker candidacy. Trakas won the May primary over Michael Canty, a businessman who backed a different speaker candidate, State Rep. Ryan Smith. 

The PAC is one of two anti-Householder “dark money” groups — political committees whose donations are intentionally structured to obscure who provided them — to do so. People tied to Conservative Alliance, which received all of its funding from a nonprofit registered to a P.O. box in Washington D.C., previously have declined to comment on the group’s activities.

Trakas said he hopes to use his lawsuit’s discovery process to identify Conservative Alliance’s anonymous backers.

“I have not been able to get anywhere in my political campaign without someone asking me, ’Hey, who did you anger?” Trakas said. “I say, ‘Well, I’m going to find out for you.’”

Another two dark-money groups supported Householder and his candidates during the primary. Together, the four dark-money groups spent upwards of $2.6 million on ads during the hotly contested political battle between Householder and State Rep. Ryan Smith, who now is serving as interim House speaker and wants to continue to do so next year. 

Householder also has sued Conservative Alliance PAC over its ads, filing a defamation lawsuit in April in Perry County. In June, a judge ordered Householder to provide an update within 60 days on his legal team’s progress in identifying the group’s anonymous backers.

Defamation complaints have become a more common part of political campaigns in Ohio since a federal judge in 2014 struck down a decades-old state law that made it illegal to lie in campaign ads. 

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