On June 8, 2007, the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas ruled that the new prohibitions in House Bill 694 cannot be applied to contributions made before the effective date of the law. House Bill 694 places significant restrictions on many political contributors who currently hold, or hope to win, a contract with the state or local government.

The case, brought by the Franklin County Board of County Commissioners, questioned whether House Bill 694 requires that County Commissioners consider political contributions made prior to the effective date of the law before issuing a contract. Because of ambiguities in House Bill 694, significant questions were raised as to whether previous contributions, which were appropriate when made, must now be considered when issuing a county contract.

Common Pleas Court Judge John F. Bender reviewed the matter and ruled that retroactive application of House Bill 694 to county contracts was not appropriate. Acknowledging the ambiguities in the law, Judge Bender found that the General Assembly did not intend House Bill 694 to have a retroactive application. He further found that retroactive application of the law would violate the Ohio state constitution, which prohibits retroactive laws.

The Franklin County Commissioners' case was consolidated with two other cases challenging various aspects of House Bill 694. Those cases involve a number of other issues related to application and interpretation of Ohio pay-to-play laws. Most significantly, the constitutionality of the statute is challenged as it relates to application to collective bargaining agreements. Other challenges related to the application of House Bill 694 to counties also remain before the Court.

On another front, the Ohio General Assembly introduced legislation as part of Senate Bill 119, the budget bill, which clarifies legislative intent as to the retroactive effect of the law. The language in the S.B. 119 makes clear that none of the changes included in House Bill 694 should be applied to any contributions made prior to 2007.

Read the decision discussed in this article