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Professor Dan Tokaji
Election reform, the Voting Rights Act, the Help America Vote Act, and related topics -- with special attention to the voting rights of people of color, non-English proficient citizens, and people with disabilities

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Equal Vote
Thursday, July 7
 
The Noe Coin Scandal & Freedom of the Press
Over the past couple months, Ohio's newspapers have been filled with revelations about Thomas W. Noe, a Bush "Pioneer" who was given authority to invest $50 million in state workers' compensation funds on rare coins, up to $12 million of which can't be accounted for. I've written this comment which came out on Findlaw.com today, describing the scandal and drawing three broader lessons from it.

1. the need to disqualify big-money campaign donors from receiving investment contracts or appointments to state boards,

2. the need to enforce and, if challenged, uphold federal campaign laws regarding contributions in the name of another are enforced, and

3. the need to end the selection of state judges through privately financed elections.

A fourth lesson from the Noe scandal, one that didn't make it into my Findlaw.com column due to space constraints, is that a free press with the ability to protect its sources is vital to democratic accountability. The Noe coin scandal would not have come to light, had it not been for the efforts of a few hardworking journalists. Particularly worthy of mention is the work of the Toledo Blade, which broke the story in April and has tirelessly pursued it since then. It is a refreshing change from the shallow celebrity-obsessed coverage that sadly typifies today's media.

What may be less obvious is that the courts have an important role to play in protecting a robust press. That role includes providing the press with access to public records that may be needed to get to the bottom of public corruption. It also includes the protection of confidential sources. In the Noe coin scandal, for example, enterprising reporters have relied in part on sources who were only willing to speak on condition of anonymity.

Regrettably, the Supreme Court recently declined to intervene in a case in which two reporters, Judith Miller of the New York Times and Matt Cooper of Time Magazine, were held in contempt of court for refusing to reveal their confidential sources. One wonders whether we would have discovered the full extent of the Noe coin scandal, had the Supreme Court's denial of certiorari in the Miller case come sooner. And we will never know whether future instances of public corruption will go undiscovered, due to whistleblowers who are afraid to step forward for fear of having their identities exposed.

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Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University