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Republican Power Grab a Continued Assault on People's Right to Hold Government Accountable

June 3, 2024
Phillip M. Robinson, Jr. News

COLUMBUS— State Rep. Phil Robinson (D-Solon) today released the following statement following the passage of the undemocratic Special Session House Bill (HB) 1 through the Ohio House of Representatives and Ohio Senate: 

“Elected Republicans continue to not accept that Ohioans made their voice heard loud and clear with Issue 1 in the August special election and Issue 1 in the November general election. Ohioans want the option and ability to amend the state constitution as a check on our gerrymandered state legislature. My Republican colleagues must realize that they are out of step with a majority of Ohioans on abortion rights, recreational marijuana, and many other issues. Unfortunately, it is clear that the true purpose of this bill is to sabotage future citizen ballot issues, including fair districts and raising the minimum wage. Also, at worst, this bill is cloaked in anti-immigrant fear and dog-whistle tactics, using ‘foreigners’ as a scapegoat for Ohio’s political fights and real challenges. We must put people first by defending the freedom of our democratic rights, not weaken them when we disagree with Ohioans,” said Rep. Robinson.

Rep. Robinson voted no on Special Session HB 1 for the following reasons:

  • The bill gives unnecessary and broad extra power to Attorney General David Yost, which will allow him to interfere in citizen ballot issues at his whim. AG Yost is already under investigation for interfering with FirstEnergy Nuclear Bailout/HB 6 repeal citizen ballot issue of 2019, and the courts recently had to take legal action to stop him from blocking citizen ballot issues on police qualified immunity
  • Current law already makes it illegal for foreign nationals to give money to candidates in Ohio, and federal law prohibits them from donating to any federal, state, or local election.
  • The best way to stop and enforce existing laws is to create transparency for ALL campaign contributions, so it is not so hard to track foreign contributions. Provisions within HB 112, the Ohio Anti-Corruption Act, which Rep. Robinson is a cosponsor, directly address political activity by foreign nationals, but Republicans in both chambers continue to block efforts to end dark-money in politics.
  • Vague and broad language of the bill around “indirect contributions” could create a culture of fear making many Ohioans with foreign ties through family and business fearful of any form of political participation.
  • The bill is outside of the scope of the governor’s call for a special session, and is being rushed in literally a few days, compared to the weeks or months legislation is debated and discussed, robbing most Ohioans of the opportunity to voice their opinion.

Much of Special Session HB 1 is mirroring existing law prohibiting foreign nationals contributing to campaigns, but with increased penalties for involved parties and changes who prosecutes cases involving foreign spending in campaigns. The Ohio attorney general, a partisan position, rather than the Ohio Elections Commission, which is bipartisan and who normally handles election cases, would investigate and prosecute violations.

The bill also prohibits lawful-permanent residents (or “green card” holders), who are not foreign nationals under federal and state law, from directly or indirectly contributing to statewide issue/ballot campaigns. 

The original purpose of the special session from Gov. Mike DeWine’s executive order was for the state legislature convene to make certain President Joe Biden is on Ohio’s ballot for the upcoming presidential general election in November since he has already secured enough votes to be the Democratic Party’s candidate. This situation was due to Ohio’s candidate certification deadline occurring on August 7th before the official nomination of President Biden at the Democratic National Convention on August 19th-22nd.

Special Session HB 2 was also passed alongside Special Session HB 1, which would delay the deadline to September 1st for a major political party to certify its presidential and vice-presidential candidates for 2024.

“We have 31 House Republicans who voted to rob Ohioans of one of their legitimate choices for the 2024 election for President of the United States. At the same time, several other House and Senate Republicans only voted for Special Session HB 2 in exchange for their pound of flesh, making it easier for the attorney general to interfere with citizen ballot issues they don’t like… this is a sad day for our democracy,” added Rep. Robinson.

Several House and Senate Republican members indicated publicly or privately to their leadership that they would not vote to allow President Biden on the ballot or would only consider it in a bargaining chip trade for legislation. 

In the past, Ohio lawmakers have temporarily adjusted the deadline twice to help candidates of both parties without controversy. Recently Republican-dominated Alabama passed special legislation to allow the president to appear on the state’s ballot, regardless of deadlines, without other partisan issues tied in.