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GOP Speaker Blocks Bill Keeping Foreign Money Out Of Ohio Ballot Measure Campaigns

Jason Stephens speaking during an interview.
Image Creditohiochamber/YouTube

Stephens refused to consider the bill, in which Senate Republicans had attached a ban on foreign contributions to ballot measure campaigns to legislation that allowed Biden on Ohio’s ballot.

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In a gift to Democrats, Ohio’s Republican House speaker blocked legislation that seeks to prohibit the use of foreign money in ballot measure campaigns.

On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate advanced an amended version of HB 114 to ensure Biden will be able to appear on the Buckeye State’s 2024 general election ballot. As The Federalist previously reported, the office of Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose sent a letter last month notifying state Democrat Party Chair Liz Walters that the Democratic National Convention’s current date is more than a week after the date by which presidential candidates must be certified in Ohio.

Legal counsel Paul Disantis warned that the DNC “must either move up its nominating convention or the Ohio General Assembly must act by May 9, 2024 (90 days prior to a new law’s effective date) to create an exception to this statutory requirement.”

With the expectation already established that Ohio would act to enable Biden to qualify, Senate Republicans attempted to score a boon of their own as they passed a bill to help rectify Democrats’ scheduling mistake. When the Senate passed HB 114, they added provisions prohibiting foreign nationals from expending funds, including “independent expenditures,” for Ohio ballot measure campaigns. Foreign donors such as Swiss national Hansjörg Wyss, who funnels millions to Democrat dark money groups, would be barred under the measure from making expenditures “advocating support of or opposition to an identified ballot issue or question or to achieve the successful circulation of an initiative or referendum petition in order to place such an issue or question on the ballot.”

The provisions were adopted from SB 215, which was passed by the Senate in February but never taken up by the House.

While reportedly satisfied with HB 114’s extension of the presidential nominating deadline, Senate Democrats were adamantly opposed to provisions outlawing foreign nationals from interfering in Ohio ballot measure campaigns. The measure ultimately passed in a party-line vote (24-7), with Republicans supporting and Democrats opposing.

Despite passing HB 114 by the aforementioned May 9 deadline, Senate Republicans’ efforts were stalled once the measure reached the House. GOP Speaker Jason Stephens declined to allow debate on the bill before Wednesday’s session ended.

Speaking with reporters, he said: “We had those conversations and ended up not doing it today.” According to The Columbus Dispatch, Stephens indicated that “the support [for HB 114] wasn’t there.”

A House committee passed a separate bill (SB 92) that included an extension of the state’s presidential nominating deadline on Tuesday. This legislation did not include the provisions added to the Senate measure prohibiting foreign nationals from injecting money into ballot measure campaigns.

The full House “informally passed” SB 92 on Wednesday, meaning “it stays on the calendar but doesn’t actually pass and isn’t put up for a vote,” according to a local outlet. The bill could be considered at a later date.

Cozy With Democrats

It’s worth mentioning that Stephens was elected speaker with the help of House Democrats. Months before the lower chamber voted on the position in January 2023, the House GOP conference had chosen Rep. Derek Merrin as speaker.

According to a local ABC affiliate, “Twenty-two Republicans (known ‘affectionately’ by the other faction as the ‘Blue 22’) and 32 Democrats voted for Stephens for speaker during the actual vote, while the majority of Republicans voted for Merrin.” The outlet noted how Stephens is “significantly more moderate than Merrin.”

Stephens’ refusal to allow debate on HB 114 prompted several GOP lawmakers to push for a motion to vacate, although the move didn’t materialize.

Stephens did not respond to The Federalist’s request for comment on why he did not permit HB 114 to be considered by the House or whether he believes foreign money should be allowed to be used in Ohio ballot measure campaigns.

Meanwhile, Senate President Matt Huffman, a Republican, emphasized how the Senate-passed version of HB 114 is a great “compromise” for both sides and noted that “Republicans in both the House and the Senate aren’t going to vote for a standalone Biden bill.”

Huffman has sparred with Stephens over hot-button issues in the past, and previously expressed interest in ousting Stephens as speaker.

Foreign Money in Ohio Ballot Measure Campaigns

Foreign interference in U.S. elections, particularly in advancing leftist-backed ballot measures, is not a new phenomenon.

One of the most prominent foreign figures to exert his influence in America’s electoral system is Swiss national Hansjörg Wyss. As my colleague Brianna Lyman previously reported, Wyss, “through his Berger Action Fund, has donated $243 million to the Sixteen Thirty Fund.” According to a recent Americans for Public Trust (APT) report, the Sixteen Thirty Fund “uses its war chest … to support massive get-out-the-vote drives, issue advocacy campaigns bolstering President Biden’s agenda, liberal pet projects from abortion to immigration, and attack ads against Republican lawmakers.”

The group is administered by Arabella Advisors, “a philanthropic consulting company that guides the strategy, advocacy, impact investing, and management for high-dollar left-leaning nonprofits and individuals,” according to InfluenceWatch. The New York Times previously characterized Arabella as a “leading vehicle for [dark money] on the Left.”

[READ: Arabella Sheds Light On The Dark-Money Groups Remaking America Millions Of Dollars At A Time]

Ohio’s campaign finance disclosure portal reportedly shows how the Sixteen Thirty Fund dumped $11.5 million into the coffers of organizations backing efforts to enshrine abortion into Ohio’s constitution and defeat a ballot measure raising the threshold to amend the state’s founding document. According to the Ohio Capital Journal, which is part of the left-wing media entity States Newsroom, the left-wing “Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights and the organization’s prior name Ohioans For Reproductive Freedom received about $6.4 million” from the group.

Voters passed the Democrat-backed pro-abortion amendment in November, while the Republican-backed amendment seeking to raise the threshold to amend the Ohio Constitution was defeated in August.

Where Things Stand

While it’s unclear how the Ohio General Assembly intends to fix the nominating deadline debacle Biden and his team created, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine told reporters he believes Biden will ultimately appear on the state’s 2024 ballot, either through legislation or a court ruling.

“I don’t want to minimize that this has to happen, but I do want to minimize anybody thinking that there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that this isn’t going to happen,” DeWine said of the situation. “The president’s name is going to be on the ballot.” 

Speaking with The Federalist, Jason Snead, the executive director of Honest Elections Project Action, said “banning foreign money in elections should be a simple decision” and called on Stephens to move forward legislation achieving such an objective.

“Ohio Democrats have instead chosen to stand with foreign billionaires who want to influence our politics. It is already illegal for foreign nationals to contribute to candidates. The same should be true for ballot measures,” Snead said. “It’s time for Speaker Stephens to decide if he will stand with Democrats defending foreign influence, or stand with Ohioans who want fair elections.”

Update, May 10:

Responding after publication to The Federalist’s request for comment, Huffman spokesman John Fortney pointed to remarks Huffman gave to reporters following Wednesday’s session.


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