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New Ohio law banning foreign nationals from donating to ballot campaigns hit with lawsuit

Protesters gather at State and High Streets in Columbus to show their opposition to Ohio's new voting maps plan.
Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
Protesters gather at State and High Streets across from the Statehouse to protest maps being discussed by the Ohio Redistricting Commission on Oct. 26, 2021.

As expected, the new Ohio law banning political contributions to ballot issue campaigns by foreign nationals - including permanent lawful residents known as green card holders - is being challenged in federal court.

The lawsuit comes a few weeks after the law was passed in a special session called by Gov. Mike DeWine to deal with that and change a deadline so President Biden could appear on the Ohio ballot.

The suit claims the law violates free speech rights in the First Amendment, and breaks with U.S. Supreme Court precedent by including green card holders.

The challenge to House Bill 1 from the special session was filed by the progressive women’s group OPAWL and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, as well as a German citizen in northeast Ohio and a Canadian citizen. They're represented by Cooper Elliott and by the Elias Law Group. The latter is a Democratic firm that's filed dozens of challenges to voting laws across the country, including Ohio's sweeping 2023 law on required voter photo ID. That lawsuit was tossed by a federal judge in January.

Republicans pushed for the ban, citing concerns about election interference. But an anti-gerrymandering proposal likely headed to the fall ballot has been receiving funds from a progressive dark money group with a Swiss billionaire among its donors. Citizens Not Politicians reported $550,000 in contributions from the Sixteen Thirty Fund on its last filing in January. The Sixteen Thirty Fund is a 501(c)4 non-profit organization that's received contributions from Hansjörg Wyss, who lives in Wyoming and is estimated to be worth $10 billion. He's from Switzerland but it's unclear whether he's a green card holder.

Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) supported the ban on contributions to ballot campaigns from foreign nationals and is opposed to the Citizens Not Politicians amendment. His spokesman John Fortney said in an emailed statement: “Following months of Ohio Democrats denying that foreign funds are part of ballot campaigns, Barack Obama’s lawyer files a lawsuit to protect their foreign contributors, millions in foreign dark money and foreign election interference. Ohio’s Constitution isn’t for sale, despite the progressive left’s unamerican sell out to foreign influence. This clearly demonstrates their effort to transform Ohio into their radical D.C. vision by using unlimited contributions from outside the United States.”

Citizens Not Politicians hopes to replace the Ohio Redistricting Commission - made up of the governor, auditor, secretary of state and four state lawmakers - with a 15-member panel of Republicans, Democrats and independents. People who have worked or currently work in politics would be banned from being appointed to that panel.

Citizens Not Politicians plans to turn in its signatures for the ballot issue Monday. The group needs 413,487 valid signatures to make the Nov. 5 ballot. A spokesman said 731,306 signatures will be submitted.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at kkasler@statehousenews.org.