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Bill to ban foreign money in Ohio ballot issues moves ahead

The bill would ban a foreign national from contributing or spending to support or oppose a state or local ballot issue directly or through another organization.

Published: February 21, 2024 11:00pm

(The Center Square) -

As Ohio’s March 19 primary begins today with early in-person voting, state senators are moving ahead with election-related legislation to stop foreign campaign contributions.

Senate Bills 215 and 137 are planned to go before the chamber's General Government Committee.

Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowline Green, says SB215 is a necessary extension of a state ban on foreign contributions to candidates to stop similar political money from going to issue campaigns.

"Ohio's elections should be about Ohioans, not foreign individuals, governments, and entities trying to influence our democracy and decisions," Gavarone said. "Senate Bill 215 prevents foreign influence on statewide ballot issue campaigns on both sides of the debate."

The push for the legislation comes after Republicans lost three ballot issues last year – one to raise the threshold of voter approval needed to amend the state’s constitution, another that solidified abortion rights in the constitution, and a third to legalize recreational marijuana.

Republicans have said an influx of outside cash – including foreign money – helped tip the scales in those campaigns.

Gavarone said in a news release the dark money group The 1630 Fund spent more than $13 million on ballot campaigns in the state last year. She also said the fund received more than $200 million from a Swiss billionaire, according to an Associated Press article.

The bill would ban a foreign national from contributing or spending to support or oppose a state or local ballot issue directly or through another organization.

It would also ban a permanent U.S. resident with a green card from doing the same.

“Ohio and other states across the country have seen foreign nationals pour millions of dollars into state issue campaigns under the guise of a tangled web of dark money groups," said Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoileon. "This legislation preserves and protects these pivotal questions from foreign influence, which was a concern of our Founding Fathers for the stability and success of our government."

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