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LaRose Applauds New Legislation As First Step Towards Ending Dark Money In Ohio Campaigns

COLUMBUS - Today, Representatives Gayle Manning and Jessica Miranda introduced HB 737 that will ultimately require corporations to report campaign donations to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office.

“Now more than ever, Ohioans have seen first-hand how dark money can influence the decisions that impact our lives,” said LaRose. “I’m hopeful that this legislation will be a positive first-step towards finding the solutions necessary to get voters the transparency they deserve, and I look forward to working with Reps. Manning and Miranda to incorporate concepts that my team and I have been working on.”

Secretary LaRose first wrote about the subject of dark money in early 2019 in an op-ed that was featured on Click here to read the full op-ed.

For too long, partisans on both sides of the aisle and deep-pocketed special interests have taken advantage of loopholes in campaign finance law to anonymously influence our elections.

Need an example? In 2017, voters were debating Issue 2, a ballot initiative which focused on drug pricing. Without debating the merits of the policy, consider that more than $74 million was spent on the ballot issue by both sides -- making this the most expensive campaign in Ohio history. What’s worse is that this money, spent to motivate voters, was completely anonymous. The two entities on either side of this contest reported their money in and money out, as required by law -- but who really were the Ohioans in the “Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue” and “Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices” organizations? We’ll never know specifically where that money came from. Unless we do something about it, there’s nothing to stop this from happening again and again for both issue campaigns and independent efforts seeking to help one candidate or another.

BACKGROUND: HB 737 is an attempt to pass needed campaign finance reform that was originally introduced as SB 240 in 2010. SB 240 is a good first step towards increasing transparency surrounding the money spent on Ohio elections. However, on its own it does not necessarily provide the campaign finance transparency Ohioans deserve and may further complicate an already complex set of campaign finance laws.

SB 240 sought to update Ohio’s campaign finance laws and requires corporations to file campaign finance reports. However, SB 240 would overlap independent expenditures and the definition of electioneering communications which currently states electioneering communications do not include communications that are otherwise independent expenditures. Additionally, electioneering communications includes certain types of political communications (broadcast, cable or satellite television, or radio), but does not include others such as direct mailers and digital media advertising which were heavily utilized here in the HB 6 campaign. SB 240 as drafted a decade ago would create confusion today because certain independent expenditures become electioneering communications, but then are expressly deemed not applicable as electioneering communications.

Additionally, SB 240 would not have addressed the HB 6 petition “blocking” situation as there was not yet a ballot issue for the group to have been opposing. First, we need to address the gap that exists in requiring petition gathering groups to become and entity and report, but not those opposing said petition gathering process.

By working together with Rep. Manning and Miranda, Secretary LaRose is confident that HB 737 can become a workable, meaningful campaign finance reform bill to increase transparency and shed a light on the dark money that has infiltrated Capitol Square.