FEC releases coordinated party expenditure limits for 2020

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) has adjusted coordinated party expenditure limits for 2020. For presidential nominees, the limit is $26,464,700. For Senate nominees, the limits range from $103,700 to $3,175,100, based on their state’s voting age population. Limits for House nominees are $103,700 (states with only one U.S. House Representative) or $51,900 (state with more than one U.S. House Representative).

The limits “are calculated according to a statutory formula that accounts for the annual cost-of-living adjustment,” according to the FEC’s news release. For more, read the full release.

Campaign Finance, General News

JLEC gives guidance that "all invited" does not mean "will not kick you out"

The Joint Legislative Ethics Committee (JLEC) recently gave guidance that lobbyists and employers must “affirmatively invite” all members of the General Assembly or all members of the House or Senate to qualify as an “all invited” event for reporting purposes. Read the full story.  

Ethics

Want to honor a public official? Make sure you're in compliance

Recently, the Ohio Ethics Commission, in Advisory Opinion Number 2019-01, provided additional guidance on ceremonial gifts for public officials and employees. Public officials are often honored by groups for longstanding service or advocacy and may receive personalized items reflecting their contributions. Ohio law forbids public officials and employees from accepting a gift of substantial value from a party that is interested in matters before, regulated by, or doing or seeking to do business with the public employee or official’s agency. This creates a dilemma for both the public official and the group providing the ceremonial gift. For more, read the full story

General News

Legislative review and 2020 legislative and electoral preview

With the start of a new decade, our team wants to share an overview of the past year and a look ahead to the coming months. Please click the link below for a review of relevant legislation that the General Assembly passed in 2019, a summary of predictions for 2020 legislative priorities and a political preview of the 2020 statewide election. Read more >>

General News

Federal judge rules Ohio law restricting prisoners’ right to vote is unconstitutional

Prisoners awaiting trial “must be given same voting rights as other citizens,” U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Watson recently found, ruling on a case filed by two men incarcerated in Montgomery County last year, The Columbus Dispatch reports. Lawyers for the men argued that Ohio law “violates the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by treating prisoners differently than other voters,” according to the article. State law grants voters “confined in hospitals by unforeseen medical emergencies until 3 p.m. on Election Day to submit an absentee ballot application,” while voters held in jail “face a noon deadline on the Saturday before an election.” Watson wrote in his opinion, “[t]he legislature cannot simply grant one class of voters more favorable terms . . . (that) is exactly what the Equal Protection clause forbids.” For more, read the full article.

General News

Federal judge blocks activist group’s plans to infiltrate opponents’ campaigns

A federal judge denied a preliminary injunction sought by Project Veritas “challenging Ohio’s prohibition against individuals going undercover on political campaigns,” The Columbus Dispatch reports. Project Veritas filed a lawsuit in July 2019 in U.S. District Court “arguing that state law violates its First Amendment rights,” comparing its “tactics of going undercover to record officeholders” and others to investigative journalism, the article reports. The group asked the court to “prohibit the Ohio Elections Commission from hearing complaints that it violated state law” after the Commission heard a case against the group, which took undercover recordings in an office for the combined 2016 campaign of U.S. Senate candidate former Gov. Ted Strickland and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Judge Edmund A. Sargus ruled against the request for a preliminary injunction. For more, read the full article.

Election Law

Amendment introduced to prohibit foreign ownership in critical infrastructure in Ohio

Introduced on October 26, 2019, House Joint Resolution 2 (HJR 2), titled the “Ohio Critical Infrastructure Protection Amendment,” seeks to place a constitutional amendment before Ohio voters prohibiting foreign businesses and individuals from having a majority ownership interest in critical infrastructure located in Ohio. Read more >>

General News

Municipal lobbying registration

We’ve previously covered whether you need to register with the State of Ohio as a lobbyist, but, like many of the topics our team discusses, there is a municipal component as well. Many cities, especially larger ones, have their own lobbying registration and reporting requirements.

If you are actively advocating for or against ordinances passed by a city council and signed into law by the mayor, you probably already know to register as a lobbyist and track your activities. However, there are some less common situations that might trigger a city’s lobbying ordinances, too.

For example, in the City of Columbus, some work related to land development – especially when dealing with zoning and land use – results in advocating for the passage of an ordinance. Depending on the amount of time spent advocating for the legislative change, an attorney, consultant or another company employee could meet the definition of legislative agent in Section 2321.54 of the Columbus City Code.

A best practice when engaging in a municipal activity is to do a quick review of the city code, check with the clerk of council or consult with an attorney to ensure you don’t inadvertently run afoul of a local lobbying ordinance.

Lobbying

Ohio Supreme Court will not require Greene County to count signatures

On October 4, 2019, the Ohio Supreme Court denied the writ of mandamus by L. Stephen Combs to require the Greene County Board of Elections to count the signatures on Combs’ petition and certify his name for the November 5, 2019, election.

On August 6, 2019, Combs submitted his nominating petition. At the bottom of each part-petition, Combs signed the declaration and included in that statement, “I am the circulator of the foregoing petition containing 44 signatures.” On August 19, 2019, the Greene County Board of Elections rejected Combs’s petition, because the circulator statement on each part-petition stated 44 signatures were included, which was the total number on the entire petition, rather than the number of signatures on the individual part-petition. Since the board rejected the petition on this basis, it did not proceed to the verification process of the signatures.

The Ohio Supreme Court stated Combs’ statements at the end of each part-petition were not in accordance with R.C. 2501.38(E)(1). The Court found in R.C 2501.38 (E)(1) b that the word “it” refers to “each petition paper.” The Ohio Supreme Court stated that Combs' argument for “it” to refer to the plural “nominating petitions” is at odds with the rules of grammar. In addition, Combs argued that he complied with the Secretary of State’s Form No. 3-R, and the declaration on that form refers to the full petition, not the number of signatures on the part-petition. However, the Court found Combs’ analysis would not be reasonable in any situation with more than one circulator. If there was more than one circulator, neither could attest to all signatures found on the full petition. The Court concluded that the election law is clear and, therefore, no interpretation is warranted.

Therefore, Combs did not comply with R.C. 2501.38 (E)(1), because he placed the declaration referring to all the signatures placed on the nominating petition as a whole, rather than individually declaring the number of signatures on each part-petition. The Supreme Court denied his writ of mandamus and did not require the Greene County Board of Elections to count the signatures nor to certify his name for the November 5, 2019, ballot.

Election Law

Ohio Supreme Court rules Law be placed on November ballot

On September 16, 2019, the Ohio Supreme Court found that the Trumbull County Board of Elections abused its discretion when it removed Randy Law from the ballot as an independent candidate for Mayor of Warren and ordered the board to recertify Law’s candidacy to the November ballot.

The board considered a protest against Law’s candidacy that alleged that, because Law was affiliated with the Republican Party, he could not run as an independent candidate. A majority of the board determined Law’s disaffiliation efforts from the Republican Party were not in good faith, because Law could not provide a compelling reason for disaffiliation and several pieces of evidence show Law’s statement of nonaffiliation was not made in good faith.

However, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that a different standard of review should apply. The Court found that affirmative action of disaffiliation was not required. Rather, a candidate need only provide an accurate statement of disaffiliation in good faith. The Court ruled that the protestor maintains the burden of proof and must establish, by clear and convincing evidence, that a candidate’s disaffiliation was made in bad faith. Therefore, the Ohio Supreme Court concluded that the board’s standard of review demanded more of Law than necessary. Additionally, the Court found that several pieces of evidence, including a resignation letter, newspaper article, designation of treasurer form and extensive prior Republican Party history were not probative to show bad faith. As a result, Law’s candidacy will be recertified, and Law will be placed on the ballot in November. 

Election Law
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