Posts Authored by Maria J. Armstrong

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

Ohio Supreme Court rejects use of secret ballots by public bodies

On August 14, 2019, the Ohio Supreme Court unanimously struck down the use of secret ballots during a public meeting in its decision in State ex rel. MORE Bratenahl v. Bratenahl (Slip Opinion 2019-Ohio-3233).

In 2015, Bratenahl Village Council voted, in an open meeting but by secret ballot, to fill the position of president pro tempore. Patricia Meade, publisher of the village’s community newspaper MORE Bratenahl, sought an injunction and declaratory judgment in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, arguing that by conducting the vote by secret ballot, the Village of Bratenahl violated the Open Meetings Act, R.C. 121.22. The village argued that the Open Meetings Act did not establish a method of voting but only required that the vote take place in an open meeting, which did occur in this instance. The Court of Common Pleas and 8th District Court of Appeals both ruled in favor of the village and upheld the village’s discretion to use the voting method of its choice. Meade then appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled for Meade and found that while the term “open” is not defined in R.C. 121.22, the law requires that any “resolution, rule, or formal action of any kind is invalid unless adopted in an open meeting of the public body.” The purpose of the Open Meetings Act, as construed by the Court, is to “require public business to be conducted in a manner that is accessible to the public” (emphasis added). The fact that the village did not have a particular voting procedure does not allow for secret ballots, because secret ballots are not accessible to the public. The Court concluded that the village violated the Open Meetings Act and remanded the case to the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas to issue an injunction.

Election Law, General News

Campaign spying law challenged

An Ohio law that prohibits campaign spies was challenged in federal court by Project Veritas, a nonprofit organization that describes itself as engaging “almost exclusively in undercover journalism to report to the public about instances of corruption, fraud, waste and abuse.” Ohio Revised Code Section 3517.21 expressly prohibits anyone from placing an agent or employee into a political campaign for the purpose of impeding the campaign by surreptitiously collecting and reporting information without the knowledge of the candidate. Project Veritas has sued the Ohio Elections Commission to prevent enforcement of the law, which they allege is an infringement on the group’s First Amendment rights. Read the full complaint here (subscription may be required).


Challenges to gerrymandering outside the reach of the Supreme Court

In issuing its 5-4 opinion in Rucho et al. v. Common Cause et al., the Supreme Court has effectively withdrawn from partisan conflicts on gerrymandering playing out across the U.S. In the majority opinion, Justice Roberts stated that the challengers “asked for an unprecedented expansion of judicial power,” while Justice Kagan’s dissent stated that “the practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government.” Read the decision here.

Election Law

Political contributions from prohibited sources

Under federal law, political contributions from prohibited sources must be disgorged by either refunding the contribution to the contributor or sending it to the U.S. Treasury within 30 days of the date the contribution is discovered. The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) has released a new address for disgorged contributions:

Department of the Treasury
Bureau of the Fiscal Service
P.O. Box 1328
Parkersburg, WV 26106-1328
ATTN: Agency Cash Branch, Avery 3G

According to FEC guidance, a letter should accompany the disgorged contribution stating that “the funds represent potential violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act” and “request that the funds be placed in the Treasury’s ‘general fund account.’”

Campaign Finance

Now available: 2019 contribution limits, campaign finance reporting and lobbyist reporting resource

With 2019 legislative sessions underway in both Columbus and Washington, D.C., state and federal lobbying and campaign finance regulators have issued new reporting calendars and contribution limits for the current biennium. Staying up to date on these limits and deadlines is important for anyone participating in the political process.

For our clients and friends, Bricker's Government Relations team has summarized the revised state and federal campaign contribution limits and campaign finance and lobbyist reporting calendars into a single reference guide. Download now >>

Campaign Finance, Ethics

Campaign contribution fraud ends with county executive’s indictment

A yearlong investigation involving the FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the IRS resulted in the indictment of Steve Stenger, St. Louis County Executive. According to prosecutors, Stenger and others defrauded citizens “through bribery and concealment of material information.” The investigation, which has been ongoing since 2014, revealed that Stenger solicited and accepted campaign contributions in return for “favorable official action.” These favors included awards to donors of county contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Stenger then lied in public statements in an attempt to cover up his crimes. He has forfeited his law license and could spend several years in prison. For more, read the full story.

Campaign Finance, Ethics, General News

FEC details over $10 billion in political spending in the 2017-18 federal election cycle

The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) recently issued a summary of contributions and expenditures reported between January 1, 2017, and December 31, 2018. The FEC summarized reported money to and from political action committees (PACs), party committees, 2018 congressional candidates and 2020 presidential candidates, as well as independent expenditures and other reportable communications. The FEC statistics reveal that congressional candidates raised $2.8 billion and spent $2.7 billion during the two-year reporting period. Political parties raised $1.6 billion and spent $1.5 billion, and PACs outpaced all categories, raising $4.7 billion and spending $4.6 billion. Although it is still early, the 51 individuals who have already declared themselves as 2020 presidential candidates reported a total of $75.3 million in contributions and $63.1 million in expenditures as of December 31, 2018.  Reported independent expenditures totaled another $1.3 billion. 

Additional details within the summary include a comparison of congressional candidates’ financial activity from 2008-2018, the receipts for individual political parties, as well as a breakdown of political action committee figures by type.

Campaign Finance

Tidying up: Spring cleaning for your PAC

With a busy state election cycle behind us and a federal election cycle on the horizon, spring is an ideal time to give your Political Action Committee (PAC) a thorough cleaning. These checklist items should be part of your regular PAC maintenance. But if you haven’t asked yourself these questions in a while, now is an ideal time. Read more >>

Campaign Finance
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