Lawsuit Challenges Ohio Law Banning Foreign Nationals from Donating to Ballot Campaigns

Ohio’s new law, which prohibits foreign nationals and green card holders from contributing to state ballot campaigns, is now facing a federal court challenge. Filed by the Democratic law firms Elias Law Group and Cooper Elliott, the lawsuit claims the law infringes on constitutionally protected rights of free speech and association.

Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican, signed this measure on June 2. The law is set to take effect on September 1 and was bundled with another bill that adjusts Ohio’s election calendar to ensure President Joe Biden appears on November ballots.

The lawsuit argues that HB 1 “unconstitutionally impedes public debate” by imposing broad restrictions on spending related to ballot issues. It states, “Because of HB 1, all noncitizens are now threatened with investigation, criminal prosecution, and mandatory fines if they even indicate they intend to engage in any election-related spending or contributions — including to support or oppose ballot questions in virtually any capacity.”

The challenge is brought on behalf of OPAWL – Building AAPI Feminist Leadership, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, a German citizen and her husband in Cleveland, and a Canadian citizen in Silver Lake. OPAWL is a grassroots organization representing Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander women and nonbinary individuals in Ohio.

Republican lawmakers pushed for the ban after several ballot measures went against their preferences last year, including protecting abortion access, rejecting a proposal to make constitutional amendments harder to pass, and legalizing recreational marijuana.

Committees involved in these ballot measures received donations from entities linked to Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss, although direct connections to Ohio campaigns are unclear due to existing campaign finance laws. Wyss lives in Wyoming.

John Fortney, spokesperson for Republican Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, claimed the lawsuit shows Democrats rely on wealthy foreign nationals’ donations. “Ohio’s Constitution isn’t for sale, despite the progressive left’s un-American sell out to foreign influence,” he stated.

The inclusion of green card holders in the ban was a controversial decision made on the House floor, despite opposition from state Rep. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati attorney and senior Republican. Seitz cited a U.S. Supreme Court opinion suggesting that such prohibitions on green card holders “would raise substantial questions” of constitutionality.

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