Does GOP campaign literature contain a false statement? Ohio Elections Commission to decide
COLUMBUS, Ohio - There is probable cause that a piece of
anti-Issue 2 campaign literature, distributed by the Ohio
Republican Party, violates Ohio election law, members of
the Ohio Elections Commission decided on Thursday.
The panel voted 4-0 to hold a full hearing Oct. 4 to decide
the truthfulness of a claim in the Republican mailer that
members of a proposed redistricting commission "will be
chosen in secret." Ohio election law prohibits circulation
of false statements to influence ballot issues.
But the commission members dismissed two other complaints
about the GOP mailer against Issue 2, the proposed
constitutional amendment to establish a citizens
Catherine Turcer, chairwoman of the pro-Issue 2 group
Voters First Ohio, filed a complaint with the Elections
Commission on Tuesday, claiming the GOP mailer contained
three false statements.
On Thursday, the commission's probable cause panel -- a
four-member subset of the full, seven-member commission --
decided to further examine the claim that commission
members will be chosen in secret. After hearing arguments
from both sides, members said they were not convinced the
amendment required a secret selection process.
Turcer said the elections commission's actions were
"It is no surprise that these opponents of reform will stop
at nothing to mislead voters and protect their own power,"
Turcer said in a statement.
Carlo LoParo, spokesman for the anti-Issue 2 group Protect
Your Vote Ohio, said it was a bad day for Issue 2
supporters. Secrecy still clouds the proposed commission
selection process, he said.
"The Elections Commission will decide if these unelected
commission members will meet in secret, or can meet in
secret," LoParo said.
The panel split along party lines on finding probable cause
that the other two statements are false. The statements
claimed the redistricting commission would "have a blank
check to spend our money" and that there would be no
process for removing a commission member, "even if they
commit a felony."
A majority vote is needed to find probable cause. A
complaint is dismissed if there is a tie vote.
Republican commission member Bryan Felmet, who voted
against probable cause for the two statements, said lawyers
for both sides made convincing arguments.
"I pretty much believe both of them, depending on who I
listened to last," Felmet said before casting his
After the meeting, Felmet said political speech is fair
game when both sides can persuade him. "When that happens,
that indicates to me we have fair comment," he said.
Although the commission found no probable cause of a
violation in the GOP's claim that the redistricting
commission would have a "blank check" to spend money, it is
unlikely the party will use that word in future campaign
Attorney Terrence O'Donnell, representing the Ohio
Republican Party, said the use of the term "blank check" is
defensible. But given a recent Ohio Supreme Court ruling on
the issue, the party will not use the phrase in the
Other Issue 2 opponents, however, might take a different
approach. LoParo said the elections did not find the "blank
check" statement to be false.
The Ohio Supreme Court recently said the proposed amendment
would not give the commission unlimited funds. The court
analyzed the amendment to decide a lawsuit over previously
approved ballot language for Issue 2. The Ohio Ballot Board
approved new ballot wording last week under the court's
"The actual text of the proposed constitutional amendment
does not state that the redistricting commission would have
-- as the ballot board's language indicates -- a blank
check for all funds as determined by the commission," the
court's ruling said.
O'Donnell said the court's review of using the term "blank
check" was under different circumstances than the Ohio
Elections Commission's consideration of the GOP mailer. The
court was reviewing a summary of the amendment for use in
the voting booth, a nonpartisan venue. The commission was
reviewing use of the term in campaign literature, he said.
See the article on Cleveland Plain Dealer website