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Ohio House passes ban on foreign money to ballot issues, including from green card holders

Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) in Ohio House session on May 30, 2024.
Sarah Donaldson
Statehouse News Bureau
Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) in Ohio House session on May 30, 2024.

GOP lawmakers in the Ohio House voted Thursday afternoon to advance their version of a foreign contributions bill that included an amendment to ban lawful permanent residents—or green card holders—from putting money toward ballot initiatives.

House Bill 1 cleared the House Government Oversight committee earlier in the day, also along party lines. It's scaled back from versions of what has cleared the Senate four different times. But in every iteration, the fast-tracked proposal bans foreign nationals from contributing to and against statewide issues.

Opponents generally said it has unintended consequences. They have called it a poison pill in exchange for current U.S. President Joe Biden's name on the ballot and a swing at looming citizen-initiated efforts, like a proposed redistricting constitutional amendment backed by Republican former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor.

“If it's such a damn good idea by Ms. O'Connor to ruin our election system with a convoluted process that would make Rube Goldberg proud, if it's such a good idea, let her get the money from Ohio and U.S.-based interests and not foreign interests,” Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) said.

The five-page House Bill 1 makes violations a first-degree misdemeanor on the first offense and a fifth-degree felony on subsequent offenses. It gives the state attorney general the ability to investigate allegations, something opponents said is a political power grab.

“It will say to them (Ohioans), ‘We want you to do that less, please. We didn't like what you did last August, we didn't like what you did last November, when you advocated for your rights, so we're going to give the power to the attorney general to investigate any allegation immediately into what is a very badly drafted law,’” Rep. Dani Isaacsohn (D-Cincinnati) said.

The HB 1 that cleared committee used the federal definition of foreign nationals.

“Any such extension would raise substantial questions not raised by this case, so why would you take that litigation risk?” Seitz said.

But hours later, on the House floor, Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) brought forward an amendment extending the proposal to green card holders—calling their exclusion a “glaring loophole.”

Previously unscheduled session drags on

The legislature reconvened earlier in the week at Gov. Mike DeWine’s request. In a relatively rare move, DeWine officially ordered them to come back to Columbus and pass bills putting current U.S. President Joe Biden on the November ballot and banning foreign nationals from contributing to ballot initiatives.

The Democratic National Committee said Tuesday, however, it had its own fix on the first issue: to hold a virtual roll call and officially nominate Biden then and there. It came two months after Secretary of State Frank LaRose notified the Ohio Democratic Party the DNC convention was scheduled later than Ohio's 90-day deadline to certify candidates.

Since then, GOP-backed foreign contributions proposals have become the focus of lawmakers in both chambers. But the House and Senate did each pass a provision to get Biden on the ballot in fall—in the Senate, on Tuesday through a bill on numbering ballot initiatives, and in the House, on Thursday through the “clean” House Bill 2.

Thirty-one Republicans in the House voted against delaying the deadline this year to get Biden on the ballot.

Shortly after the Thursday votes, the Senate scheduled session for noon Friday to address HB 1 and HB 2. “I believe sincerely that they are on board,” Seitz said.

Sarah Donaldson covers government, policy, politics and elections for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. Contact her at
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