Ohio’s elections should not be a Trojan horse for foreign influence foreign power brokers

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Ken Blackwell is a former Ohio secretary of state.

Right now, gaps in Ohio law have left our state exposed to millions of dollars in political spending tied to a foreign billionaire named Hansjorg Wyss.

Last week, Gov. Mike DeWine called the legislature into special session to ban foreign influence in ballot issues and ensure that President Joe Biden appears on the ballot. On Tuesday, he doubled down on his calls to protect elections from foreign interference.

As a former Ohio Secretary of State with decades of experience securing our democratic process, this is the right thing to do—and it should be done now, before we head to the polls this November.

For decades, it has been illegal for foreign nationals to donate to political candidates. But no law, either federal or state, applies this same protection to ballot issues.https://omny.fm/shows/dispatch-on-demand-audio/playlists/then-what-happened/embed?style=cover

That loophole has let foreign-backed special interests co-opt “citizen-led” initiatives and turn them into conduits for foreign activism that can reshape our constitution.

The scale of this foreign influence operation is staggering. Just one Washington, D.C.-based organization, the Sixteen Thirty Fund, has taken at least $243 million in foreign money from Hansjorg Wyss. Then, as a shocking report by the nonpartisan watchdog group Americans for Public Trust revealed, Sixteen Thirty Fund turned around and spent nearly $100 million on ballot issue campaigns in 25 states.

That includes Ohio, where group has poured nearly $15 million in foreign-tied cash to push ballot measures to reduce penalties for fentanyl possession and enshrine abortion-on-demand in the Ohio constitution. Wyss and his allies aren’t done with Ohio.

The Sixteen Thirty Fund is one of the largest backers of the “Citizens Not Politicians” initiative—ironic, given its ties to foreign funding. If nothing is done, Sixteen Thirty Fund is poised to spend millions this year to radically reshape how we pick our representatives in Washington and Columbus.

Ballot initiatives should not be a Trojan horse for influence from abroad. Ohioans overwhelmingly agree. A recent poll by Honest Elections Project Action found that 85% of Ohio voters think foreign nationals should not be allowed to influence elections. This week’s special session gives lawmakers the perfect chance to listen to the people and lead the nation with a strong ban on foreign funding before it can taint another election.

The solution is straightforward

Foreign nationals cannot donate to political candidates. The same standard should apply to ballot issues. By banning direct and indirect foreign contributions, barring groups from spending money tied to foreign nationals, and empowering our attorney general to enforce the law, we can protect our state from corrosive foreign interference.

But Democrats in the legislature have decided to turn a commonsense safeguard into a partisan political fight. Not long ago, these same leaders rightly condemned foreign interference as an attack on American democracy. Now, they argue that banning foreign funding is the real attack on democracy. That is a shocking reversal that Ohioans will surely remember.

Hansjorg Wyss and the Sixteen Thirty Fund have shown how easily foreign special interests can influence campaigns that affect the very heart of this state’s democracy. There is no reason agents working for China, Russia, or other hostile foreign powers could not do the same. And from the political uproar among Columbus Democrats, it is clear that more foreign spending is planned to influence our elections this year. There is simply no time to waste.

Ohio’s future should be decided by Ohio’s citizens, not by foreign billionaires who think they can buy our constitution. Ohio’s leaders have a clear duty to protect the integrity of our state’s democracy. The nation is watching, and now is the time to act.