Ohio Sec. of State LaRose won’t comment on election-denying financier of constitutional effort
Secretary of State Frank LaRose said it’s important to make it a lot harder for voters to amend the Ohio Constitution because we need to keep powerful out-of-state special interests from meddling with the state’s foundational document.
But his office wouldn’t respond when asked if the state’s top elections official embraced or condemned the support of an Illinois billionaire who helped fund the Jan. 6, 2021 rally in Washington, D.C., and who has lavished millions on candidates who have falsely claimed that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election.
The Columbus Dispatch last week reported that ultraconservative donor Richard Uihlein donated more than $1 million to the Save Our Constitution PAC in support of the effort to, ironically, dramatically alter what it takes for voters to amend it.
Since 1912, Ohioans frustrated by government inaction could put a constitutional amendment on the ballot by gathering the large required number of voter signatures. Then, if the amendment got more than 50% of the vote, it became part of the Ohio Constitution.
LaRose and his GOP allies in Ohio’s gerrymandered legislature want to make signature gathering much harder by requiring a certain number of them come from each of the state’s 88 counties instead of the current 44. And they want to raise the percentage of the vote needed for success to 60% — effectively raising the bar by 20%.
LaRose has given shifting reasons why it’s necessary to lock down voter access to the state constitution.
In a November press conference, he said it was to keep out shadowy, out-of-state special interests, but didn’t point to any examples of that happening over the previous 110 years.
LaRose specifically denied that he wanted to block future abortion-rights or anti-gerrymandering amendments. But a few weeks later, the official he shared the stage with, Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Ashville, sent a letter to GOP colleagues contradicting LaRose. The point was to block such amendments, Stewart said.
Last month, LaRose said he wanted to restrict voter access to the state Constitution to block schemes like that of former Speaker Larry Householder to keep himself in power for another 16 years. The 2020 plot was exposed as part of an epic racketeering trial in which Householder was convicted in March.
In the scandal, Akron-based FirstEnergy paid more than $60 million for a $1.3 billion ratepayer bailout. But LaRose wouldn’t answer last month when asked if he ever spoke out against the bailout before the FBI started arresting people. He also wouldn’t discuss testimony during the trial that LaRose was in communication with some of the central players as they plotted.
For example, in a text message displayed at the trial, former FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones said that LaRose gave him “private” information about a 2019 effort to repeal the bailout. The secretary of state’s office refused again this week to answer questions about that as well.
As LaRose declines to own or disown Uihlein, it might echo other fences the secretary of state has tried to straddle.
Last year, a Washington, D.C. news organization accurately reported on a LaRose press release saying voter fraud was vanishingly rare in Ohio’s 2020 election. But LaRose attacked the story, tweeting, “President Trump is right to say voter fraud is a serious problem.”
At the time, LaRose’s office wouldn’t answer questions about Trump’s constant lies about the outcome of the 2020 election, the pressure he put on Georgia election officials to overturn it, or how the former president discussed seizing voting machines.
Now the state’s top voting official is refusing to discuss an apparent ally in his fight to restrict access to the state constitution who has also spent millions to support Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.
And the ad currently being funded by Uihlein, the Illinois billionaire, has some things in common with some of the ads financed by FirstEnergy as part of the Householder scandal. Both are ominous, for example, and both could be seen as turning reality upside down.
In Householder’s case, FirstEnergy ran tens of millions through 501(c)(4) “dark money” organizations that don’t have to disclose their donors. Even so, he used some of that money to attack a primary challenger, Kevin Black, for using dark money on a far smaller scale, calling it “dirty money, dirty politics.“
Uihlein helped fund the rally that preceded the deadly Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection and spent millions more supporting candidates who lie about the outcome of a presidential election — an attack on the most basic democratic institution. Yet the political commercial the Illioisian is financing says Ohioans who want to keep an 111-year-old system in place are attempting “a radical liberal takeover.”
The ads are targeting House Republicans who are reluctant to call an August election to consider whether to make it harder for voters to amend the Ohio Constitution. One is aimed at Speaker Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill.
“The clock is ticking,” it says. “We have less than a week to save Ohio’s Constitution from a radical liberal takeover. And Speaker Jason Stephens has the power to stop them. Conservatives across Ohio are demanding action. It’s time for Speaker Jason Stephens to stop the liberal takeover of Ohio and vote with conservatives. Call and demand Speaker Stephens votes quickly to save Ohio’s Constitution before it’s too late.”