SJR2, a resolution requiring citizen-initiated constitutional amendments to receive a 60% vote, overcame the requirement of a 3/5 vote in both chambers of the Ohio General Assembly and was adopted on Tuesday, May 10.
The legislative move sets up an August special election that will give the people of Ohio the opportunity to make it harder for special interest groups to use dark money to amend the constitution through ballot initiatives.
This victory is especially significant for pro-life activists who are facing the possibility of a “Reproductive Freedom Amendment, a “citizen” initiative declaring the killing of children in the womb until the moment of birth a constitutional right in Ohio.
The new 60% vote requirement ensures that any proposed amendments are subject to genuine broad-based support, making it much more difficult for special interest groups of all ideological stripes to push through amendments that do not represent the overwhelming will of the people.
Special Interest Using Citizen Initiatives & Dark Money to Amend State Constitutions
In 2022, a handful of billionaires successfully bankrolled a similar pro-abortion amendment in neighboring Michigan. Although the pro-abortion campaign spent more than three times as much as their pro-life counterparts, they would not have been successful, had Michigan required a 60% threshold for a citizen initiated constitutional amendments.
In the 2022 elections in California, online casinos went head to head against Indian tribes pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into opposing campaigns. The battle over gambling rights was so fierce, and there was so much money spent, that some of the special interests sought to win allies to their cause by bankrolling completely unrelated amendments.
Citizen initiatives, were originally envisioned as democratic outlet for popular initiatives that the people desired but which the political parties would not support due to their allegiance to entrenched business interests. However, lately, it has been special interests, often from out of state, that have been able to pour unlimited funds to pay for the collection of signatures and costly ad campaigns, circumventing the legislature while overwhelming the airwaves with costly propaganda.
Ballot Initiatives Are Dark Money Breeding Grounds
According to campaign finance law, ballot initiatives, as opposed to legislative candidacies, can receive unlimited amounts of direct support from tax exempt organizations, which in turn act as shields for powerful individuals.
As we wrote about on the pages of American ProLifer, this almost unlimited source of funding played a massive role in the adoption of Michigan’s “Reproductive Freedom Amendment”, but the dark money flows from special interests groups of all ideological creeds, seeking not to buy political influence, but to directly rewrite state constitutions to their benefit.
But even that amendment, with its 3:1 funding disparity would not have passed, if Michigan required a 60% majority to pass a citizen initiated ballot amendment.
Preserving the Ohio Constitution
The passing of SJR2 is a positive step towards protecting the democratic process in Ohio. It ensures that the voice of the people remains the most important factor in determining the future of the state, but it also safeguards against any attempts by small interest groups to push through amendments that do not enjoy a consensus of support from the broader population.
Not only would approving SJR2 during the August special election protect the right to life, it would also protect Ohio from the powerful marijuana lobby pouring money in to a ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana.
In the case of the Ohio marijuana “citizens” initiative, just five private marijuana companies have donated over $1.5 million to get the people to approve the recreational use of the drug. On the other hand, not a single dollar has been raised to oppose the measure, which at this time only polls at 50% approval.
Raising the threshold to 60% would not resolve all the funding and organizational disparities, but it would make the buying off of state constitutions that much harder to pull off.