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The Statehouse News Bureau provides educational, comprehensive coverage of legislation, elections, issues and other activities surrounding the Statehouse to Ohio's public radio and television stations.

Ohio Lawmakers Set Sights On Dark Money Transparency

Referendum supporters gather signatures in 2019 to put HB6 on the ballot. They say they were blocked by opponents funded by dark money groups. [Andy Chow / Statehouse News Bureau]
Referendum supporters gather signatures in 2019 to put HB6 on the ballot. They say they were blocked by opponents funded by dark money groups.

Ohio lawmakers are looking for ways to require more transparency when it comes to dark money groups in political campaigns.

The bills are being introduced in reaction to an alleged racketeering scheme involving a dark money organization and Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford).

One bipartisan bill, HB737, would create reporting requirements for entities that make political contributions. 

Rep. Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) is co-sponsoring a similar bill, which would among other moves, require 501(c)(4)s to disclose funders.

"For Democracy to work, the process has to be transparent," Russo said. 

Russo’s co-sponsor on the yet-unnumbered transparency legislation is Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Cleveland).

Federal investigators say Company A, thought to be FirstEnergy, funneled millions through a 501(c)(4) called Generation Now to ultimately benefit House Speaker Larry Householder and get a sweeping energy bill, HB6, passed. 

Current laws do not require groups like Generation Now to disclose its donors. 

Rep. Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville) is co-sponsoring HB737 with Rep. Jessica Miranda (D-Forest Park).

"We cannot continue down the path of what is, but should aspire to pursue what should be when it comes to campaign finance reform," Manning said in a written statement. "I believe that we must move past the unethical activities that we have recently discovered that went into House Bill 6 and push for a better, cleaner and trustworthy set of rules for Ohioans that we represent. This legislation is needed now more than ever to increase transparency when it comes to campaign finance.”

That legislation is meant to mirror a previous bill, SB240, introduced in 2010 by now-Lt. Gov. Jon Husted when he was a member of the state senate. That bill was an attempt to create transparency laws in Ohio that align with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission that same year.

"I introduced this bill requiring transparency a decade ago, and if it had become law then, Ohio would be in a much better place today,” Husted said this week in a written statement. "Perhaps enough lessons have been learned to get it passed this time."

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