Ohio Senate passes Biden ballot fix, foreign campaign money ban. Here's what it means

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The Ohio Senate voted Friday on a two-pronged plan to get President Joe Biden on the ballot and prevent noncitizens from giving money to statewide issue campaigns.

The action concluded a special session ordered by Gov. Mike DeWine to tackle both issues. DeWine is expected to sign the bills when they reach his desk.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle approved the ballot fix and generally agree on efforts to keep foreign money out of elections. But Democrats say the legislation passed this week is designed to stifle citizen-led issue campaigns ahead of a potential November vote over redistricting reform.

Here's what you need to know.

What does the Biden ballot fix look like?

The bill changes the 2024 ballot certification deadline to 65 days before the election. The current 90-day deadline − which is Aug. 7 this year − falls 12 days before the DNC will kick off in Chicago.

Ohio has temporarily pushed its deadline to help both parties in the past. The plan does not include a permanent change to prevent future scheduling problems, even though both Republicans and Democrats expressed the need to do so.

Didn't the DNC already handle this?

The DNC plans to virtually certify Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris before the convention and Ohio's deadline. Members must greenlight the process before party officials can set a date for the official roll call.

The Biden campaign did not immediately respond to questions about whether the House and Senate votes affect their plans.

President Joe Biden appears with Gov. Mike DeWine and other state officials to discuss the infrastructure law and Brent Spence Bridge project in 2023.
President Joe Biden appears with Gov. Mike DeWine and other state officials to discuss the infrastructure law and Brent Spence Bridge project in 2023.

How did the foreign money bill come into play?

Ohio Republicans didn't want to help Democrats without getting something in return. To that end, they linked a ballot fix to a ban on foreign nationals giving to issue campaigns.

GOP lawmakers began pushing for the measure after a progressive dark money group poured millions into Ohio ballot campaigns, including the abortion rights amendment approved by voters. The group, Sixteen Thirty Fund, has received donations from a Swiss billionaire.

Are foreign campaign donations already illegal?

It's illegal for non-U.S. citizens to give money to candidates in Ohio, and federal law prohibits them from donating to any federal, state or local election. In 2021, the Ohio Elections Commission determined foreign contributions are also illegal in issue campaigns.

Democrats contend that makes the legislation redundant, but backers say it's necessary to close a loophole in state law. The Federal Election Commission and U.S. Supreme Court have said the federal ban applies only to candidate elections, not ballot issues.

The Ohio bill goes a step further than federal law and prohibits green card holders from giving money to issue campaigns and candidates.

Why do Democrats oppose the bill?

Democrats believe the measure is too broad and unclear about what kind of spending would be illegal.

It also allows the attorney general to prosecute foreign money violations, which critics say awards too much power to a partisan elected official. The bipartisan Ohio Elections Commission is currently tasked with regulating state campaign finance laws.

Executive director Phil Richter said the commission has never received a complaint regarding foreign money in issue campaigns. He said the panel released its opinion on the topic well before lawmakers raised concerns.

"I believe that the Commission’s bipartisan make-up provides confidence to the citizens that the matter is being assessed on the fact available to the Commission and so the decision is then dispensed without there being any specific partisan aspect to the decision," Richter wrote in an email.

Could there be a lawsuit over this?

An earlier version of the bill did not apply to green card holders, who are lawful, permanent residents. Some Republicans worry that could make the measure vulnerable to litigation since it's different than federal policy.

But GOP lawmakers ultimately approved the addition of green card holders − and even got help from House Democrats in forcing a vote on the amendment.

"We thought that it was an important vote for them to take," House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, said. "We'll see what that means. It certainly puts the law in conflict now with federal law."

Haley BeMiller is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: What to know about Ohio Biden ballot fix, foreign campaign money ban