In Bond v. United States, the Supreme Court held that private individuals – not only the states – had standing to challenge federal laws as violating state sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment. In this case, a woman had been criminally prosecuted by the federal government under a statute implementing an inernational treaty regulating chemical weapons. Read more
In Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett, the Supreme Court of the United States continued its strong record of supporting political speech against governmental interference. The Court held Arizona’s system of using public funds to selectively fund campaigns unconstitutional.
On June 24, the 1851 Center filed a notice of appeal in the case of Ed Corsi, a political blogger and pamphleteer who distributed materials critical of his local elected officials. After one of those same officials sought prosecution of Mr. Corsi, the Ohio Elections Commission took up the case. The OEC concluded that because some friends and allies assisted Corsi in handing out pamphlets, the efforts of these individuals rendered them a “Political Action Committee,” even though they spent no funds in supporting or opposing candidates, and coordinated with no campaigns. Any Ohioans designated as a PAC must register with the state prior to engaging in political speech, and must comply with onerous reporting requirements.
The 1851 Center argues the law under which Corsi is being charged is not only vague in language, but violates his right to speak anonymously, is an unconstitutional prior restraint on core political speech, and violates freedom of association. Meanwhile, Ohio’s Constitution contains broad protections for speech and press that afford new media the same protections as the mainstream press.
“The right to criticize one’s government cannot be conditioned on that government’s prior permission,” according to 1851 Center Director Maurice Thompson. “Under the Ohio Elections Commission’s decision, every tea party group, every protest, and every signature-gathering or pamphleteering effort in the state is a Political Action Committee that must register with the state or face $1,000 fines, and even apolitical associations run this risk, if associating with those engaged in political speech.” Said Thompson, “This ruling isn’t an aberration – – it represents the outward limit of a corrupt philosophy that prohibits the average Ohioan from fully engaging in political debates.”
Tea Party Sues Municipal, Township Groups in Supreme Court Over Public Records
Opponents of the estate tax and government spending growth said Thursday they are asking the Ohio Supreme Court to declare that two groups of township and city officials are “the functional equivalent” of public offices and should be required to abide by the public records law.
The Dayton Tea Party filed a complaint asking justices to order the Ohio Municipal League and the Ohio Township Association to release policy and financial records related to their legislative lobbying against repeal of the estate tax and in favor of increases in the Local Government Fund.
Both groups declined to produce the material on grounds they were private organizations not subject to the public records law.
Maurice Thompson of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, who is representing the Dayton Tea Party, argues that all or nearly all of the OML and OTA support comes from municipal government dues, fees, and contributions, using taxpayer funds.
He said local governments “have shrouded in secrecy certain governmental activities, such as lobbying, through utilization of private organizations,” including the OML and OTA.
“These de facto local government coalitions receive and rely almost exclusively upon public funds to lobby and litigate for higher taxes, greater government spending, diminished constitutional protections for Ohioans, and overall larger government, all as prescribed by their government members,” Mr. Thompson said.
“Meanwhile, these organizations refuse to respond to public records requests, denying information to citizens regarding the use of their tax dollars to promote and advance highly ideological causes by and on behalf of local governments,” he told justices.
Mr. Thompson contends that the OML and OTA are the “functional equivalents of public offices” under the state’s public records act, and must produce documents about the operation of their organizations, including lobbying efforts before the General Assembly.
He said the groups were using public funds to participate in a campaign to inflate the amount of state money spent on the Local Government Fund, and to oppose repeal of the estate tax. Both provisions are included in the pending biennial state budget (HB 153).
“Both the OML and the OTA continue to use Ohio taxpayers’ funds to operate in secrecy on these issues,” Mr. Thompson said. “In the course of their clandestine operations, OML and OTA argues against repeal of the Ohio Estate Tax and in favor of inflating state spending on local governments.”
The complaint asks the Supreme Court to compel the groups to comply with the requests for records, and to pay court costs, attorney fees, and statutory damages.
The Dayton Tea Party, Inc. was described as a non-partisan, non-profit corporation that is a conglomeration of 19 “liberty groups” in the Miami Valley region.
The complaint was filed in the name of Robert Scott, the group’s president and founder, who “has invested significant effort into effectuating repeal of the Ohio Estate Tax, and reducing state government spending.”
Mr. Thompson asked the court to apply a four-part functional equivalency test it cited in a 2006 opinion to determine whether a private entity is a public institution for purposes of the public records law.
“In applying the functional-equivalency test, courts in other states have adjudicated private organizations comparable to the Ohio Municipal League and Ohio Township Association to be amenable to public records requests,” he told justices.
He referred to a 1999 opinion that found the Washington State Association of Counties was a public agency for purposes of a disclosure law. A 2010 decision held that the Association of Washington Cities, a private, non-profit corporation, was the functional equivalent of a public agency subject to that state’s public records law.
“The factual allegations herein demonstrate that the OML is extensively controlled and funded by government, created by and for the benefit of government, exists to serve government, and has no purpose other than to serve government, and is thus the functional equivalent of a public office,” Mr. Thompson said.
Susan Cave, OML executive director, said she had not seen the complaint and could not comment.
Organizations Comprised of Local Governments Refuse to Disclose Lobbying Activity on Estate Tax and Government Spending
Columbus–The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, on behalf of Relators Dayton Tea Party and Robert Scott, yesterday filed in the Ohio Supreme Court a Public Records Complaint demanding Ohio Municipal League (OML) and Ohio Township Association (OTA) lobbying records. Both the OML and OTA have used public funds to lobby against Ohio Estate Tax repeal and other tax cuts, property rights and the right to bear arms, and in favor of inflated state spending. Read more
Exposing Government Lobbying Records
On June 2, 2011, The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, on behalf of Relators Dayton Tea Party and Robert Scott, filed a Public Records Complaint in the Ohio Supreme Court demanding Ohio Municipal League (OML) and Ohio Township Association (OTA) lobbying records. Both organizations have used public funds to lobby:
- Against the Ohio Estate Tax repeal and other tax cuts
- Against property rights
- Against the right to bear arms, and
- In favor of inflated state spending.
The Ohio Municipal League is a non-profit organization that was created by city government officials, and is comprised of and funded by more than 250 cities and 680 villages. The Ohio Township Association is an association of Ohio townships whose membership contains 99.8 percent of all elected township trustees and township fiscal officers in Ohio.
Both groups exist and survive due to public funding, and invest these funds in advocacy for greater government spending, and against tax cuts and individual rights. Lately, both have heavily advocated for greater state spending on local governments and against repeal of Ohio’s worst-in-the-nation Estate Tax (80 percent of estate tax revenue is transferred to local governments).
Under the “Functional Equivalency Test” a nominally non-public Ohio entity can be subjected to the Public Records Act if it is the functional equivalent of a public office. The test’s factors include the level of government funding and the extent of government involvement or regulation.The 1851 Center argues that the OML and OTA are the functional equivalent of public offices, as both organizations were created by, are funded by, and exist to serve local governments and public officials.
While this action was dismissed by the Ohio Supreme Court without decision, The 1851 Center believes it is a continuing concern and will pursue it again in the future. Ohioans have a right to know the politically and ideologically-motivated ends to which their tax dollars are being put, and rise in opposition to those ends. Through the OML and OTA, Ohio’s local officials tax their citizens and use these tax dollars to lobby for higher taxes yet, all the while escaping scrutiny for this agenda by running it through the OML or OTA. Citizens have a right to know exactly how and why their hard-earned money is being used like this.
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The legislature has passed a state budget that includes the repeal of Ohio’s Estate Tax. Special thanks to the team at http://www.endohioestatetax.com/ for their leadership in accomplishing a feat that no liberty group before them had accomplished: the elimination of a statewide tax. In drafting the initiative and representing the effort, the 1851 Center was simply the professional scaffolding around this inspiring all-volunteer effort. Read more