Legal Center: Ohio law violates non-profit journalists’ right to investigative and report on political campaigns

Columbus, OH – The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law today moved to enjoin an Ohio statute that forbids undercover investigation of political campaigns by nonprofit journalists. The legal action was brought on behalf of Project Veritas, a national nonprofit investigative journalism organization, and its president and founder James O’Keefe.

In 2018, a Democratic consulting firm filed an Ohio Elections Commission complaint against Project Veritas and O’Keefe, alleging that the nonprofit and its founder violated the reporting restriction through undercover investigation of the Strickland and Clinton campaigns in Ohio. The OEC sided with Project Veritas due to procedural rules, but left open the possibility of punishing journalists for similar undercover reporting in the future.

“State and federal constitutions were written to limit government and protect citizens from it,” said 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson. “Ohio’s reporting restriction turns these constitutional guarantees upside down. While elected officials claim the authority to violate our privacy at an unprecedented level, Ohio’s political class simultaneously insists upon protection from the scrutiny of investigative journalism.”

Pursuant to R.C. 3517, those who go undercover within political campaigns to acquire and report information without the approval of the campaign are subject to prosecution, incarceration and fines, even if their motive is to provide truthful and useful information to the public. The 1851 Center is asking the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio to declare this enactment unconstitutional.

The 1851 Center’s complaint and motion for preliminary injunction assert that the state’s reporting restriction violates investigative journalists’ freedom of speech and expression by restraining and punishing meaningful political journalism, explaining as follows:

· The freedom of the press protected by the First Amendment includes the right of every citizen to record and report on government officials and candidates, even (and especially) without consent.

· Politicians and public officials have no right to special protection from being recorded when they are on the job or campaigning for office, especially given that no other entity, business or individual in Ohio enjoys such protections.

· The Reporting Restriction impermissibly punishes reporting facts learned when undercover within political campaigns, even when those facts are entirely true and helpful to the public.

“There is no such thing as a justifiable secret in a political campaign,” said Thompson. “In an age where political campaigns maintain the power to deceive without meaningful scrutiny from traditional media, the need for undercover investigative journalism has never been greater.”

The Supreme Court quoted James Madison in New York Times v. Sullivan for the proposition that “the censorial power is in the people over the Government, and not in the Government over the people.”

Read the 1851 Center’s Complaint HERE.

Read the 1851 Center’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction HERE.

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The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law is a nonprofit, nonpartisan legal center dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of Ohioans from government abuse. The 1851 Center litigates constitutional issues related to property rights, regulation, taxation, and searches and seizures.

Ohio cities violate property rights by using zoning to prohibit more than three unrelated people from living in the same home

Bowling Green, OH – A federal court late Friday, agreeing with arguments made by the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, held that an Ohio city’s zoning ordinance restricting homes to occupancy by no more than three unrelated adults violates the Ohio Constitution’s greater protection of private property rights.

The 1851 Center’s victory against the City of Bowling Green comes on behalf of 23 Bowling Green landlords and three student tenants threatened with eviction. The landlords own over 161 homes that until the ruling, despite having four or more bedrooms and ample parking, could not be occupied by more than three unrelated people.

“In Ohio, many zoning regulations needlessly interfere with private property rights, drive up the cost of living, fail to accomplish their proclaimed purposes, and are used as political weapons – often to benefit special interests or suppress disfavored minorities. This regulation is no different,” said 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson. “However, there is no coherent reason why four graduate students or even the  Golden Girls should be prohibited from occupying a large six-bedroom house, even as an unruly family of eight lives in a smaller home next door.”

The 13-page ruling by Judge James R. Knepp of the Northern District Ohio firmly rejects any notion that local zoning ordinances can be used to trample private property rights and equal protection, while embracing the Ohio Constitution’s protection of property and equality at a higher level than the federal constitution.

Specifically, in observing that an unlimited number of unruly, but barely-related family members could live together while a peaceful collection of students or even senior citizens could not, the court ruled as follows:

  • “[U]nder the Ohio Constitution, private property rights are fundamental rights to be strongly protected, such that “homeowners have a constitutionally protected property interest in running their residential leasing businesses free from unreasonable and arbitrary interference from the government” and “the free use of property is guaranteed by the Ohio Constitution.”
  • “[T]he City’s dwelling limit only focuses on the type of relationship between those living together in a home, and as such, is both over- and under-inclusive with respect to either of these interests. The Court thus concludes the dwelling limit is an “unreasonable and arbitrary” restriction on the issue of property.”
  • “[T]he limit is arbitrary, unduly oppressive, fails to substantially advance the avowed government interests of reducing population density or targeting specific issues with college-aged inhabitants, and treats similarly-situated homeowners and tenants differently without any justifiable basis. Consequently, the Court finds the dwelling limit is unconstitutional, as applied, and therefore unenforceable.”

Judge Knepp’s decision paves the way for overcoming overly-restrictive zoning regulations, and especially those, common in Ohio cities and college towns, that forbid unrelated adults from living together.

The 1851 Center draws a distinction between zoning regulations that prohibit homeowners from using their property to directly inflict harm on others and regulations simply aimed at social engineering.

“This regulation is aimed at government-controlled social engineering, i.e. keeping ‘the wrong kind of people’ out of certain neighborhoods, rather than land use. Unruly behavior should be directly regulated, rather than regulated on the basis of the relationships between those who live together,” added Thompson.  “Ohioans should not be forced to pay higher rent or endure longer commutes due to such arbitrary regulations.”

The case was brought in cooperation with Andrew Mayle of Mayle Law, and supported by an amicus brief from the Ohio Association of Realtors.

Read the Court’s Order HERE .

Read the 1851 Center’s Motion for Summary Judgment HERE .

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The  1851 Center for Constitutional Law is a non-profit, non-partisan legal center dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of Ohioans from government abuse. The 1851 Center litigates constitutional issues related to property rights, regulation, taxation, and search and seizures.

1851 Center spearheads legal action to protect citizens from municipal “ticket taxes” on arts and entertainment that force funding of private art

Columbus, OH – The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law today moved to protect Ohioans from special city taxes on tickets to art, theater, movie, sports and other performances.

The non-profit legal center leads a broad coalition business owners and residents seeking to prohibited so-called “ticket taxes” through both a municipal charter amendment and targeted public-interest litigation.

In December 2018, Columbus City Council politicians imposed a five percent “admissions tax,” on art, entertainment, and event tickets effective July 1. The city’s ordinance directs all revenue collected from this tax to the privately-run Greater Columbus Arts Council.

“Funding private art and the operations of private art corporations is neither an essential nor proper function of government,” said 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson. “It is especially troubling when a city already awash in tax revenue funds purely-private causes and interests by imposing even higher taxes on residents,” explained 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson.

The charter amendment, drafted by the 1851 Center, will amend the Columbus Charter to provide “No person shall be compelled to pay, directly or indirectly, any tax or fee to gain entrance to any performance, place, association, or event in the City of Columbus.”  Petitions must submit 11,030 valid signatures by July 3 to place the amendment on the November ballot.

The 1851 Center has also served city hall with a taxpayer demand letter on behalf of Columbus taxpayers and businesses who will be subject to the tax. If the City fails to take action within 30 days, the 1851 Center will sue on behalf of these businesses and taxpayers. The demand letter lays out the legal case against taxing some to fund the private art and art corporations of others:

  • As the Supreme Court recently explained in Janus v. AFSCME, forcing citizens to fund the private political and “artistic” speech of a purely private corporation unconstitutionally compels citizens to support objectionable private speech.
  • Taxing citizens to expressly fund a private corporation, with no strings attached, “raises money for a corporation,” which violates Article VIII of the Ohio Constitution.
  • Taxing private expression that government disfavors, while exempting politically-connected special interests, only to use the funds to prop up competing private expression that government favors violates the both equal protection and freedom of expression guarantees.

“It’s inappropriate for government to pick winners and losers by taxing expression it views as too pedestrian, such as concerts, movies, and sports, to prop up sometimes-competing elitist artistic expression,” added Thompson. “People, not politicians or special interests, should assess and determine the value and worth of art.”

Read the 1851 Center’s Taxpayer Demand Letter HERE.

Read the 1851 Center’s proposed Charter Amendment forbidding “Admissions Taxes” HERE.

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