Residents wait in line to vote at an early voting site

Residents wait in line to vote at an early voting site on October 2, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois.

(Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Billionaire-Funded Group Attacking Direct Democracy Across US

The Foundation for Government Accountability, which aims to make ballot initiatives harder to pass, is being bankrolled by Illinois billionaire Richard Uihlein.

When Ohio voters go to the polls in August for a special election to decide on the threshold needed to pass a constitutional referendum, they will be voting on whether to weaken direct democracy in their own state—but the push to do so is coming in large part from a Florida-based right-wing group whose biggest donor is Illinois billionaire Richard Uihlein.

As The Guardian reported Thursday, the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) originally focused its efforts on influencing state policy but in recent months has testified, issued legal memos, and posted on social media about proposals in a number of states to raise the threshold needed to amend state constitutions by referendum.

Uihlein, a key promoter and funder of lies about the 2020 presidential election, has donated $17.6 million to FGA since 2014, contributing to its efforts regarding ballot initiatives as well as its attempts to block ranked-choice voting in states and towns and ban outside financial support for under-resourced election offices.

In Ohio, Arkansas, South Dakota, and other states the FGA has promoted the passage of requirements for a supermajority—rather than a simple majority—to enact ballot initiatives. In Ohio, Republican legislators have pushed for a 60% majority to amend the state constitution, with the GOP aiming to impose the new rules before the November election in order to thwart the passage of an amendment codifying abortion rights in the state.

FGA and its lobbying arm, the Opportunity Solutions Project (OSP), have lobbied lawmakers, testified, and taken other steps to promote the passage of supermajority requirements in at least four states, The Guardian reported.

"Claims about protecting our constitution from outside influence fall flat when the effort is itself supported by more than $1 million of ads paid for by Illinois billionaire Richard Uihlein."

When Republicans in Ohio first proposed the new voting threshold requirement, the only person who testified in favor of the rule was a representative of the OSP. The group argued that the supermajority requirement would "make it more difficult for out-of-state billionaires and dark money groups," a claim that the editorial board of the Dayton Daily News found dubious earlier this month as it called on voters to oppose the measure in the August election.

"Claims about protecting our constitution from outside influence fall flat when the effort is itself supported by more than $1 million of ads paid for by Illinois billionaire Richard Uihlein," wrote the board.

Uihlein donated $1.1 million in the last year to the Save Our Constitution PAC, whose ads called on state lawmakers to support a higher threshold requirement to change the state constitution.

The Statehouse News Bureau in Ohio reported in April that "Uihlein's big donation is just the first installment in the effort to push the amendment," suggesting the billionaire plans to spend more ahead of the August special election.

The Guardian noted that despite Uihlein's bankrolling of FGA and OSP, the organizations have not been successful in all its efforts to gut direct democracy.

OSP published an op-ed, a fact sheet, and social media content calling for the passage last year of Issue 2, which would have required all ballot initiatives to garner at least 60% of the vote to pass. The group spent at least $65,000 on the campaign, but Arkansas voters rejected the measure by 19 percentage points.

The Dayton Daily News editorial board advised Ohioans to do the same last week.

"Very simply, Issue 1 [in the August special election] is about taking power away from you," wrote the board. "Don't disarm yourselves of the 'greatest tools democracy ever had.'"

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