After more than two dozen failures at the local level in Ohio, the Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense (CELDF) recently announced plans to launch a statewide initiative petition for two Ohio constitutional amendments. The ultimate goal is to alter state law to allow local fracking bans (among other extreme objectives). While the proposed so-called “Ohio Community Rights Amendment” and the “Initiative and Referendum Amendment for Counties and Townships” garnered 1,000 signatures and was certified by the Ohio’s Attorney General, the road to a statewide ballot measure includes passing muster with the Ohio Ballot Board and would require at least 305,591 Ohio voter signatures to qualify. In other words, CELDF is on step two of the 28 total steps it will take implement an actual statewide citizens-initiated constitutional amendment. In addition, despite what CELDF claimed in a press release announcing the decision this week, the group has had nothing but failures in other “similar” attempts in other states (a fact most media outlets failed to note).
With that said, here are the facts of the matter (to date):
When was the petition submitted and certified? And how does that process work?
On Nov. 17, CELDF submitted two petitions for state constitutional amendment to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who certified the signatures on Nov. 27. These were the first and second steps in a very long process that is nowhere near complete. While CELDF would have you believe their so-called ballot measure will hit the masses tomorrow, 26 steps in the process remain leading up to the July deadline, according to the Ohio Secretary of State’s website. Notably, more than 50 percent of efforts that clear the Ohio Attorney General’s first two steps do not make it to the ballot.
What do the petitions actually say?
The Ohio Community Rights Amendment initiative petition states as follows:
This amendment secures the right of local, community self-government for the people of Ohio by guaranteeing local authority to enact laws to protect unalienable rights and the health, safety and welfare of community members and natural ecosystems, free from state preemption or corporate interference. This right includes the power of each Ohioan to act collectively through his or her local government to alter, amend or abolish systems of law and government when they fail to protect or when they directly or indirectly violate the unalienable rights and the health, safety and welfare of community members and natural ecosystems.
Following adoption of this proposed amendment, the right of local community self-government will be exercised through the adoption of county and municipal laws either directly by the people of those communities through the initiative process or by their local elected representatives on behalf of the people of the community. Under this amendment, State laws won’t have the power or authority to preempt or overturn local laws enacted to protect the rights of community members and the local ecosystem. Claimed corporate “rights” will not be able to override the rights protected by the exercise of the right of local community self-government. Local laws enacted pursuant to this amendment will not be valid if they violate or diminish the rights of natural persons or ecosystems, nor will they be valid if they reduce established protections in law for natural persons or ecosystems.
The Initiative and Referendum Amendment for Counties and Townships initiative petition states as follows:
This amendment establishes a right of initiative and referendum powers to residents of counties and townships, just as residents in Ohio municipalities have possessed since 1912.
Has a political action committee been filed for this effort?
No. Not at this time. This is significant because any legitimate effort to actually launch a statewide campaign would include a campaign committee.
Have there been any other statewide ballot initiatives in other states where CELDF has been successful?
No. While CELDF is aggressively trying to mislead Ohio media and the public that they have made headway “advancing” what they call “similar efforts” in other states, that’s simply not true. CELDF’s similar efforts in both New Hampshire and Colorado failed, and they only recently made attempts to implement similar initiatives in other states.
And let’s not forget they have been failing for years in Ohio at the local level.
Who’s behind this measure?
The Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is entirely behind this effort.
Who funds CELDF?
CELDF is the very definition of “big money.” Its coffers swelled from $1.6 million in 2014 to $2.5 million in 2015, and spent almost a million dollars on lobbying and grassroots efforts, as a result of the more than $3.4 million the group has raised over the past few years. According to its latest tax filing, the organization has seen its fundraising increase by more than 73 percent since 2009. However, new reports indicate there may be millions more in dark money pouring into its coffers.
What does the language of the petitions actually mean?
The language of the petition is extremely broad, and CELDF itself said in its recent press release, “This goes beyond fossil fuel industries.” Indeed it does. And in fact, the constitutional amendment, if passed, would literally mean that a local law (on any issue) would supersede state law. In other words, local townships or cities could pass laws to prohibit certain activities that are protected by state laws, as Susan Beiersdorfer, activist and author of these amendment petitions, has admitted:
“This is a movement about saying we, the people, in the cities of Youngstown can decide what industries come in here.”
That’s right: if the city decides it doesn’t like your business, you’re out of business!
Beiersdorfer’s statement is certainly consistent with CELDF’s overarching mission to ban any kind of industry it doesn’t like, as stated by CELDF founder, Thomas Linzey,
“If you are going to put all that work into a ballot initiative, why not do a ballot initiative that bans all finance companies in New York City from funding new projects that exacerbate climate change? Why not do something real…why not do something real…cause people are saying to themselves, ‘it would be illegal, it would be unlawful, it would be unconstitutional, because you are taking their property’ well..(expletive), it’s time.”
If that’s not enough, take a look at this meeting where CELDF organizer Ben Price and his colleagues explain how they’d like things to run:
Meeting attendee: “Ben was nice enough to say we’re gonna make decisions in here that the rest of the community will just have to live with.”
Ben Price: “It’s how it’s done!”
Meeting attendee: “We laugh about it, but sadly it’s how it’s done.”
After six consecutive CELDF failures in Youngstown, one would think that voters have spoken on this issue enough. As the Youngstown Vindicator rightfully pointed out,
“A reasonable person — with emphasis on the word reasonable— would conclude, therefore, that the outcome of the general election should be the final word on this self-serving issue. After all, the people have spoken, over and over. But the Beiersdorfers and others, who are determined to save us from ourselves, continue to believe they represent a majority of the residents of the city — despite evidence to the contrary.”
But CELDF has proven to be anything but reasonable. And it is important for Ohio voters to know that the group’s lack of rationality is surpassed only by its desire to ban fracking and other business activity essential to Ohio’s economy.