FILE - Campaign petition drive ballot initiative

An anti-bailout nonprofit is suing the Ohio secretary of state’s office over disclosure requirements for petition circulators.

Ohio law requires that any person involved in circulating petitions for a ballot initiative must disclose his name, address, phone number and email account in a Form 15. Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts is arguing that opponents of their ballot initiative have used this information to find petition circulators and harass them, which is a threat to their First Amendment rights.

Attorney General Dave Yost has launched an investigation into harassment allegations, which includes one person being struck, one person being surrounded by petition opponents, and another person being followed into another town. It is unclear whether the alleged harassers are rogue or whether it is an organized attempt to shut down the petition circulators.

Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts also alleges that petition opponents have illegally bribed petition circulators to leave the campaign and have tried to purchase the signature lists from the petition circulators.

"This administrative requirement only serves to make our petition circulators targets," Chris Finney, an attorney for the petition campaign, said in a news release.

"One of our circulators was called less than an hour after they filed their Form 15 with the State of Ohio and received an offer to quit working for the campaign if they'd take a 'buyout bribe.' Ohioans deserve the right to have their voice heard on this egregious legislation through our referendum campaign. The lawsuit is designed to allow our circulators to exercise their First Amendment rights free from these never seen before tactics."

The petition seeks to reverse a $1 billion bailout for two nuclear energy plants owned by FirstEnergy Solutions. The bailout will be paid for through fee increases on users. Opponents of the referendum effort have also filed a lawsuit against Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, arguing that the fee increase constitutes a tax; taxes are not subject to referendum. Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts has argued that a fee increase is not legally defined as a tax.

To get their proposal on the November 2020 ballots, Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts will need to gather nearly 266,000 signatures.

Staff Writer

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and Ohio for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.