Concerns raised over Ohio Sec. of State Frank LaRose’s ethics before contentious August election
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose. Photo by WEWS.
Voting rights advocates are raising concerns about Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s involvement in the ballot issue he is supporting ahead of the election he is overseeing.
LaRose has announced his U.S. Senate campaign bid, another task on his already-busy plate.
He is in charge of running Ohio’s elections, with a contentious special election coming this August. Voting rights advocates say instead of educating voters, LaRose is campaigning to help one side’s ballot issue.
“We don’t expect, especially this close to the election, for the secretary of state to be out there as the chief cheerleader of Issue One,” said Catherine Turcer with Common Cause Ohio.
LaRose has been out for months campaigning for Issue 1, the proposal he created that would make it more difficult to amend the Ohio Constitution. Turcer acknowledged that politicians are allowed to speak, but says this raises questions about the secretary’s ethics.
“If I’m his lawyer, I would argue that there’s no explicit rule against it,” Case Western Reserve University elections law professor Atiba Ellis said.
The nonpartisan expert explains that while it may seem like a conflict to choose a side and campaign on an issue you are overseeing, the secretary’s First Amendment right allows him to canvas.
Many other secretaries of state have sought higher offices, but in the past two decades, only one proposed and actively campaigned for a ballot issue. However, Republican Ken Blackwell’s tax initiative didn’t make the ballot, so the advocacy stopped well before the election.
“Just because there might be decades-old precedent for a secretary of state to do this doesn’t necessarily make it right or wipe [it] away in the appearance of impropriety,” Ellis said.
Now with the U.S. Senate campaign announcement, Democrats argue Issue 1 provides a path for LaRose to restrict abortion access in November, giving him more of a platform for the Senate race.
“There are a lot of good reasons to support Issue 1 — preventing a radical abortion amendment this fall is just one of them,” LaRose told WEWS’s John Kosich.
LaRose denied that raising the threshold for a constitutional amendment to pass was solely about abortion, and rather many so-called “leftist” issues like raising the minimum wage. But in May, the secretary told supporters this August election was “100%” about abortion.
“It’s 100% about keeping a radical pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution,” LaRose said in a raw video leaked to OCJ/WEWS.
OCJ/WEWS’s Morgan Trau reached out to the secretary to ask whether he thought campaigning for Issue 1 was a conflict of interest, but he did not respond.
“You don’t want to make voters question whether you are focused specifically on administering elections or whether you have a dog in the show,” Turcer added.
This article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.
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