Complaint accuses Ohio’s top election official of improperly stumping for Issue 1

Ohio Secretary of State and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Frank LaRose is being accused by the Libertarian Party of Ohio of violating of the federal Hatch Act in connection with the secretary’s extensive support of Issue 1.

A formal complaint was filed with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel on Monday and alleges that LaRose “has used and is using his office and official authority to influence, interfere with and affect an Ohio election scheduled on August 8, 2023 that will decide whether to add what is known as ‘Issue 1′ to Ohio’s Constitution.”

On behalf of the Libertarian Party of Ohio, attorney Mark Brown wrote that LaRose’s campaigning on Issue 1 violated the Hatch Act, a longstanding federal law that, according to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel website, “restricts the political activity of individuals principally employed by state, District of Columbia, or local executive agencies and who work in connection with programs financed in whole or in part by federal loans or grants.”

Rob Nichols, spokesperson for the Secretary of State, declined to comment on the complaint and instead referred the Dayton Daily News to Ben Kindel, a spokesperson for LaRose’s U.S. Senate campaign.

“It’s a cheap publicity stunt by Frank’s political opponents,” Kindel said in an email. “They know he’s making great progress in convincing Ohioans to vote yes on Issue 1, and they’re trying to intimidate him. Frank isn’t one to back down from a fight.”

In the complaint, Brown argues that LaRose is subject to the Hatch Act inherently due to his position as Ohio’s top elections officer and specifically because the office of the Ohio Secretary of State is responsible for administering federal election funds received through the Help America Vote Act.

Brown wrote in his complaint that LaRose’s advocacy for Issue 1 — which includes over 60 pro-Issue 1 events, participation in a televised debate encouraging Ohioans to vote “yes” on Aug. 8, and frequent pro-Issue 1 social media posts from an account that he often uses in an official capacity — points to a “plain violation” of the Hatch Act.

“The federal Hatch Act prohibits LaRose from using his office, ‘official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election,’” Brown wrote. “The record reflects that he has done so with the August 8, 2023 special election. He continues to do so. His official action is not protected by the First Amendment. He is in plain violation of the federal Hatch Act.”

In a release announcing the filing, the Libertarian Party of Ohio touched on a previous disagreement between the party and the secretary dating back to a 2013 vote LaRose made as a state senator that made it harder for minor political party candidates to get on the ballot in Ohio.

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