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Billionaire-Funded Group Is Working to Erode Democracy

Many states, especially those in the West, have a form of direct democracy via citizen-initiated referenda. These can often be used as an end run around a gerrymandered state legislature. A Florida group, the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA), funded by billionaire and major Republican donor Dick Uihlein, is trying to fix this bug in the system by making referenda nearly impossible to get on the ballot and even less likely to win. Uihlein is an aggressive election denier and conspiracy theorist. In 2022, he was a major funder to Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano and Nevada SoS candidate Jim Marchant.

In (at least) four states—Arkansas, Missouri, Ohio, and South Dakota—FGA is actively working to make it difficult to get initiatives on the ballot, typically by requiring a certain number of petition signatures in every county. Getting even a few hundred signatures in every conservative, rural county will be a huge hill to climb. It is also trying to raise the threshold for having an initiative approved from 50% + 1 to 60% +1. Together these would doom all but the most popular initiatives, and probably most of those as well. Why have the voters bother their pretty little heads with governing when legislators who have been bought and paid for can do it themselves?

The current fight is in Ohio, where a special election will be held in August to amend the state Constitution to change the procedure as described above. When the amendment was discussed in the state legislature, the FGA lobbyist said that it was needed to prevent dark-money out-of-state billionaires from changing Ohio law. The technical term for this is "chutzpah." Special elections in August tend to be low-turnout affairs, so with enough money behind it, the amendment could pass. If it does, the other states on the list are next. (V)

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