Youngstown residents propose law to prohibit outside campaign spending

“It’s time to take back our democracy”


Tish O’Dell, Ohio Community Organizer

YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO: Frustrated by the influence of outside money on local elections, community members in Youngstown are kicking off their petition campaign for a “free and fair elections” law. The measure – known as the Peoples’ Bill of Rights for Fair Elections and Access to Local Government – prohibits campaign contributions from outside individuals and corporations. Specifically:

“Corporations, labor unions, political action committees, political parties, and all other campaign funding entities shall be prohibited from donating to local candidate and issue campaigns or spending money to influence the outcome of any ballot measure or candidate, as those contributions unfairly influence electoral outcomes and undermine the peoples’ right to fair elections.”

In addition, the proposed law – which applies to both candidate and ballot measure campaigns – would establish contribution limits.

The measure was drafted by community members with assistance from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF).

The proposed law follows a national election in which corporate and deep-pocketed donors spent millions of dollars to influence voters in the swing-state of Ohio. As well, it comes after years in which Youngstown residents have been outspent 50-to-1 by the oil and gas industry and their allies. Those corporate interests successfully sought to influence voters to vote against local fracking bans.

Youngstown is not alone in facing overwhelming outside influence in local elections. Across the country, corporate funds pour into communities who assert their democratic rights to make local governing decisions.

For example, in Coos County, OR, residents are voting May 16th on a measure to stop a proposed liquid natural gas (LNG) export terminal and pipeline. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are funneling into the opposition’s “vote no” campaign, outspending residents 40:1.

In Spokane, WA, when residents proposed a living wage initiative in 2015, the Chamber of Commerce and other corporate funds helped defeat the measure, outspending supporters 10-1.

Over the past several years, Youngstown residents have proposed and qualified six amendments to the city charter to ban fracking and its waste. Each time outside pro-industry dollars helped to successfully defeat the measures.

Susie Beiersdorfer is with the Youngstown Community Bill of Rights Committee, which proposed the elections initiative. She stated, “It’s time to take back our democracy from corporations and wealthy outside interests.”

She explained, “We’ve come to understand that we don’t have a fracking problem. We have a democracy problem. When we witnessed corporate money pouring in from outside Youngstown to defeat our local efforts to protect our water from fracking, we realized we needed to make a change in our elections, to protect our basic democratic rights.”

CELDF’s Ohio Community Organizer, Tish O’Dell, stated, “Democracy, which includes our elections, is supposed to be of and by ‘we the people’ not ‘we the corporations.’”

O’Dell added, “Youngstown residents are leading the way in Ohio and across the country. They know we live under an unjust structure of law and government. They witnessed first-hand the inequity of our election laws. We live in a ‘corporate state’ – and Youngstown residents are taking a significant step to change that.”

Ohio Communities Part of Growing Movement

Ohio residents are advancing Community Rights as part of the broader Community Rights Movement building across the United States, where other localities are advancing similar measures to establish and protect their rights to a healthy climate, clean air and water, and the right to local community self-government.

Local communities and state Community Rights Networks are partnering with CELDF to advance these fundamental democratic and environmental rights. They are working with CELDF to establish community rights and the rights of nature in law, and prohibit extraction, fracking, factory farming, water privatization, and other industrial activities as violations of those rights. Communities are joining together within and across states, working with CELDF to advance systemic change – recognizing our existing system of law and governance as inherently undemocratic and unsustainable.

About CELDF — Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is a non-profit, public interest law firm providing free and affordable legal services to communities facing threats to their local environment, local agriculture, local economy, and quality of life. Its mission is to build sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government and the rights of nature.

Additional Information

For additional information, contact CELDF at To learn about the Ohio Community Rights Network, visit To learn about the Community Rights Movement, visit Follow us on Facebook at and Twitter @celdf.

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