By Maggie Thurber | for Ohio Watchdog
Individuals collecting signatures to put a repeal of Ohio’s Internet sweepstakes ban on the ballot claim they’re being harassed by “corporate casino interests.”
The Committee to Protect Ohio Jobs recently issued a press release noting that police reports were filed in Columbus, Cleveland and Toledo “because people hired by the corporate casino interests to oppose the referendum are physically blocking Ohioans who want to sign and threatening signature gatherers.”
In Columbus, a referendum supporter was allegedly run off the road. In another incident, a signature gatherer received a temporary civil protection order against Matthew Cane, alleging that he sat outside her place of employment every day, followed her when she left her office and almost hit the back of her company van, scaring her and her passengers. At a hearing on the matter today in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, the temporary protection order was withdrawn and the case dismissed without further action.
In Toledo, “two vehicles with four individuals in each were parked outside our office in our private lot observing our office and activity,” an internal report states. “When the Deputy Director left for the day, one of the vehicles (white Chevy Malibu) followed him for approximately one mile while video recording him.”
The same Malibu was back the next day, along with another vehicle, and the people inside again allegedly followed signature gatherers when they left the building. Toledo Police were called, and they told the vehicles’ occupants to leave and not follow the individuals anymore, according to the report.
Matt Dole, spokesman for the Committee to Protect Ohio Jobs, said the group has no evidence that Ohio’s casino owners are to blame, but believe they’re the logical culprit.
“We believe that the corporate casino interests are paying for the FieldWorks operatives who are displaying aggressive and threatening behavior,” he said. “With 80 percent of Ohioans opposing the ban of Internet sweepstakes cafes, the casino interests are the only group with means who are against allowing Ohioans to exercise their right for citizen referendum.”
FieldWorks, headquartered in Washington, D.C., specializes in canvassing and ballot initiatives. Their client list mentions various unions and Democratic Party organizations. In Ohio, they list Ohio Learn and Earn and Ohioans for Healthy Families as clients.
The Ohio Learn and Earn Committee backed Issue 3, which legalized gambling in Ohio. Ohioans for Healthy Families was a temporary group formed in 2007 to support paid sick days for all workers in the state.
While Ohioans Against Illegal Gambling is not listed as a client, Carlo LoParo of Strategic Public Partners and a spokesman for the group, acknowledged they hired FieldWorks to coordinate educational efforts.
“Specifically, they are ensuring all of our team members operate in a manner that is respectful of the petition process while they offer facts about the referendum effort,” LoParo said. “We are simply giving voters more information. We are not blocking the petition gathering effort.”
LoParo also said referendum seekers are not accurately describing the petitions to voters.
“We think voters have a right to know the facts about what Internet cafe operatives are asking them to sign,” he said. “To date, Internet cafe supporters have been extremely deceptive in their explanation to voters. These petitions do not legalize Internet cafes nor do they legitimize the illegal gambling occurring at these establishments.”
Referendum supporters have until Sept. 3 to submit enough signatures to halt implementation of the ban until voters can decide the issue at the November 2014 general election.
Should the Internet café operators collect enough signatures, put the referendum on the ballot and win voter approval, the amendment to S.B. 141 would still make the businesses illegal. Additionally, because S.B. 141 has an emergency clause, it is not subject to a referendum and will take effect immediately upon signature by the governor.