Dark Money Group Backing DeWine Gun Control Measures

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine hasn’t had much luck pushing his gun control legislation through the statehouse. In fact, the last time lawmakers discussed the STRONG Ohio legislation was in December, and the Cleveland Plain-Dealer ran a story just a couple of weeks ago that featured several non-committal quotes from Republican leadership in both the House and the Senate.

Now the Plain-Dealer is reporting that a new group called Standing By Ohio has launched a campaign aimed at five Republican state senators to get them to start backing the legislation, and the group appears to have ties to DeWine and other Republicans in the state.

Standing By Ohio is organized as a 501C(4) organization, and bears the hallmarks of a “dark money” group that’s designed to conceal its financial supporters. James E. Tyrelll III, a Washington, D.C. attorney who specializes in political nonprofit law, filed paperwork in Virginia registering the group on Aug. 20. He did not immediately return a message seeking comment. As a 501C(4), the group is allowed to engage in political activity, as long as it’s not the majority of its activities, and it’s not required to disclose its donors.

The group has spent $8,000 on Facebook ads, with different versions of the ads naming five Republican state senators — Sens. Lou Blessing, Andy Brenner, Stephen Huffman, Theresa Gavarone and Bob Hackett, according to the social media platform’s ad transparency portal. A contact phone number the group provided to Facebook went straight to a message saying its voicemail hadn’t been set up.

The group’s website is hosted on an IP address owned by Majority Strategies, a major GOP political firm with close ties to DeWine and other Ohio Republicans. A company official didn’t immediately return a message.

Dan Tierney, a DeWine spokesman, said the governor is aware of Standing By Ohio’s ads but hasn’t seen them.

“It’s a bill that will save lives in Ohio. He obviously supports the bill, and wants others to support the bill as well,” he said.

The problem for Gov. DeWine is that his proposals are flawed. Look, I give the governor some credit for not simply pushing for universal background checks and a red flag law. I appreciate the fact that he and Lt. Governor Jon Husted wanted buy-in from gun owners, and actually listened to what they have to say. None of that changes the fact that what the governor came up with in terms of background checks on private sales is awfully close to universal background checks by another name.

The bill also creates a new system for background checks for private gun sales and transfers. The “seller protection certificate” would not create a requirement for a background check for private gun sales, but Husted said it would create “an easy way for buyers to prove they are legally allowed to own a gun and to give private sellers peace of mind and a responsible way to sell a gun to someone who they may not know.”

Husted said potential buyers can request background checks from sheriffs’ offices, which can issue a “seller protection certificate” good for 90 days. That certificate or a valid concealed carry weapons permit can be presented to private sellers as proof they’ve passed a background check.

Husted said private sellers won’t have to require sellers to have that certificate, but will have an incentive to use the system – there’s a penalty of up to three years in prison for selling a gun to a criminal.

“Under this plan, the excuse ‘I didn’t know he was a bad guy’ will no longer work in the state of Ohio. We are making it easy for private sellers to act responsibly and have peace of mind. We create a solution, an incentive, and a consequence,” Husted said.

Not only is there a penalty of up to three years in prison, but the proposal lowers the standard to convict someone of the crime. That in turn makes it a non-starter among gun owners, who rightfully see this as imposing a requirement through coercion, if not force of law.

As for DeWine’s version of a red flag law, I think it’s far better than what we’ve seen proposed in places like Virginia, but some lawmakers may still have due process concerns, while others may be worried about the cost of the proposal.

The proposal in this bill is being called an “enhanced safety protection order”. It’s built on the existing “pink slip” law, which allows for people assessed by mental health experts in a psychiatric facility.  Husted said this would add substance abuse as a reason for allows a person to be pink slipped, along with mental illness. And it would also require anyone who is deemed to be a danger to themselves or others to surrender their weapons.

I have no doubt that adding substance abuse to the list of qualifying factors for a civil commitment could change and save lives, but I also suspect that in Ohio, where the opioid overdose death rate is one of the highest in the nation, the state’s mental health system could be easily and almost immediately overwhelmed if DeWine’s proposal becomes law. And that doesn’t address the due process concerns with the bill, or the fear that the legislation could impose a lifetime prohibition on gun ownership for anyone subject to what’s supposed to be a temporary surrender of their firearms.

The presence of the dark money group is a clear indication that DeWine is ready to play hardball with his fellow Republicans in the legislature. The real test will be if the ads generate any real heat for the targeted state senators, or if their constituents respond to the news by encouraging them to stand strong in defense of their Second Amendment rights.