Citizens for Tax Reform v. Deters
Citizens for Tax Reform v. Deters is a court case filed on April 1, 2005 in the United States District Court for Ohio seeking to overturn a new Ohio law that forbade paying petitioners by the signature. In her ruling on the case, issued on November 27, 2006, United States District Court Judge Susan Dlott found that Ohio's law was an unconstitutional abridgement of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and enjoined the state from enforcing it. Dlott's decision was appealed by the Ohio Secretary of State to the Sixth Circuit; her ruling was upheld. In late May 2008, Ohio announced that it would seek a U.S. Supreme Court review of this decision.
The defendants in the case, Joseph Deters and Matthias Heck, were named in their official capacities as enforcers of the law. Deters was the prosecuting attorney for Hamilton County, Ohio and Heck was the prosecuting attorney for Montgomery County, Ohio.
In the Court’s decision, Judge Dlott relied on evidence presented by professional signature-gathering companies that indicated a prohibition on “per-signature” compensation would increase the costs and the time associated with obtaining the number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot. The Court also found that the State’s evidence of fraud in certain petition efforts did not establish the fraud was caused by the method of payment to circulators. Thus, the Court held that the statute did not justify the burden placed on the initiative proponents’ core political speech rights.
On December 27, 2006, the State of Ohio appealed the federal trial court's decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth District. The hearing in the appeal was held on November 30, 2007 in front of Judges Julia Gibbons, David McKeague and Eugene Siler.
According to Richard Winger, Ohio has declared that if it loses its appeal to the 6th Circuit, it will ask for review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The case arose out of an attempt of Citizens for Tax Reform, an Ohio political advocacy group, to quality a citizen initiative for the 2005 general election ballot in that state. They contracted with Arno Political Consultants, a professional petition drive management company to pay $1.70 per signature for 450,000 signatures. This contract was entered into prior to the contested law taking effect. Once the law took effect, the petition drive management company notified CTR that they could no longer collect signatures at the specified rate and that, indeed, they would require an additional $300,000 to complete the drive.
On March 19, 2005, Judge Sandra Beckwith issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the state of Ohio, enjoining the enforcement of the state's ban on payment-per-signature. The TRO was extended multiple times, until the hearing before Judge Dlott, at which time Dlott invalidated Ohio's law as unconstitutional.
Testimony from petition drive managers
In the trial, Mike Arno testified that he would need to charge CTR considerably more on a time-and-materials basis with the law in effect than he would need to charge if the law were not in effect.
Government case relies on previous instances of fraud
In unsuccessfully making its case, the government of Ohio relied on evidence of fraud from the 2004 petition drive that took place in Ohio to qualify Ralph Nader for the ballot. Judge Dlott criticized this evidence as not proving that the fraud was caused by the method of paying circulators by the signature.
Judge Dlott also rejected the value of evidence presented in the case by John Lindback, the Director of the Election Division for the Oregon Secretary of State. Judge Dlott found that the materials presented by Lindback are "almost devoid of factual findings" and overall found that the Lindback exhibits "are not probative even to the extent that they are admissible".
- History of restrictions on paid circulators
- Prete v. Bradbury
- Ohio Initiative and Referendum Law
- Laws governing petition circulators