Activist and organizer Sean Nestor signs a banner during the Lake Erie Bill of Rights election watch party at Michael’s Bar & Grill in Toledo on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019.
Tom Henry | Apr 9, 2019
It wasn’t the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation that bankrolled the failed effort to defeat Toledo’s Lake Erie Bill of Rights at the ballot box on Feb. 26: It was Houston-based BP Corp. North America Inc.
The first and only campaign finance report filed with the Lucas County Board of Elections by the Toledo Jobs and Growth Coalition show nearly all of its funding came from a $302,000 BP Corp. North America donation made via a wire transfer on Feb. 12.
BP Corp. North America is affiliated with Houston-based BP America Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of one of the world’s largest oil companies, London-based BP, formerly known as British Petroleum. The corporation owns and operates the BP-Husky Toledo Refinery in Oregon.
The activist group behind the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, Toledoans for Safe Water, recently obtained the coalition’s finance report. In it, the coalition cited a war chest of $313,205, with BP providing all monetary contributions except for $3,705 from CrossRoads Media LLC. The Toledo Jobs and Growth Coalition also cited $7,500 in in-kind contributions.
The report said the coalition’s expenses came to $305,645, of which $122,352 went to a company called New Troy Strategies for campaign outreach and $10,000 went to Yellowstone Associates for consulting.
Both are Virginia-based companies registered to former Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter, Mary Cheney, according to information Toledoans for Safe Water said it has obtained from the Virginia Secretary of State’s office. Portions of that state office’s website were not working Tuesday.
Another $10,000 for consulting went to Shumaker Advisors Ohio, LLC. The company’s website lists former Ohio lawmaker and current Lucas County Republican Party Chairman Mark Wagoner as its founder.
Columbus-based Battleground Strategies LLC received $25,000 for consulting, too.
Its president, Brandon Lynaugh, identified himself as Toledo Jobs and Growth Coalition’s treasurer during the campaign, but gave few statements, offered no interviews, and never confirmed if there were other members of that political action group. He also granted no requests to speak with any that existed.
His firm’s website claims it has won more than 90 percent of the campaigns it has managed.
On Tuesday, Mr. Lynaugh deferred a request for an interview to BP America’s media affairs director, Michael Abendhoff.
Mr. Abendhoff said in a prepared statement that BP “believes a healthy Lake Erie is important to the region and to our employees who live and work along its shores.”
“That’s why we support the rigorous environmental permitting already in place and strong enforcement of existing laws to help protect this precious natural resource,” Mr. Abendhoff said.
“We opposed the Lake Erie Bill of Rights because it undercuts those existing laws and allows individuals to file lawsuits against businesses that are operating properly under state or federally approved permits,” his statement continued. “While we did not support this specific measure, BP remains committed to working with regional and state elected officials on Lake Erie issues and to a strong permitting process that protects this important resource for generations to come.”
In a special election that drew only about 9 percent of Toledo’s registered voters, the citizen-led Lake Erie Bill of Rights referendum passed by a 61-39 margin.
Toledoans for Safe Water organizer Markie Miller took exception throughout the campaign to what she and others described as biting, misleading, unfair, and negative advertising. The BP-funded opponents claimed in radio and social media ads that the Lake Erie Bill of Rights would drive up costs, ruin businesses, kill investment opportunities, and even hurt area churches — all while offering no explanation. None of that, proponents claimed, was true.
The ad campaign cited outside influences, which also drew the ire of Ms. Miller and her group’s supporters.
The Lake Erie Bill of Rights is modeled after “rights to nature” laws promoted by the Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund in at least 10 states and in Nepal, India, Cameroon, Colombia, and Australia, among other countries.
But supporters have said their referendum was a grassroots campaign executed by area residents, not outsiders.
Now, they accuse their critics of relying on outside influences from London, Houston, Virginia, and Columbus.
Ms. Miller said voters need to remember to cast ballots in their best interests “so that the laws that we live by are the ones that reflect our values, not those of industry.”
Julian Mack, another Toledoans for Safe Water member, agreed.
“It felt like we had a noble cause and were fighting for what is right for our community,” Mr. Mack said. “I’m glad the voters of Toledo recognized a lie when they saw it and that they weren’t swayed by money and politics this time. And I think it underlines the nobility of our cause.”
Toledoans for Safe Water, which spent $5,899 on its campaign, was outgunned by nearly $50 for every dollar it spent.
Some $12,708 of BP’s donation was returned because it wasn’t spent.
Although the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation didn’t contribute money to the campaign, it was one of 10 major farm groups that filed papers with the Ohio Supreme Court last fall trying to keep the measure off the ballot.
And literally hours after voters approved the measure in late February, Drewes Farms Partnership of Custar, Ohio, filed a federal lawsuit asking for the successful ballot initiative to be thrown out on the grounds it is “unconstitutional and unlawful.”
Ms. Miller and another Toledoans for Safe Water member, Crystal Jankowski, have been asked to address the United Nations on April 22.