Caitlin Sutherland Testifies on Foreign Dark Money Flooding into State Ballot Initiatives Before the Ohio State Senate  

On Wednesday, February 21, Americans for Public Trust Executive Director Caitlin Sutherland testified before the Ohio State Senate in support of Senate Bill 215, which would prohibit foreign nationals from contributing to state ballot initiatives. Her testimony focused on Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss and the  influence he’s exerted on Ohio politics by funneling millions of dollars to an organization called Sixteen Thirty Fund that spent nearly $15 million on Ohio ballot issue campaigns last year. 

Read excerpts from Caitlin’s testimony below:   


On the political goals of Hansjorg Wyss…Americans should have every confidence that their elections are free from foreign interference and influence. But, unfortunately, a significant source of foreign cash is flowing into politics from a Swiss billionaire named Hansjorg Wyss 


In 2011, Mr. Wyss told a Swiss newspaper that he “never felt the need to become an American.” He claimed he found the process “too complicated,” and instead, preferred to call himself “a spiritual dual citizen.” Despite Wyss’ disinterest in becoming an American citizen, he made it a personal goal to influence American politics. According to a biography written by his own sister, Mr. Wyss’ personal goal is to “(re)interpret the American Constitution in the light of progressive politics.” 


On Wyss’ web of dark money groups…According to the New York Times, Wyss’ “political activism is channeled through a daisy chain of opaque organizations that mask the ultimate recipients of his money.” The most opaque of those organizations is a little-known group called the Sixteen Thirty Fund. According to the Associated Press, Sixteen Thirty Fund “has received $208 million from Wyss since 2016.” Bloomberg has also confirmed “[Wyss] has disclosed giving over $208 million to Sixteen Thirty Fund, a clearing house for the left…” Less than one week ago, Politico reported on another cash infusion of $35 million from Mr. Wyss, bringing the total from him into Sixteen Thirty Fund to a whopping $243 million.  


On the impact of foreign funds in Ohio state ballot initiatives…In less than a year, the little-known but well-funded Sixteen Thirty Fund has funneled over $14 million into three Ohio ballot measures – One Person One Vote, Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, and Citizens Not Politicians. That’s right – the same group that has received almost $250 million from a foreign national has turned around and spent $14 million right here in Ohio. And there’s more spending to come. Citizens Not Politicians – an ironic name given the ties to foreign funds – is currently collecting signatures in Ohio. Given their deep pockets, we can expect even more backing to come from Sixteen Thirty Fund. This pipeline of foreign cash into Ohio politics should be stopped. Foreign nationals are already barred from donating to candidates directly, so why should ballot issues be any different? The proposed legislation would prohibit foreign nationals from injecting money into Ohio’s ballot issues both directly and indirectly, which includes funneling money through US-based nonprofit organizations.