Fake Petition Circulates Campus
GRACE SMITH // OCTOBER 11, 2019
DISCLAIMER: The fake petition “Stop Foreign Ownership of our Electric Grid” was created to confuse and deter people from signing the legitimate petition “Repeal House Bill 6”. Please do not use this article as reason to brush off all petitions circulating campus, because then the forces funding the fake petitioners will have achieved their goal.
Around 2 p.m. on October 9th, my friend and I were walking through Tappan Square. We were flagged down by a couple with clipboards: a larger white man with a grayish beard and a shorter woman with an East Asian accent. The man made their status as a couple very clear to passerbys by continuously calling her “babe,” or “my wife,” or simply blurting our “we’re married!” He said they were “trying to stop some Trump shit” and handed me a paper titled “Stop Foreign Ownership of our Electric Grid.” Seeing his camo hat with a Blue Lives Matter colored American flag, we doubted his intentions and continued on our way.
Shortly after, I learned that “Stop Foreign Ownership of our Electric Grid” was a fake petition that had been circulating Ohio since early September. The form only asks for people’s name, signature, and address, with the disclaimer that these efforts are paid for by “Ohioans for Energy Security.” This is a dark-money group that has invested millions of dollars to tank the “Repeal House Bill 6” referendum petition. Many have speculated that FirstEnergy Solutions, a corporation with coal and nuclear plants that would specifically benefit from House Bill 6, is funding their efforts.
Ohio legislature passed House Bill 6 in early July, planned to go into effect on October 22nd. House Bill 6 would increase the amount paid by utilities taxpayers to bailout two highly-polluting coal plants and two bankrupt nuclear plants. In addition it would cut renewable energy standards, reducing the renewable energy target to 8.5% by 2026 instead of 12.5% by 2027. It would also cut energy efficiency standards; currently Ohio utility companies are required to reduce customers’ energy use by 22% by 2027—that’s 22% from the original 2008 levels. House Bill 6 would allow companies to stop at 17.5%, a level that many have already hit.
In addition to their red-herring petition, Ohioans for Energy Security have conducted a television advertisement and mail campaign. They claim, without proof, that the Chinese government is buying and infiltrating Ohio’s powergrid. The group points to Chinese bank loans to certain natural gas power plants. Ironically, FirstEnergy Solutions has loans from the same Chinese bank. FirstEnergy solutions has claimed to have no connection to Ohioans for Energy Security; however, two people featured in an advertisement had previously identified themselves as employees.
The petition is fake in the sense that it is unofficial, non-binding, and the tactics used to collect signatures are based in misinformation. For example, some petitioners have suggested that signing would impede the activity of President Trump. However, Trump’s 2016 Ohio campaign advisor personally intervened in support of House Bill 6. He told Ohio lawmakers that “Trump can’t afford to see the plants shut down and jobs lost heading into the 2020 election.”
These fake petitioners are most likely hired by FieldWorks and paid by the signature. In anonymous conversations, some of them expressed that this was simply a job to them and they could have easily ended up on either side, while others seemed genuinely bought in on the Chinese Ohio grid takeover conspiracy. It was difficult to tell if certain petitioners were manufacturing liberal personalities to get more signatures. For example, one of them claimed to be a Pete Buttigieg supporter and had a conversation with an Oberlin student about how he was worried being gay meant he would not be electable.
The false petition is being used to deter from a legitimate referendum petition to “Repeal House Bill 6.” The group running the petition, Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, must obtain the valid signatures of 265,774 registered Ohio voters by October 21st. This would place a referendum on the November 2020 ballot. If the referendum is certified, it would delay the implementation of House Bill 6 until the vote.
Luckily, the illegitimacy of the fake petition means those who regret signing don’t need to worry about their signatures counting towards a legitimate vote. So why put in all this effort to acquire signatures with no legal value? Some have stipulated that having two petitions circulating might be intended to confuse people who are thinking of signing the actual referendum. In addition, some fake petitioners have been instructing those who have signed their petition not to sign the referendum.
Gene Pierce, spokesman for Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts says “House Bill 6 supporters have followed our petition carriers home in the evenings, have taken photos of their car license plates, and have conducted verbal harassment, often face to face.” Not only are House Bill 6 supporters discouraging people who might sign the actual petition, but discouraging the petitioners themselves. Some of Ohioans for Energy Security’s advertisements have taken on a McCarthyist tone. One 30 second ad warned that people gathering petition signatures for the referendum were “outsiders brought into our state to roam our neighborhoods.” In addition, they have sent out mail slips advising citizens to report referendum circulators to their hotline. Generation Now has hired people from FieldWorks to follow referendum petitioners around and dissuade people from signing.
This seems to be in direct conflict with what Carlo LoParo, spokesman for Ohioans for Energy Security, has claimed. LoParo said his “petitioners” were instructed not to work the same areas being worked by referendum petitioners. However, petitioners for the legitimate “Repeal House Bill 6” referendum and “Stop Foreign Ownership of our Electric Grid” have both been seen in Oberlin. Environmental groups on campus such as Communities for Safe and Sustainable Energy & Students for Energy Justice are working to bring more “Repeal House Bill 6” petitioners to campus.
At 4:15 on October 9th, I encountered a false petitioner with dyed red hair. The day prior she wore leggings that were quintessentially “Herbalife.” According to Delia Walz, Oberlin second year, “her leggings reminded me of a documentary I watched on a multi-level marketing scheme.” When I asked the woman about the legitimacy of her petition, she grew ruffled and claimed she never called it a petition; it was a “plebiscite.” The conversation ensued like this:
Woman: Have you done your own research?
Me: About House Bill 6?
Woman: We are trying to keep foreign power off our electricity grids. Ever think of that?
Me: There’s no proof that China is trying to take Ohio’s electricity grid.
Woman: We never said which foreign power it was.
While this conversation was happening, her petitioning partner was visibly sweating in the passenger seat of her red Dodge caravan and asking to leave. She got in the driver’s seat, slammed the door, and said “What the fuck are they gonna do? They’re a couple of fucking college kids.”