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Ohio speaker loses control of campaign spending authority in latest GOP drama

A judge ruled Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens does not have authority over the GOP caucus’s campaign fund, handing a win to the speaker’s colleague and rival, state Rep. Derek Merrin. Last October, Merrin filed a lawsuit against his Republican colleague in a bid to control $1 million in campaign funds. The campaign fund, called […]

A judge ruled Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens does not have authority over the GOP caucus’s campaign fund, handing a win to the speaker’s colleague and rival, state Rep. Derek Merrin.

Last October, Merrin filed a lawsuit against his Republican colleague in a bid to control $1 million in campaign funds. The campaign fund, called the Ohio House Republican Alliance, supports campaigns for state Republican lawmakers. In his lawsuit, Merrin alleged a closed-door vote by the majority of the House GOP caucus made him the chairman of the alliance last year. Consequently, Merrin said he should be in charge of the campaign funds. 

Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Mark Serrott agreed. Serrott said in his ruling on Friday that Merrin holds the majority of support from his caucus and consequently should control the campaign’s checkbook. 


Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens speaks to members of the media. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

“The speaker does not have a majority of the caucus,” Serrott said. “The speaker is never going to call a meeting [of the caucus]. Why would he? He doesn’t have a majority vote. … We’re at a stalemate. The court has to do something or it will never get resolved. … That’s untenable.”

Stephens said that as a speaker, he maintains control of the alliance fund and vowed to appeal the decision “swiftly.” 

“It is imperative for the integrity of the institution of the Ohio House of Representatives that control of the campaign committee not be able to be leveraged against the highest elected official in the House on a whim,” Stephens said in a statement. “The decision potentially sets a concerning precedent that any member at any time can call a vote that undermines the control of the campaign funds.”

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Legal experts told the Associated Press that Ohio law does not necessarily require the speaker and caucus leader to be the same person. 

Stephens and Merrin have been at odds ever since battling each other to be speaker in the state House. In January 2023, Merrin lost the fight, while Stephens received more votes from Democrats than Republicans to clinch the victory. After his loss, Merrin urged his Republican colleagues in the House to weaken the speaker’s power by changing House rules. 

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Merrin isn’t the only lawmaker Stephens is sparring with. Last fall, the speaker rejected efforts from fellow GOP lawmakers to strip the court’s power to protect the voter-passed measure to enshrine abortion access into the Ohio Constitution.

More drama went down with Ohio Republicans last September. State Republican Rep. Bob Young wrote a letter to Stephens saying he would step down after being arrested twice in a domestic violence case. His announcement came after Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH), Stephens, and more than 30 Ohio House GOP members joined Democrats in calling for his resignation.

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