COLUMBUS, Ohio - A tea-party linked group whose backers haven't been disclosed is circulating an anti-tax pledge at the Ohio Statehouse against Gov. John Kasich's proposed increase on oil and gas drillers.
Founder Chris Littleton said the nonprofit Ohio Rising is an independent grassroots organization.
Littleton told The Associated Press in an interview this week that he and several others affiliated with the Ohio Liberty Council have formed the group to fight the Republican governor's proposal to increase a tax on large-volume oil and gas extraction and use the proceeds to fund statewide income-tax relief.
"It's fundamentally and predatorily redistributing the wealth of Ohio in the most disgusting way," said Littleton, point person on last year's successful campaign outlawing government health care mandates.
Signers of the "Ohio Tax Pledge" won't be disclosed until there's critical mass, Littleton said.
Though Littleton described the effort as "totally independent," he also acknowledged it is supported by a network of conservative Ohio think tanks and some powerful conservative organizations with a national reach. Those include the National Taxpayers Union, Americans for Prosperity, and Americans for Tax Reform.
An AP review found the latter two have received "energy education" grants from the American Petroleum Institute, a trade association of the oil refiners such as BP, Exxon and Marathon. The institute also gave $10,000 to Kasich's inaugural committee.
Terry Fleming, who leads the institute's Ohio arm, said the anti-tax pledge didn't originate with his group. He said he is aware of it but has not spoken to any legislators about it. If they asked, he'd tell them not to sign it, Fleming said.
"At the present time, we have a disagreement with the governor, but there are certain noneconomic issues that we want to bring to him that we think are beneficial to the state, the industry and the people of Ohio," he said. "If we come up with an agreement on those elements that includes an increase in the (oil and gas extraction) tax, those legislators' hands are tied."
Republican State Rep. Andy Thompson of Marietta is among those who have signed the pledge.
Thompson said he believes Kasich's tax proposal could hurt Ohio's growing drilling industry, which is benefiting his district. He declined to say who brought the tax pledge to his attention or who asked him to sign.
"I don't really want to be on record about who the source is, but yes, I know who's behind it," he said.
A public records request submitted to Ohio House Republicans seeking documents related to the tax pledge turned up an email from Americans for Tax Reform's Josh Culling, a state affairs manager for the originated.
Culling stated that Kasich's tax swap proposal would maintain the state's current revenue level, and so does not conflict with the anti-tax pledge that has been signed by many state and federal officeholders.
But Culling also directed lawmakers to the Ohio Rising website to sign its pledge.
"Signing this commitment does not conflict with the ATR Pledge, it merely supplements it," he wrote. "Should you be opposed to the Kasich severance tax plan, ATR fully supports your decision to vote your conscience and sign the no severance tax pledge."
As of this week, Ohio Rising has not filed nonprofit paperwork that would identify its founders with the state or federal government. The individual or entity who registered its new website shielded their identity.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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