Bloomberg News

Money Floods Ohio as Vote Nears on Law Limiting Union Bargaining

November 02, 2011

Oct. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Ohio opponents of a law limiting public-employee bargaining are outspending supporters by more than 3-to-1 as a statewide vote on repeal nears, financial- disclosure reports show.

We Are Ohio, a group of labor leaders and Democrats trying to overturn the law backed by Governor John Kasich, put $19.7 million into television advertisements and other actions, compared with $6 million spent by Building a Better Ohio, a group backing the law, according to the reports filed yesterday.

Cash and in-kind donations to We Are Ohio have reached $30.6 million, according to the reports filed with Secretary of State Jon Husted’s office. Building a Better Ohio brought in $7.6 million, the records show. Combined spending in the Issue 2 campaign may exceed the $37 million that fueled last year’s governor’s race, won by Kasich, a Republican.

“Opponents of Issue 2 have spent an extraordinary, perhaps historic, amount of money to defend their grip on our tax dollars,” Jason Mauk, a spokesman for Building a Better Ohio, said in a statement. Implementation of the law was delayed pending the outcome of the balloting. Passage of Issue 2 will let it take effect.

Foes of the measure faulted Building a Better Ohio for only disclosing the names of 996 donors, without saying how much each gave. Six companies separately reported their contributions, such as $100,000 from West Chester, Ohio-based AK Steel Corp.

Reports Not Required

Building a Better Ohio reports its financial activity annually to the Internal Revenue Service because it’s a 501c(4) nonprofit organization, said Catherine Turcer, the director of Ohio Citizen Action’s Money in Politics Project in Columbus. It isn’t required to provide financial data to the state, she said.

“Issue 2 supporters continue to operate under a cloak of secrecy,” Melissa Fazekas, a spokeswoman for We Are Ohio, said in a statement. “Now is the time for Issue 2 supporters to come clean about who and how much they are really paying for their attack on middle-class families.”

The largest donor to We Are Ohio was the Ohio Education Association, a teachers’ union, with a combined $5.9 million in cash and in-kind gifts. A group labeled the National Labor Table gave $3 million toward repeal, the records show.

Almost 30 groups also have spent more than $2.4 million independently for and against the law, the records indicate. The reports cover financial activity through Oct. 19, and show We Are Ohio with a balance of $4.3 million and Building a Better Ohio with $1.63 million on hand.

Outside Interests

More than $1 million was spent on mailings backing Issue 2 passage by the Alliance for America’s Future, an Alexandria, Virginia, organization described by the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington as a “conservative leaning” nonprofit group that supports Republicans. The center is a nonpartisan campaign-finance monitor.

The Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio, based in Columbus, spent almost $428,000 in favor of repeal, the state records show.

Kasich, 59, signed the law in March after the Republican- dominated Legislature passed the bill with his support.

The law limits bargaining by almost 360,000 government employees to wages, hours and working conditions and bars strikes. It requires workers to cover at least 15 percent of their health-care insurance premiums and contribute 10 percent of their pay to a pension fund.

Wisconsin Measure

A similar law backed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, also a Republican, triggered weeks of protests at the Capitol in Madison. It also spurred recall elections in nine legislative districts during the summer that prompted about $44 million in campaign contributions, most coming from out-of-state interests, according to Michael Buelow, research director for Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a Madison-based nonprofit group that monitors political spending.

Ohio union leaders say efforts to limit bargaining are meant to cripple their political strength, often lent to Democrats. Kasich and backers of the law say it will help rein in government costs.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Oct. 25 showed that 57 percent of Ohio voters support repeal of the law, compared with 32 percent who would keep it.

Kasich, a former congressman from Ohio in his first term as governor, said this week that he intends to campaign hard for passage of Issue 2.

“You just work as hard you can, try to explain it,” he told reporters after an Oct. 25 speech in Columbus. “You don’t quit.”

--Editors: Ted Bunker, Pete Young.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Niquette in Columbus at mniquette@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net


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