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Right Wing Front Groups Flood Ohio With Anti-Union Spin
With Ohio voters looking to overturn Governor John Kasich's union-busting Senate Bill 5 through a statewide referendum, national Republican donors, strategists and corporations are pumping money into the state to defend the Governor and his bill.
On November 8th, Ohio voters will go to the polls to vote whether to repeal Senate Bill (SB) 5, which limits collective bargaining rights for public employees. The bill was passed in the House and Senate and signed by Governor John Kasich, but cannot be implemented until after the referendum comes to a vote.
Ohio was one of several states that passed suspiciously similar union-busting legislation in 2011. Gov. Kasich, like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, is an alumnus of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that brings state legislators and corporate leaders together to draft "model bills" that advance the right-wing corporate agenda. According to Common Cause, Kasich and other Ohio Republicans who supported SB 5 received at least $563,000 in campaign contributions from ALEC corporations in 2010 (not counting contributions from the Republican Governor's Association, to which some ALEC supporters also donated -- notably including $1 million from David Koch (as examined by the Center for Media and Democracy in the article "Scott Walker Runs on Koch Money").
Ohio is one of 24 states, not including Wisconsin, in which a referendum can be placed on the ballot for any piece of legislation. On June 29th, 2011, supporters of an effort to repeal SB 5 submitted 915,456 certified signatures in a campaign led by the anti-SB 5, union-backed group "We Are Ohio." The referendum's Issue 2 will decide the fate of SB 5 -- a majority of "yes" votes will keep the union-busting bill in place, a "no" vote will strike it down.
Right-wing groups from outside the state, many of which keep their donor lists and expenditures secret, are spending undisclosed amounts on spin advertisements in an effort to save the bill and confuse voters. The ads focus on the questionable claim that public sector employees make more than private sector employees. The ads also deny that the bill is about union busting.
Here are a few of the special interest groups trying to convince Ohio voters that union-busting is good for them.
Alliance for America's Future
The Alexandria, Virginia-based Alliance for America's Future (AFAF) has spent over seven figures in an effort to flood millions of Ohio voters' mailboxes with fliers encouraging a "yes" vote on Issue 2 to uphold the bill. Heading the AFAF is Mary Cheney, the daughter of former vice president, Dick Cheney, and Barry Bennert, former chief of staff to Ohio Congresswoman Jen Schmidt (R-2nd District). The Alliance does not disclose its corporate donors.
Ohio is just one of 30 states, including Wisconsin, in which the AFAF has become involved. Their official website offers no information on staff or current projects, but instead offers a single webpage stating the AFAF is "dedicated to educating and advocating sound economic and security policies that will foster growth, prosperity, and peace for America's future."
The group's fliers include lines such as "OBAMA wants us to do things HIS WAY? Yes on Issue 2 is our chance to do things OUR WAY," and "Yes on Issue 2 will get POLITICIANS to do the right thing on spending."
Building a Better Ohio
The Columbus, Ohio-based Building a Better Ohio has developed a series of television ads in support of Issue 2.
Comprised of at least three former Kasich aides, the group is established as a nonprofit 501(c)(4) organization and does not reveal its donors. Some have speculated that contributors include Karl Rove and his group Crossroads GPS.
Building a Better Ohio writes that they are "dedicated to promoting the reasonable reforms of State Issue 2." Their list of "reasonable reforms" includes government employees paying at least 15% of the cost of their health insurance premium, and "keeping union bosses from protecting bad teachers."
According to The Columbus Dispatch, Building a Better Ohio has paid for $23,225 worth of air time on WSYX-TV, $17,500 on WTTE-TV and $54,400 in ad time with WBNS-TV (Channel 10). The group is expected to spend $20 million on this autumn's campaign.
Building a Better Ohio received an endorsement by perennial GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich in July 2011. In an internet video, Gingrich encourages the public to "strengthen what Governor Kasich is doing and to make sure that everyone in Ohio has a better future with more jobs." Building a Better Ohio has not disclosed its corporate donor list, although representatives report there are plans to reveal one before Nov. 8th. If released, the list will include only donor names, but no contribution amount.
The group's "Life or Death" ad generated controversy when police and firefighters denounced it on October 13th. The video features Marlene Quinn, a Cincinnati great-grandmother, who opposes Issue 2.
The advertisement breaks apart an interview with Quinn to create the misleading impression that she favors Issue 2. The ad says, "Without Issue 2, communities will need to lay off hardworking firefighters to pay for the excessive benefits of other government employees." The video aired without Quinn's permission.
Building a Better Ohio is standing by their decision to use the interview without permission. A spokesperson for Building a Better Ohio said the group believes "it is on firm legal footing in running the ad."
Quinn condemned the ad, and responded to the video spin by releasing her own ad called "Marlene Quinn Speaks Out," through the pro-union and anti SB 5 group, We Are Ohio. In the video, Quinn states clearly that she support's union rights and is voting "No" on Issue 2.
In another Building Better Ohio ad, "Had Enough," a narrator says, "Without Issue 2, hardworking Ohio families will face higher taxes to pay for the excessive wages and benefits of government employees who already make 43% more than the rest of us."
This incorrect statistic came out of a report issued by the Ohio Business Roundtable entitled "Public vs. Private Sector Compensation in Ohio."
The Ohio Business Roundtable is a self-proclaimed independent, nonpartisan group whose board is comprised almost entirely of former corporate CEOs.
According to a study by the Economic Policy Institute, the truth is that public employees make less than private-sector employees. The study concluded that full-time Ohio state and local public employees earn 3.3 percent less in wages and salaries than similar private sector workers, and 3.5 percent less in total compensation. The study found that Ohio public workers are, on average, more highly educated than private sector workers. Governments pay college-educated employees 25 percent less in annual total compensation, on average, than private employers. A similar study at Rutgers University found Ohio public employees earn 6 percent less on a yearly basis, and 3.5 percent less on an hourly basis than those in the private sector.
Dick Armey's FreedomWorks
FreedomWorks, which is led by people who previously worked for David Koch's "Citizens for a Sound Economy," FreedomWorks' predecessor group, does not disclose its corporate donors, and its leaders are drawn heavily from the leadership of the Republican Party and right-wing operatives. FreedomWorks asserts that it is not affiliated with any Issue 2 or 3 Campaign or Committee.
The group also created the website YesForJobs.com, which allows Ohioans to download absentee ballots and provides information on where to send them.
Ohio Liberty Council
The Ohio Liberty Council (OLC), a Tea Party group headed by 12 council board members, has released two television ads in support of Issue 2. The OLC claims group leaders and "private citizens" fund it. President, Tom Zawistowski and Vice President, Jason Mihalick lead the OLC, which does not disclose its donors.
In one OLC ad, the narrator states that Issue 2 is not one of "pro-union" or "anti-union" but rather about "taxpayers rights."
A second television ad, "The Story of a Broke Ohio," states that we will be in a deficit because "96 percent of schools tax revenue will go toward staff compensation," and what they call "Gold-plated pensions and benefits."
This statistic was pulled from a study by The Buckeye Institute, a conservative 501 (c)(3) "research organization" that has been used in a number of campaigns and as an "expert" on SB5. The Buckeye Institute "study" highlights the projected deficits of nineteen Central Ohio School Districts, and concludes that Central Ohio School Districts will have a budget deficit of nearly $1 billion by 2015 unless compensation packages are realigned or taxes are raised.
The "study" was released as an ad that appeared in twenty-two suburban news weeklies across central Ohio. The ad on its own does not mention SB 5, but it is used in a number of pro SB 5 campaigns.
The "study" places the burden of responsibility for the deficit on government employees, and ignores the fact that Ohio union officials agreed to pay more for insurance and accept wage cuts and freezes.
Americans for Prosperity
The Americans for Prosperity Ohio branch is organizing support for SB 5. AFP Ohio has scheduled more than a dozen town hall meetings across Ohio, organized phone banks and is currently urging supporters of the bill to defend Building a Better Ohio's "Life or Death" ad featuring great-grandmother Marlene Quinn.
Americans for Prosperity is chaired by oil billionaire David Koch and funded by Koch money and other undisclosed sources. The group includes both a 501(c)(3) that received over $10 million in 2009, and a 501(c)(4) that received over $16 million that year. Neither the national AFP nor its state arms disclose their donors.
Americans for Prosperity's Ohio branch received a web endorsement from Gov. Kasich in June. In a web-only video, Gov. Kasich praises AFP-Ohio. He refers to the group as "fighters for freedom" and thanks them for their "support to the effort to get Ohio back on track."
Make Ohio Great
Make Ohio Great is spending thousands to aid Gov. Kasich in his defense of SB 5. Make Ohio Great is a group founded and funded by the Republican Governors Association (RGA), which spent over $9 million to elect Gov. Kasich in 2010. The RGA is funded by billionaires like David Koch and Rupert Murdoch, as well as numerous large corporations. The RGA spent tens of millions on advertisements in the 2010 election year. In August 2010 Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation donated $1 million to the RGA, along with David Koch and others. Make Ohio Great disputes claims that they are a group set up for secret cash to flow in defense of SB 5.
Make Ohio Great reportedly bought $48,100 in airtime with WBNS-TV.
In the ad, titled "Kasich Getting the Jobs Done," Kasich asks Ohioans to "take a new path," and boasts that he has balanced the budget without raising taxes.
Kasich may be speaking too soon, as his economic plan for Ohio depends in part on SB 5 becoming law. The cost-savings come from requiring employees pay more for health insurance, and limiting their vacation and sick time, some of which unions had agreed to voluntarily. Ending collective bargaining, though, saved the state no money -- despite messaging to the contrary by out-of-state right-wing organizations, balanced budgets need not come at the expense of collective bargaining.