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Published: Saturday, 7/30/2011

Senate Bill 5 foes spent $4.3M to put issue to vote

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — A mostly labor-fueled coalition spent more than $4.3 million to get Ohio’s new law restricting the collective bargaining power of government workers on the ballot, campaign reports filed Friday show.

As of the end of June, We Are Ohio was still sitting on a bank account of $2.6 million as it prepares to enter the next phase — persuading voters to reject Senate Bill 5 at the polls Nov. 8.

Meanwhile, the Building a Better Ohio political action committee, which is trying to salvage the law, reported spending no money through June 30 as it largely conceded that the issue would qualify for the ballot. The question will be Issue 2 on the ballot.

Although the We Are Ohio coalition has billed itself as a diverse, largely volunteer-driven effort, the reports show it spent nearly $833,000 for paid signature gatherers through Professional Petition Management.

Counting both cash contributions and in-kind help, We Are Ohio reported raising a total of $6.9 million. Of the nearly $5 million in direct contributions, almost all were from union organizations.

The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees International and the Communications Workers of America District 2 contributed $1 million each to the effort. The national AFL-CIO and the AFL-CIO Battles committees gave $750,000 each.

On top of the $5 million in monetary contributions, it received nearly $2 million in in-kind help from the unions and the Ohio Democratic Party, most of it in the form of manpower.

We Are Ohio, however, preferred to point to the 80 percent of all contributors who gave $100 or less.

“While our campaign may be outspent, we will never be outworked, or outvolunteered, or outsupported,” said Melissa Fazekas, spokesman for We Are Ohio. “We will fight for our 10,000 volunteers and the more than 1.3 million hardworking Ohioans who signed petitions to repeal SB 5.”

A second anti-Senate Bill 5 committee, We Are Ohio Workers, was formed by the Ohio Association of Public School Employees. It reported raising just $200 from the union.

The rows of zeroes filed by Building a Better Ohio belies the activity taking place behind the scenes.

Its spokesman, Jason Mauk, said a federal non-profit corporation bearing the same name has been raising funds but had not yet transferred money to the political action committee for spending before the June 30 reporting period cutoff.

“We are seeing incredible financial support from across the state and nation, and our support is completely voluntary,” he said. “That’s the difference between our campaigns. From their report, it’s very clear that almost all of their contributions came from union transfers. Union bosses have the power to force direct contributions from government employee paychecks whether employees like it or not.”

He said Building a Better Ohio — both the committee and the nonprofit group — will voluntarily reveal where they’re getting their money, but he didn’t offer a time line for the disclosure. The next deadline for the committee to report is Oct. 27.

Senate Bill 5 has been in limbo since petitions for the referendum were filed a month ago. If voters reject it at the polls, it will never take effect.

Among its numerous provisions, Senate Bill 5 prohibits public employees from striking, limits subjects for contract negotiations, requires workers to pay at least 15 percent of their medical insurance premiums, and prohibits government employers from picking up any portion of a worker’s share of pension contributions.

As for Issue 3, a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow Ohioans to reject parts of President Obama’s health-care law, supporters reported raising nearly $328,000 in direct and in-kind contributions.

Its biggest contribution came from the Ohio Liberty Council, the closest thing to a statewide Tea Party organization, at $165,000.

The U.S. Health Freedom Coalition, a national organization headed by the man in charge of a similar ballot issue in Arizona last year, gave $100,000.

The Ohio committee spent $150,000 for paid petition circulators through California-based Arno Political Consultants and covered $150,000 of the signature-gathering expenditures of its sister organization, The Ohio Project.

No political action committee has been created to battle the proposed constitutional amendment, although a coalition has received help from both state and federal organizations in a planned legal fight over signatures, a last-ditch effort to keep the question from reaching the ballot.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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