Monday, May 21, 2018
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No locals in group that poured out cash

Anti-Bell drive funded by 2 outside unions

The mystery group Toledoans for Working Families, which dominated local political airwaves during the final weeks of the Nov. 5 mayoral election, will file its post-election campaign finance report today without listing a single Toledoan’s name.

Toledoans for Working Families disclosed its operating funding as $79,338 from the Ohio AFL-CIO of Columbus and $75,000 from the American Federation for State, County, and Municipal Employees in Washington, according to the campaign finance report to be filed today with the Lucas County Board of Elections and provided Monday to The Blade. It also received about $3,200 in other income.

The group spent more than $157,000 toward defeating Mayor Mike Bell and helping City Councilman D. Michael Collins win the election, which hinged largely on Mr. Bell’s position on labor issues. Toledoans for Working Families paid Luc Media of Marietta, Ga., $109,750 to buy advertising in Toledo and JVA Campaigns of Columbus $38,624 for a mail campaign. The committee also paid JVA $9,000 for “program management,” and $175 in bank fees to Fifth Third Bank.

Tim Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO, a coalition of public-sector and private-sector unions in Ohio, said many Toledo-area residents belong to unions that are members of the AFL-CIO and have contributed to its coffers. He said the organization’s funding source was kept concealed, even from some AFL-CIO staff, because of strict campaign-finance rules that prevent independent groups from coordinating political messages with candidates.

But he said the group definitely represented Toledo working families.

“There are tens of thousands of Toledoans that contributed to the funding through their participation with the AFL-CIO in their membership. We have many local unions and union organizations in the Toledo area that are affiliated with us, representing tens of thousands of members,” Mr. Burga said.

The group, which revealed only the name of its treasurer, a Columbus lawyer, during the campaign, aired television ads and mailed large postcards portraying Mr. Bell as more concerned about jobs in China than in Toledo and as a puppet of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican. One postcard contrasted Mr. Bell as wrong for Toledo, and Mr. Collins as right for Toledo.

Mr. Bell drew labor unions’ ire when he forced through unilateral cuts in Toledo’s negotiated union contracts in 2010 to avert a deficit, and again in 2011 when he publicly campaigned for Issue 2, a statewide referendum to enact Senate Bill 5, a Republican-backed bill that would have weakened public-employee unions had it passed. Unions and Democrats teamed up to defeat it.

Mr. Bell, a political independent, lost to Mr. Collins, also running without party affiliation, in the election by 56.4 percent to 43.6 percent.

“Mayor Bell demonstrated his dislike or disbelief in collective bargaining when he stood up for Senate Bill 5 and exigent circumstances and other things. We felt like it was important enough to try to elect a mayor who believes that collective bargaining can be not only a right, but a tool for helping with budgeting matters and delivering services,” Mr. Burga said.

Mayor Bell said Monday he’s a “happy man,” but also would have liked to have been re-elected.

“We’d have been able to do a lot more, but it is what it is,” Mr. Bell said.

Regarding Toledoans for Working Families, he said: “All I can do is hope that whatever they were attempting to accomplish, they were successful at doing and if that is about helping working families, then hopefully this scenario works out for them.”

Mr. Bell said his administration helped working families by not laying off 271 city employees who would have lost their jobs without union concessions.

“We did have to do some creative procedures to be able to avoid that, but it kept people working,” he said.

Mr. Collins, who during the campaign declined to disavow the group’s negative advertising, said he had no knowledge of who Toledoans for Working Families was and it acted independently of him.

The group was clearly motivated by Mr. Bell’s stance on labor issues, heightened when the mayor said he was undecided on whether right-to-work would be good for Toledo.

“I would have to surmise that their position was consistent with the challenges that they felt that Mayor Bell presented in supporting the anti-union movement in Ohio,” Mr. Collins said.

Mr. Collins, whose District 2 council seat represents South Toledo, opposed exigent circumstances and Issue 2. He was backed by almost all the politically active labor unions.

Mark Luetke, Mr. Bell’s lead campaign consultant, said the spending by Toledoans for Working Families had a big impact.

“One hundred and fifty thousand dollars is a substantial amount of money to put into media in a six-week period,” Mr. Luetke said. “It is difficult for any candidate to be able to counter that.”

Mr. Bell and Mr. Collins have until Friday to file their own final reports, which will show their spending since Oct. 16.

Contact Tom Troy: or 419--724-6058 or an Twitter @TomFTroy.

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