Thursday, May 25, 2017
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Politics

Mandel’s public service ad comes under scrutiny

Full amount of future campaigns would require OK by Ohio Controlling Board

An amendment inserted in the proposed state budget would require future public-service ad campaigns — such as one used last year by Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel to promote a savings plan for people with Down syndrome — to get the full amount approved by the Ohio Controlling Board.

Mr. Mandel’s television ads with Ohio State University football coach Urban Meyer and a young woman with Down syndrome aired statewide from June to December last year at a cost to taxpayers of $1.7 million.

The ads, which featured all three people talking and a playful high-five between Mr. Meyer and the young woman, were paid for in increments of less than $50,000, which kept them from controlling board overview.

VIDEO: Ad featuring Josh Mandel, Urban Meyer

The amendment would require expenditures of more than $50,000 intended for advertising campaigns to be approved by the controlling board, made up of six state lawmakers and a member of the governor’s administration, even if spent in smaller chunks.

State Rep. Keith Faber (R., Celina), who chaired the subcommittee that wrote the amendment, said Mr. Mandel’s ad campaign was mentioned in testimony. He said the ad campaign was done legally and was mandated by legislation, but in retrospect should have been scrutinized by the controlling board.

“There was just a concern that when you have large advertising campaigns by state agencies it ought to be confirmed by the controlling board,” Mr. Faber said. “There was testimony in the subcommittee and I believe this amendment was offered by both parties. The thought was, let’s be transparent.”

He said he didn’t know if the controlling board would have insisted on any changes in the ad campaign.

The ads came just before Mr. Mandel announced in December he would run for the Republican Party nomination to take on U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) in 2018.

Mandel spokesman Chris Berry said the Mandel administration reviewed the amendment and had no objection to it. He cited more than a dozen other state agencies and elected officials who had produced TV commercials featuring elected officials and which cost more than $50,000.

“Treasurer Mandel is on the side of the taxpayers and is proud to be a national leader in helping people with Down syndrome, autism, and other disabilities,” Mr. Berry said.

Mr. Berry said a statewide publicity campaign was essential to getting the word out so affected families would know to use the program, which allows families of people with Down syndrome to save and invest money tax-free for housing, education, and other expenses without affecting their disability benefits. He cited statistics showing the campaign’s success.

The 2015 law setting up the “Achieving a Better Living Experience” program in Ohio for those with disabilities required Mr. Mandel “to develop marketing plans and promotional materials to publicize” the accounts. The 2016-17 state budget gave Mr. Mandel's office $2 million each year in to implement the program. Ohio was the first state in the country to offer enrollment in STABLE Accounts.

Featured was Anne Gerhardt, 18, of Cincinnati, who was the first person in America to open a STABLE Account. Her father, Chip Gerhardt, was instrumental in getting federal legislation passed.

Cleveland.com reported that the cost breakdown given to reporters last June detailed only about half the TV ads’ actual costs. The fact sheet said the office would spend $776,980 on TV ad buys; state expenditure records show nearly $1.7 million has been spent. Once all bills have been paid, that total will reach $1.84 million, according to Mr. Mandel's office.

A breakdown of the ad contracts by media market showed 65 contracts statewide, with 19 costing less than $1,000 below the $50,000 threshold.

Locally, the ad campaign paid for a total of $202,746 in the Toledo market at TV stations WTVG, WTOL, and WUPW, according to Mr. Berry.

He said no one was compensated for his or her appearance in the ad. In all, the ad ran 36,000 times.

Mr. Berry said that by contracting directly with each television station, the treasurer’s office was able to achieve significant savings.

“The STABLE [public service announcements] have absolutely nothing to do with Treasurer Mandel’s campaign for U.S. Senate,” Mr. Berry said. “Rather, the STABLE PSAs are about helping Ohioans with disabilities and making sure Ohio families are aware that this new investment option exists to foster financial independence and a higher quality of life for their loved ones with disabilities.”

Contact Tom Troy: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058 or on Twitter @TomFTroy.

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