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Unions, Businesses Spend on Ohio Collective-Bargaining Fight

One way to gauge the intensity of interest in an upcoming referendum on an Ohio law affecting collective bargaining is to look at the money flow.

Newly released records of campaign contributions speak to the extent to which teachers' unions and business groups are trying to shape public opinion on the measure, known as Issue 2. Next Tuesday, voters will go to the polls to decide whether to support the ballot item, which would uphold or repeal Senate Bill 5, a Republican-backed law approved earlier this year that restricts collective bargaining for teachers and other public workers.

We Are Ohio, a group active in the fight against the law, spent more than $17 million during the most recent reporting period, from July to the present, and has more than $4 million on hand. Some of the biggest donors to that cause were teachers' unions, including the Ohio Education Association, whose contributions included a $4.7 million donation in August, records show.

The Ohio Federation of Teachers was also a big donor, giving at least $1.1 million during that period, and the parent organization of the OEA, the National Education Association, spent at least $2 million over that time, according to state reports. Unions across other sectors contributed millions more.

And for the other side? Building a Better Ohio, an organization that supports the law, reported having spent about $6 million during that same period, with $1.6 million on hand. The organization voluntarily released the names of its donors, though not the amounts they gave, last week. It also provided a separate list of donors with amounts that gave to the organization's political action committee.

"Ohians deserve to know who is supporting this effort to defend taxpayer rights, and we are providing that information in the interest of transparency," the group said in a statement.

The contributors to Building a Better Ohio included numerous business organizations, among them the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and industry associations large and small. In addition, Building a Better Ohio received roughly $28,000 in contributions this reporting period from Americans for Prosperity, a conservative organization headquarted in Arlington, Va. That support came in the form of in-kind contributions to the organization's PAC, said Connie Wehrkamp, a spokeswoman for Building a Better Ohio. Americans for Prosperity, has become well-known, and loathed by liberals, for its backing of conservative causes across the country.

American for Prosperity believes supporting the Ohio law "will give taxpayers a greater voice in how their tax dollars are spent," said Jennifer Ridgley, state communications manager for the organization, and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, in an e-mail. She said the group believes the law will "rein in government spending, avoid job-killing tax hikes that Ohioans just can't afford, and make Ohio more competitive for attracting much-needed jobs into the state."

A Quinnipiac poll released last week showed Ohioans favoring repeal of the law by a wide margin. Will any of the political contributions end up shaping the opinions of voters? We'll know more in a week.

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