We Are Ohio Broke State Law by Not Reporting Union Contributions

We Are Ohio
Truth in advertising

Union campaign committee We Are Ohio violated Ohio elections law by failing to disclose in-kind support from three labor unions in its July report to the secretary of state, the Ohio Elections Commission (OEC) ruled at a December 5 meeting.

During the hearing, Media Trackers reiterated evidence from our August complaint that We Are Ohio received unreported in-kind contributions from the Ohio Education Association (OEA), Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA), and Ohio AFL-CIO in the first six months of 2013.

We Are Ohio was represented on December 5 by its attorney, Donald McTigue of McTigue & McGinnis LLC. McTigue also represents the Ohio Democratic Party, and has previously served as counsel to OEC itself.

McTigue explained that essentially all the organization’s activity from January 1 to June 30 was conducted through a 501(c)(4) arm. He asserted that We Are Ohio’s campaign against making Ohio a Right to Work state does not require spending from its political action committee (PAC) account until the issue is certified for the ballot.

OEC Executive Director Philip Richter agreed with McTigue’s assessment of state law.

Because 501(c)(4) organizations do not require the same disclosure as PACs, We Are Ohio can instruct its fans to fight workplace freedom as a worker- and baby-killing policy without reporting donors or expenditures to the secretary of state until after Ohioans for Workplace Freedom has submitted initiative petitions.

The elections commission held, however, that in-kind support for managing the PAC should have been included in We Are Ohio’s semiannual campaign finance report on July 31.

We Are Ohio submitted an amended report to Secretary of State Jon Husted’s office on December 3 which included several in-kind contributions, all from labor unions:

  • A total of $396 in staff time and office space from OEA
  • A total of $375 in staff time and office space from the Ohio AFL-CIO
  • A total of $210 in staff time and office space from OCSEA, a local of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)

Richter proposed that, based on “excellent points” made in the Media Trackers complaint about the previously undisclosed contributions, We Are Ohio be found guilty of violating state law by failing to amend its semiannual campaign finance report in a timely manner.

He recommended that no fine be imposed, since We Are Ohio had already corrected the report.

With OEC Chair Kim Allison (R) absent and OEC Vice-Chair Degee Wilhelm (D) recusing herself due to a conflict of interest, Democrat Terrance Conroy, Independent Lynn Grimshaw, and Republicans Helen Balcolm and William Vasil voted to accept Richter’s recommendation.

Only Democrat Jayme Smoot voted in We Are Ohio’s favor.

Media Trackers noted in August that, through the first half of the calendar year, cash contributions from AFL-CIO headquarters in DC outweighed all other donations to We Are Ohio 896 times over. Our OEC complaint uncovered even more proof We Are Ohio is run by and for Big Labor.

In addition to the in-kind support We Are Ohio reported months late, We Are Ohio’s November 26 response to our complaint was written by OEA Executive Director Larry Wicks.

During the December 5 hearing, McTigue described OEA, Ohio AFL-CIO, and OCSEA as “the three key labor organizations that administer the PAC account,” and the 2012 IRS 990 filing for We Are Ohio’s 501(c)(4) identifies Wicks as chairman while listing six executive committee members:

  • AFSCME Representative
  • Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Representative
  • Ohio Federation of Teachers (OFT) Representative
  • Communications Workers of America (CWA) Representative
  • United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Representative
  • Tim Burga, Ohio AFL-CIO

Quite the “citizen-driven, community-based, bipartisan coalition,” right?

[Editor’s note, 12/8/2013: Clarified in 6th paragraph that donor *and* expenditure reporting is different for 501(c)(4) groups than for PACs.]