Ohio

Cincinnati Union Seeks Judge Approval to Campaign Using Taxpayer Resources

Organizations

The Cincinnati Federation of Teachers (CFT) is asking a Hamilton County judge to condone the use of taxpayer resources for campaigns to raise taxes. This marks the latest chapter in a years-long feud between the teachers union and the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST).

CFT, a local of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, filed a motion on November 21, 2012 requesting to modify a 2002 settlement between CPS and COAST, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported. According to the union’s motion, a ban on using taxpayer resources to plan political campaigns is unconstitutional because it restricts teachers’ rights of free speech and assembly.

In 2002, Cincinnati-based COAST founder Thomas Brinkman, Jr. sued Cincinnati Public Schools – Ohio’s third-largest school district – in federal court after district officials removed anti-levy signs placed on public school grounds while keeping pro-levy signs in place. Reinforcing existing state laws prohibiting the use of taxpayer resources in issue campaigns, the “COAST agreement” resulting from the suit prohibits CPS staff from planning or conducting tax levy campaigns using district resources or time.

The school district specifically agreed to “strictly enforce a policy of preventing… other political advertisements on CPS (Cincinnati Public Schools) property,” which were defined as “printed or electronic materials or messages advocating [for] […] candidates for public office or the passage or defeat of ballot issue,” or “advocating a particular vote,” “seeking funds, volunteers, other resources to advance any such candidate or issue.”

Meanwhile, COAST alleges that public records prove CPS teachers and administrators have been using public school resources to campaign on behalf of Cincinnatians Active to Support Education (CASE), a pro-tax levy political action committee advocating a “yes” vote on local Issue 42.

In 2011, more than one-third of donations to CASE came from CFT and other unions, The Enquirer reported.

Taxpayer advocates in Cincinnati have caught the school district violating the terms of that agreement twice in the past decade. In 2010, COAST successfully sued CPS when district officials were caught campaigning for progressive candidates with taxpayer resources.

Eligible student voters from Hughes High School were sent vote at their polling places during school time, and a former school official provided election materials listing only Democratic Party candidates. Students were promised free ice cream as a reward for their participation. School attorneys denied any wrongdoing but agreed to pay a fine for violating the legal agreement.

In a case similar to the current CPS dispute, Media Trackers uncovered evidence this October of Westerville City School District employees engaging in political activity to block a ballot issue which would have effectively countered the tax increase from a levy narrowly approved this spring in the Columbus suburb.

Westerville City School District spokesman Greg Viebranz recently confirmed that $43,000 in taxpayer funds – in addition to substantial amounts of time logged by school officials using district email systems to plan and strategize – were used to mount a legal challenge to a measure put on the ballot by local citizens.

Media Trackers will continue to investigate claims from CFT and COAST, and will report on both groups’ legal maneuvering as more information becomes available.