A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Ohio Group Won’t Take ‘No’ for Answer


A pro-business group in Ohio committed an audacious misappropriation of an elderly woman’s emotional opposition to the state’s new collective bargaining law. The group’s TV ad uses her story of how firefighters saved her great granddaughter’s life to make it appear she supports the law that she actually wants repealed. The dishonest editing caused a number of Ohio TV stations to stop running the ad on advice of their attorneys.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, signed a bill in March that restricted collective bargaining rights for state workers, including firefighters and teachers. We Are Ohio, a political action committee created and financed by various labor unions, forced a statewide referendum (issue 2) on the Nov. 8 ballot seeking to repeal the law.

In a TV ad that first starting airing Oct. 10, the pro-business group Building a Better Ohio urges Ohio voters to “vote yes” on Issue 2 to keep the new collective bargaining law. The 30-second TV spot shows 78-year-old Marlene Quinn telling her story of how firefighters saved her great granddaughter’s life.

Quinn, Building a Better Ohio TV ad: When the fire broke out, there wasn’t a moment to spare. If not for the firefighters, we wouldn’t have our Zoey today.

Narrator: She’s right. By voting ‘no’ on Issue 2, our safety will be threatened. Without Issue 2, communities will need to lay off hard working firefighters to pay for the excessive benefits of other government employees.

But the voice and images of Quinn telling her story come from a Web video posted four days earlier on YouTube by We Are Ohio. Quinn urges voters to “vote no on Issue 2” in a Web video called “Zoey.”

Quinn, We Are Ohio Web ad:  When the fire broke out, there wasn’t a moment to spare. If not for the firefighters we wouldn’t have our Zoe today. That’s why it’s so important to vote no on Issue 2.

The pro-business group even got its title from Quinn. In the YouTube video, Quinn says: “Fewer firefighters can mean the difference between life or death. And that’s why I’m voting no on Issue 2.” Building a Better Ohio uses a clip of Quinn’s “life or death” quote in its TV ad, which is also titled “Life or Death.”

We Are Ohio claims that 30 TV stations in Ohio have pulled the anti-union ad. We spoke to only three — WSYX and WTTE in Columbus and WTOL in Toldeo — but all three told us they initially ran the ad, but pulled it on the advice of their lawyers.

— Eugene Kiely, with Dave Bloom