State treasurer defends spending $1.84M in public money on TV ads

Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel says his decision to spend $1.84 million in public funds on a TV ad promoting a new investment program for people with disabilities was required by law.

Indeed, the Ohio General Assembly mandated that the treasurer “develop marketing plans and promotional materials to publicize the program.” But the law doesn’t specify that Mandel had to star in the ad himself, just months before announcing that he is running for U.S. Senate in 2018.

“Now that Josh Mandel’s been caught spending $1.3 million in taxpayer dollars to promote himself he’s desperately attempting to explain away his latest scandal yet still refusing to answer key questions such as why did he spend the money in a way that required no transparency or oversight? Why did he feel the need to star in the ads and run them so often right before he announced his senate race?” said Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Jake Strassberger.

RELATED: Ohio treasurer ran state-funded ads just before announcing Senate run

Mandel maintains that the spending was done in a transparent manner: he held a press conference in June announcing the marketing program. His office correctly noted that the Dayton Daily New did not cover that particular press conference.

He also notes that records of the ad buys are publicly posted online. The individual purchases, though, fell below the $50,000 threshold for requiring approval from Ohio Controlling Board.

The Dayton Daily News found that other states opted to advertise the new program, called STABLE Accounts, via outreach to advocacy groups — not a statewide TV ad campaign.

Mandel defended the decision, saying getting out the word statewide is important. “Nearly everyone knows someone who lives with a disability and by increasing awareness amongst all Ohioans, this important message can be spread far and wide,” Mandel’s press office said.


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Matt Cox, a Columbus lobbyist and political consultant, said he believes Mandel’s efforts to advertise the STABLE Accounts program were genuine good government.

“The hardest thing for parents of disabled kids is access to information, especially state programs. Those ads informed medical providers, parents, relatives, accountants and lawyers of a program they can reference to someone,” said Cox, who’s son has disabilities. Cox and his wife worked to pass the state law authorizing the Ohio program.

The treasurer also pointed to other Ohio officeholders staring in public service advertisements, including:

* Gov. John Kasich appearing in 2012 in a 30-second spot encouraging victims of human trafficking to call a hotline, 

* Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted pushing absentee ballot voting in 2016, 

* former Gov. Ted Strickland in 2009 teaming up with Elmo from Sesame Street in federally funded radio ads to encourage Ohioans to get flu shots, 

* former Attorney General Marc Dann appearing in radio ads about a reward for tips on illegal dog fighting.

Mandel also pointed to a public service ad campaign staring Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor that ran in 2015. Ohio spent $170,000 in federal grant money on television ads featuring Taylor encouraging seniors to sign up for Medicare.

RELATED: Ads that feature Taylor paid with public money

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said at the time: “This is someone who has a history of using tax dollars to promote her own political profile. As auditor, she was particularly fond of using tax dollars to advertise her own name. This is especially cynical. These are dollars that are clearly given out to states to help Ohio seniors and instead she is using them to help herself politically.”

Illinois law prohibits using the likeness of a statewide elected officeholder in publicly funded ads.

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