Ohio Issue 2: 30 TV Stations Pull Misleading Anti-Union Ad [UPDATE]

WASHINGTON -- Thirty television stations in the Ohio area have pulled an anti-union ad after news broke on Tuesday that the group behind it had co-opted a union supporter's image to suggest that she supported their cause.

Next month, Ohioians will vote on Issue 2, a ballot referendum on S.B. 5. The bill restricts collective bargaining rights for state employees, among other provisions; opposition to it inspired large protests from residents around the state earlier in the year.

The pro-labor group We Are Ohio has been running an anti-Issue 2 ad featuring Cincinnati resident Marlene Quinn, who almost lost her great-granddaughter Zoey in a fire. "If not for the firefighters, we wouldn't have our Zoey today," stated Quinn in the ad. "That's why it is so important to vote no on Issue 2. Issue 2 makes it illegal to negotiate for enough firefighters to do their job."

But a new ad by the pro-Issue 2 group Building A Better Ohio used the same footage of Quinn in its own new ad -- making her a de facto spokesperson for a ballot measure she opposes.

Quinn denounced Building A Better Ohio on Tuesday, saying she felt "violated."

"I think it's dishonest and downright deceitful that they would use footage of me to try to play tricks and fool voters," Quinn said in a statement. "It's insulting to the brave firefighters that saved the lives of my grandson and my great-granddaughter Zoey. I'm outraged. They did not ask my permission."

On Wednesday, We Are Ohio announced that 30 TV stations had pulled down the ad by Building A Better Ohio.

The group has launched a petition drive to urge the holdouts to join the other stations and remove the ad.

The Huffington Post contacted all 15 TV stations, but none of them returned requests for comment.

“Issue 2 supporters have sunk to a new low by stealing the words of a great-grandmother,” said Melissa Fazekas, spokeswoman for We Are Ohio. “This ad raises serious questions about the motives of their campaign and the personnel behind making the decisions to air this type of underhanded campaign commercial. Who is funding these attacks? Who approved this ad? Did Governor Kasich and legislative leaders know about it and/or approve it? Ohioans deserve to know the truth. Especially since the people leading the charge at Building a Better Ohio have used these types of deceptive ads before in Supreme Court and Ohio Senate races. Enough is enough, they should step up, pull the ad and tell Ohioans who’s behind these dirty tricks."

Dale Bring, the legal counsel for the media firm representing the Building A Better Ohio, said in a statement that the group's ad "meets every legal and ethical standard required for broadcast on public airwaves."

"It is factual and verifiable, and the woman featured in the ad chose to make herself a public figure by participating in a paid advertisement," he said. "A campaign has every right within the law to use her statements for the purpose of political discourse."

"Federal law clearly establishes that licensed broadcasters have a legal obligation to provide campaigns access to public airwaves for use in communicating with voters. Stations cannot abdicate this responsibility, especially when an ad features verifiable statements made by a person defined by law as a limited purpose public figure. I certainly understand that Ohio stations are being bullied and intimidated by those who might oppose the ad's political message, but any decision to refuse access to publicly-funded airwaves in this case amounts to a denial of constitutional free speech rights that could seriously jeopardize a broadcaster's federal licensing agreement."

This story originally reported that 27 stations had pulled the ad. It has been updated to reflect the fact that 30 stations have now taken it off the air. List of stations that are no longer running the Building A Better Ohio ad: WSAZ (Charleston), WCHS (Charleston), WVAH (Charleston), WLWT (Cincinnati), WXIX-DT (Cincinnati), WOIO (Cleveland), WUAB (Cleveland), WWHO (Columbus), WBNS (Columbus), WCMH (Columbus), WSYX (Columbus), WTTE (Columbus), WHIO (Dayton), WDTN (Dayton), WBDT (Dayton), WRGT (Dayton), WKEF (Dayton), WLIO (Lima), ELIO (Lima), WOHL (Lima), EOHL (Lima), WTAP (Parkersburg), WNWO (Toledo), WUPW (Toledo), WTOL-DT (Toledo), WTRF (Wheeling), ETRF (Wheeling), GTRF (Wheeling), WTOV (Wheeling) and WHIZ (Zanesville).

UPDATE: 6:10 p.m. -- The TV station WEWS (Cleveland) posted a statement saying it is still running the ad: "According to the attorney for our parent company, Scripps Media, 'We don’t want to be seen as limiting or censoring public debate on a matter of significant political importance in Ohio.'"