CLEVELAND - The union-backed group pushing for the repeal of Ohio's new collective bargaining law has spent more than $17.3 million in the fight and has another $4.3 million on hand heading into the Nov. 8 election, according to campaign finance reports filed Thursday.
We Are Ohio has raised a whopping $19 million from July to mid-October, and received another $4.6 million in donated services.
Fundraising in the ballot battle is approaching what was spent in last year's hard-fought governor's race, in which Republican John Kasich won office. Insiders say the campaign over the union law could cost more than the $33 million spent in the gubernatorial contest.
In total, We Are Ohio has raised about $24 million. The coalition wants to overturn the contentious law that bans public worker strikes and restricts the collective bargaining rights of more than 350,000 public employees, including teachers, firefighters and police officers. Under the law signed by Kasich in late March, public employee unions could negotiate on wages, but not on their pension or health care benefits.
A group that wants the law to remain in place reported far less cash.
The Republican-backed Building a Better Ohio coalition raised $7.6 million for the period and spent almost $6 million through its political action committee, according to its forms. The coalition is not required to say who contributes to it because of its status as a nonprofit corporation, whereas We Are Ohio is a political action committee that by state law had to publicly disclose on Thursday its spending, donors and their contributions.
The group defending the law doesn't have to report as many details. However, it is required to disclose the amount it transfers to its political committee and what that committee spends.
Building a Better Ohio on Thursday also voluntarily provided its donor list, but did not say how much was given by each contributor. The list didn't include other identifying information, such as address and occupation, required of We Are Ohio.
Opponents of the law criticized the group for not revealing more information about its donors.
"Now is the time for Issue 2 supporters to come clean about who and how much they are really paying for their attack on middle class families," said Melissa Fazekas, a spokeswoman for We Are Ohio.
The question over whether to keep the law appears as Issue 2 on fall ballots. A yes vote is to keep the law, while a no vote is to repeal it.
The referendum has spurred involvement from governors' associations representing each political party.
Among those in the defenders' list was Make Ohio Great, an arm of the Republican Governors Association that's made two TV spots with Kasich promoting the positive effects of his agenda on the state. One ad makes a passing reference to a provision in the union law. On Wednesday, the Democratic Governors Association gave $150,000 to We Are Ohio.
Other donors to Building a Better Ohio include the group's allies in the business community. Those advocating that the collective bargaining restrictions remain in place include the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, the Greater Cleveland Partnership and Associated Building & Contractors, a coalition of nonunion construction interests.
The group is also getting outside help from the Virginia-based Alliance for America's Future, which has sent mailers urging Ohio voters to keep the law. It's not known what the group has spent.
Unions were among the top donors to the group opposing the law.
The Ohio Education Association gave We Are Ohio more than $4.7 million. Ohio's largest teachers union in May had agreed to a one-time, $54 dues increase to support the fight against the law.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and its locals gave more than $5.1 million, while Service Employees International Union affiliates contributed more than $1.5 million.
Jason Mauk, a spokesman for the Building a Better Ohio group, predicted his campaign would be outspent, but said it remains aggressive in the final stretch before Election Day.
"Opponents of Issue 2 have spent an extraordinary, perhaps historic, amount of money to defend their grip on our tax dollars," Mauk said in a statement. "Their finance report reveals a well-funded campaign of scare tactics and deception fueled by the forced union dues of government employees."
Both sides of the ballot fight have been flooding the airwaves with statewide TV ads that seek to sway Ohioans to back their cause.
More than half of Ohio voters surveyed in a poll released this week said they want the law to be overturned. The Quinnipiac University poll shows that 57 percent of registered Ohio voters want to repeal the law, while 32 percent want to keep it.
AP Statehouse Correspondent Julie Carr Smyth contributed to this report.