COLUMBUS, Ohio - The increasingly bitter ballot fight over the possible repeal of the state's new collective bargaining law had both sides sparring Tuesday over starring characters in each other's television ads on the issue.
The group that wants the law repealed says its opponents stole footage of a Cincinnati great-grandmother from one of its ads without permission, while the group campaigning to keep it in place says a firefighter from its opponent's first TV spot gave the media misleading information about his public health benefits.
The law bans public worker strikes and limits the collective bargaining abilities of more than 350,000 teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public employees around the state.
An ad opposing the law by union-backed We Are Ohio features 78-year-old Marlene Quinn thanking firefighters for saving her great-granddaughter Zoey from a fire. In the ad, Quinn asks voters to repeal the union law, which she said will lead to fewer firefighters.
Republican- and business-backed Building a Better Ohio, which supports the new law, uses the same footage in its ad but cuts out Quinn's repeal call.
"I think that it shows that they are willing play tricks, to do anything to win this campaign, including taking a great-grandmother's words and twisting them," said We Are Ohio spokeswoman Melissa Fazekas.
In a statement, Quinn said: "I've lived a long time and seen a lot of things, but I've never seen a group of people sink so low. I think it's dishonest and downright deceitful that they would use footage of me to try to play tricks and fool voters.
We Are Ohio has sent a letter to TV stations asking them to pull the Building a Better Ohio ad off the airwaves and is looking at its legal options. So far, eight stations have removed it. We are Ohio also has an online petition asking TV stations to take down the ad.
Former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that the use of Quinn's image in the Building a Better Ohio ad was "deceitful and dishonorable."
Strickland speculated that it could cause a backlash against the law's supporters. "I think it could be the turning point in the campaign, quite frankly," he said.
"What they have done here, I think, demonstrates the level of deceitfulness that they will use in order to try to win. This is really as blatant as anything I've seen," Strickland said.
He said the supporters purposefully distorted the woman's image and exploited her.
"It will say something about the character of the governor and others, if they do not, in my judgment, step up and very publicly say that this is wrong and disassociate themselves from it."
Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Republican Gov. John Kasich, declined to comment.
Building a Better Ohio won't be pulling the ad and is sending a letter to stations telling them why it is legal, spokeswoman Connie Werhkamp said.
"We strongly believe that the victim's story actually makes the case for voting yes" on the law, she said. "This is just a trend again that their campaign is based on distorting reality and relying on a campaign of misinformation."
Building a Better Ohio earlier in the day alleged that a Cincinnati firefighter featured in We Are Ohio's first ad gave incorrect information to multiple media outlets about how much he paid for his health benefits.
Firefighter Doug Stern reportedly told members of the media he paid 20 percent of his health-insurance premiums, but The Columbus Dispatch reported that Cincinnati firefighters pay 5 percent of the premium.
On Tuesday night, Stern defended himself, clarifying that he pays 20 percent of his health care costs, not of insurance premiums. Stern said his policy requires him to pay the first $600 in health care costs and then 20 percent of additional costs up to a total of $6,000 out of pocket.
As such, Stern said, the new law won't add up to any cost savings for Cincinnati.
"There are no real cost savings to the bill," he said. "What they're calling reasonable reforms aren't reforming anything."
Fazekas said she couldn't comment on Building a Better Ohio's accusations without first talking to Stern.
"I'm not getting into a back-and-forth with them," she said. "What they did with this ad and attacking a firefighter is low, and they should be ashamed of themselves."
Associated Press writers Ann Sanner and JoAnne Viviano contributed to this report.
Below is the We Are Ohio ad: