Ad campaign cost Ohio taxpayers $1.7 million

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - A television public service campaign featuring Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer and Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel cost taxpayers nearly $1.7 million for television ads across the state.

The 30-second ad promotes an important cause - STABLE investment and savings accounts for Ohioans with disabilities - but its steep cost is drawing criticism.

The total cost is nearly $1 million more than first estimated when Mandel unveiled the program at a June press conference. His office says as of Tuesday, 2,315 people signed up for STABLE, including 1,310 Ohioans. That equates to an advertisement cost of about $1,300 per Ohioan who has signed up so far.

The ads aired between June and December, ending just before Mandel, a Republican, announced his plans to again challenge U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown for his U.S. Senate seat in 2018.

Critics said the ad, which prominently features Mandel, appeared self-promotional, with taxpayers footing the bill for increased name recognition.

"$1.7 million is quite a lot of money for ads," said Rep. Dan Ramos (D-Lorain). "Those state tax dollars are there to promote a program, not to promote the treasurer or any other elected official."

While the Treasurer's Office cited transparency as a top priority, it declined multiple requests from FOX 8 NEWS for an interview with Mandel to address the concerns.

Instead, Press Secretary Mandi Merritt provided a written statement saying, "Treasurer Mandel is on the side of the taxpayers and is proud to be a national leader in helping people with Down syndrome, autism and other disabilities.

We're confident that Ohioans will find it disgusting that the liberal political bosses are trying to politicize something that's totally non-political."

A press release from Mandel's office notes that the legislature passed legislation requiring the Treasurer to "develop marketing materials to publicize the program" and budgeted $2 million per fiscal year for its administration and promotion.

Opponents note each ad order was under, and in some cases barely under, the $50,000 threshold that requires approval by the Ohio Controlling Board, made up of lawmakers from both parties.

"It's a lot of money without the necessary oversight," Ramos said, adding that the board likely still would have approved the expenditure.

The press release from Mandel's office also pointed out that other Ohio officials have appeared in past public service campaigns, and it suggested his appearance lends credibility and accountability to the STABLE program.