CLEVELAND – At a campaign event Tuesday, Ohio Treasurer and Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Josh Mandel responded to lingering questions about nearly $2 million his office spent on television advertisements in the months leading up to his campaign announcement.
The 2016 statewide ad campaign promoted STABLE accounts, investment and savings accounts for Ohioans with disabilities which have bipartisan support.
However, critics have called marketing of the program through taxpayer-funded TV commercials -- which prominently featured Mandel alongside Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer -- self-promotional.
“Josh decided to run these ads right before he announced, getting basically $2 million of taxpayer-funded free media to increase his name ID before he jumped into yet another political campaign,” said Preston Maddock, Communications Director for the re-election campaign of Mandel’s opponent, Sen. Sherrod Brown.
Mandel appeared at a press conference during which the Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association, the union representing non-supervisory officers, detectives and radio dispatchers, announced its endorsement.
“I am proud as the Treasurer of the state of Ohio to be leading an initiative to serve and help families with individuals with disabilities throughout the state of Ohio,” Mandel said when asked to respond to concerns over the marketing of STABLE accounts. “I think it's important we do everything we can to look out for the most vulnerable among us.”
Mandel lauded the program, saying it serves 4,000 families, but he did not answer questions about its marketing. Lawmakers approved $2 million to publicize the program, which has been done through more targeted methods in other states.
However, Mandel’s office broke each ad order down into increments that did not exceed a $50,000 threshold that would’ve required approval by the Ohio Controlling Board, made up of lawmakers from both parties.
During the budget process this year, Republican lawmakers changed the rules to close that loophole, requiring approval of any purchase of advertising by an elected official that exceeds $50,000 “in the aggregate.”
When FOX 8 News asked Mandel if he felt the taxpayer-funded TV commercials were the best way to promote the program and why his office purchased them in amounts that didn’t need approval, he said he is proud of the way his office reached out to and communicated with individuals with special needs.
“Shame on liberals in the media like yourself and shame on radicals like Sherrod brown for politicizing a program that's not political,” Mandel said.
Mandel offered to field more questions after the endorsement announcement event, but then abruptly left at its conclusion. A campaign aide said he was traveling and did not have time to answer additional questions.
Maddock said Brown’s problem isn’t with the STABLE program but with its administration and promotion.
“If anyone's politicizing this program, it's Josh Mandel's conduct. He's the one who decided to put himself in the advertisements. He's the one who decided to spend money in a shady way to avoid oversight,” Maddock said. “Josh Mandel politicizes everything he does.”