Ohio Issue 1: Abortion rights side wins fundraising battle as out-of-state money flows

Two oversized signs addressing Issue One are on display along Fifth Street in Marysville, Ohio.
Two oversized signs addressing Issue One are on display along Fifth Street in Marysville, Ohio.

Backers of Ohio Issue 1 to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution boast a hefty fundraising advantage over their opponents as both sides tap into out-of-state donors, according to campaign finance reports filed Thursday.

More: Ohio Issue 1: What you need to know about November ballot issue on abortion

Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, which backs Issue 1, raised $39.4 million since the beginning of the campaign in February and spent $26.3 million as of mid-October, according to campaign finance reports. Nearly $20 million was spent on television ads, which have blanketed the airwaves in support of the measure.

Protect Women Ohio, which opposes Issue 1, raised nearly $27 million since March and had spent nearly $24.3 million of it as of mid-October, according to campaign finance reports. The biggest expense, about $16.5 million, was on broadcast ads, but the campaign also spent $277,000 on yard signs (compared to the "yes" side's $81,500).

Abortion opponents reported spending $14.7 million before August, much of it aimed at passing an amendment to make it harder to amend the state constitution and potentially block the reproductive rights issue. Ohio voters rejected that proposal. The remaining $9.5 million has been spent in recent months, according to reports.

Top donors for the "yes" side include:

  • Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom PAC, funded by philanthropist Lynn Schusterman and other pro-abortion rights organizations: $8.5 million

  • Sixteen Thirty Fund, a progressive secret money organization: $5.5 million

  • Open Society Policy Center, which is affiliated with liberal billionaire George Soros: $3.5 million

  • The Fairness Project, which advocates for legalizing abortion across the country: $2.4 million

Top donors for the "no" side include:

  • Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, a national anti-abortion organization: $12.5 million directly

  • Protect Women Ohio Action Inc., funded by a conservative advocacy organization called The Concord Fund and Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America: $9.7 million

  • The Catholic dioceses in Cincinnati ($1 million), Columbus ($500,000) and Cleveland ($200,000)

  • Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service order: $1 million

Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America invested so heavily in Ohio to "fight the abortion industry’s perverse profit motive." said Kelsey Pritchard, director of state public affairs. "Big Abortion is attempting to deceive voters into supporting this ballot measure so they can increase their ROI at the expense of unborn lives, women and parents.”

On the air

Issue 1 backers have outspent opponents more than 2-to-1 on television ads. As of Thursday, abortion rights supporters reserved $16.2 million for TV ads, and abortion opponents spent $6.9 million, according to Columbus-based ad firm Medium Buying.

The most recent ads from the "yes on 1" side feature women from Columbus and Cleveland talking about the dangers of Ohio's abortion bans, including one that a judge temporarily blocked.

More: What's the future of Ohio's ban on most abortions? Justices raise questions Wednesday

Abortion opponents launched ads focused on parental consent currently required for minors' abortions and a Spanish-language ad appealing to the state's Hispanic population. The proposed constitutional amendment does not expressly address parental consent, and the sides disagree on how it would be affected.

More: What would an Ohio abortion amendment mean for parental consent?

Issue 1's supporters have invested the most in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, spending $5.75 million in Cleveland alone. Both sides spent about the same amount of money on television ads in the Dayton and Toledo media markets.

Protect Women Ohio spent the most on ads of the Issue 1 opponents ($5.9 million), but Created Equal, Ohio Nation Under God and Cincinnati Right to Life also bought spots.

Early voting is already underway on Issue 1 and Issue 2, which would legalize recreational marijuana in Ohio. Election Day is Nov. 7.

Jessie Balmert is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

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This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Ohio Issue 1: Abortion proponents raise more, out-of-state money flows