Group spent $3 million on failed Columbus levy

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A group spent $3 million advocating for the ill-fated Columbus school levy last month, making it one of the most expensive such campaigns ever in Ohio.

Campaign finance reports released last week showed that more than $800,000 was raised in the final few weeks of the campaign. The reports showed $100,000 donations were still coming in days before the polls opened.

Damon Asbury, who oversees legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association, told The Columbus Dispatch ( ) that it's likely a record. He said a $100,000 levy-campaign budget would be more typical for a large district.

"Mostly, you're not buying air time; you're buying yard signs and bumper stickers and pins," he said.

Columbus City Schools sought a combined 9.01-mill levy and bond issue in November. Voters rejected it 45,453 to 20,241. That means the group — called Reimagine Columbus Education — spent about $150 per yes vote.

Organizers have said this wasn't a typical levy request. It sought a broad expansion of pre-kindergarten classes and sharing tax dollars with charter schools. The campaign paid for television ads featuring Ohio State University football coach Urban Meyer, Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman and former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.

This year's effort cost more than five times as much as Columbus' 2008 levy campaign and more than the campaign last year for a large school-turnaround plan in Cleveland. That campaign cost nearly $2 million and led to the passage of the 15-mill levy.

The Columbus levy campaign was funded heavily by corporate donors. In the weeks leading up to the election, Limited Brands offered $125,000; American Electric Power and Nationwide Insurance each sent more than $100,000; and DSW Inc. and M/I Homes donated $50,000 apiece.