“There’s Danger Among Us” ad from Ohioans for a Healthy Economy
Watch the ad:
In this ad, a voiceover says, “There’s danger among us. Jennifer Brunner made it easier for accused murderers, rapists, child molesters to return to our streets. Brunner declared it illegal for judges to consider public safety when setting the amount of bail. More criminals in cities, not cells. Now Brunner and activist judges Terri Jamison and Marilyn Zayas want to take over our State Supreme court. Stop them before our safety is taken. Say no to Brunner, Jamison and Zayas on the Supreme Court.”
The ad identifies the following case:
In a 4-3 decision, with Justice Brunner as part of the majority, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld a decision by an intermediate state appellate court to reduce the bail of a criminal defendant from $1,500,000 to $500,000, deeming the $1.5 million excessive. While the ad identifies Justice Brunner’s decision, this case was determined by the majority of the state’s highest court included Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.
The State of Ohio appealed on the grounds that trial courts should be permitted to consider public safety concerns when setting bail amounts. The Ohio Supreme Court disagreed and reiterated that the sole purpose of bail is to ensure a person’s attendance in court. Under Ohio Criminal Rule. 46, a trial court may not impose bail that violates the constitutional prohibition against bail in an amount higher than an amount reasonably calculated to ensure the accused’s presence in court.
It should be noted that Justices and candidates for the Ohio Supreme Court Sharon Kennedy, Pat Fischer, and Pat DeWine disagreed with the majority and each wrote a dissenting opinion.
Who's responsible for this ad?
Here is an example of a “dark money” ad where it is truly challenging to peel back the layers and figure out who is behind it. Based on the amount of research required for us to track down the following information, we can say with confidence that those responsible for creating and airing this ad took pains to cover their trail. When you see how this ad preys on our fears, it is easy to see why no one would want to step forward and claim responsibility.
This ad is paid for by the Ohioans for a Healthy Economy, a nonprofit which is registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(4). The website provides few details but states that “The mission of Ohioans for a Healthy Economy is to promote the common good and general welfare of the people of Ohio. We carry that mission out by helping the public learn about issues and elections that impact Ohio’s business climate, as well as issues of economic competitiveness. That mission includes promoting and encouraging the adoption of public policies that foster greater job creation, economic growth, and free enterprise.”
Because Ohioans for a Healthy Economy is a nonprofit (501(c)(4), it is harder to follow the money. The organization is not required to file with the Ohio Secretary of State or the Federal Elections Commission.
Its 2020 IRS filing reveals two donors:
- $400,000 from Ohioans for Judicial Integrity
- $70,000 from the Ohio Chamber of Commerce Research Foundation
In August 2019, Sloan Carlough registered the Ohioans for Judicial Integrity as a nonprofit business with the Ohio Secretary of State. However, it is now considered “dead” because it was dissolved on Nov. 23, 2020 by the directors Chauncey “Chan” Cochran of the Cochran Group and member of the Board of the Bureau of Workers Compensation, Josh Rubin of the CJR Group, and Charles “Chip” Gerhardt, III of the Government Strategies Group.
The Ohioans for a Healthy Economy’s 2020 IRS filing identifies Keith Lake as the principal officer. In 2020, Keith Lake was registered to lobby for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. The address given was 34 S. 3rd St. Suite 100, Columbus, Ohio 43215. This is the address of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce building which is directly across from the Ohio Senate Building. The Ohio Chamber of Commerce is a membership-based organization and its IRS filings describe it as a group that “champions free enterprise, economic competitiveness and growth.’’ It makes no mention of ‘’crime” or public safety – and public safety is the theme of the ad.
The Chamber’s Research Foundation, however, lists its mission this way: “to envision Ohio as a place where businesses thrive, communities are safe and strong…’’
The group’s stated support for “safe” communities comes amid the Ohio Chamber’s support for damage caps. The Ohio Supreme Court has agreed to hear Brandt v. Pompa, a case that challenges the caps for a child rape survivor repeatedly raped by the father of a childhood friend. The damage caps are of interest to the Chamber and other business leaders who fear the Brandt case will weaken or overturn the caps, exposing businesses to greater liability.
Despite the strong ties between the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber’s Research Foundation, and Ohioans for a Healthy Economy, it’s impossible to truly “follow the money” because IRS filings don’t follow the election calendar and because the Chamber derives most of its money from membership dues – the source of which it can legally keep secret. The Chamber, however, has publicly disclosed its strong interest in this year’s court races.
In April, CNN reported that Ohio Chamber of Commerce CEO and former Congressman and state legislator Steve Stiver said, “We have a pro-business majority … in the state House and the state Senate. We have a pro-business governor. But if we have the wrong four people on the Supreme Court, we could go backward every day.”
Again, this ad doesn’t focus on the Ohio Chamber of Commerce’s economic interest.
The Brennan Center for Justice’s Buying Time project has been tracking political spending in state Supreme Court races. Click here for information about political ads and spending in the Ohio Supreme Court races this year.
Discussion and Analysis
DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS
Analysis from Professor Thomas Nelson from Ohio State University. Professor Nelson’s research focuses on political psychology and American politics.
Many classic persuasion tactics appear in the ad. First there is the fear appeal. The ad tries to arouse our fear through ominous music and an urgent, concerned voice-over. The visual shows a young girl walking alone, being viewed through a car window. We are meant to infer that someone is stalking the girl, intending to harm her. In the final scene, their girl vanishes, suggesting that she has been kidnapped or worse. The ad attributes this fear to Justice Brunner’s decision. We are meant to feel afraid of what she might do in future decisions before the court. All good fear appeals need to offer an escape. Since the ad cannot advocate for any particular candidate, it simply tells us to “say no” to the candidates, i.e., vote against them.
Why should we fear Justice Brunner? Because she “made it easier for accused murderers, rapists, and child molesters to return to our streets…More criminal in cities, not cells.” There is some frankly deceptive verbal trickery involved in this segment. The voice-over includes the word “accused”, alluding to the Dubose decision about bail amounts for defendants. The text on screen eliminates the word “accused,” however, suggesting that Brunner favored allowing actual murderers, rapists, and child molesters to return to the streets. The words murderers, rapists, and child molesters appear in capital letters and boldface type, further reinforcing the suggestion that these are convicted criminals, not the accused awaiting trial. The point is hammered home by the phrase “More criminals in cities, not cells.”
The ad also applies the simple but effective liking tactic and its companion, the similarity principle. We tend to support candidates that we find likable and vote against candidates we dislike. Since again the ad cannot endorse any particular candidate, it must try to make us dislike Brunner. It does so by using the similarity principle, which simply says we tend to like those who are similar to us, and dislike those who are dissimilar. According to the ad, Brunner’s actions favor terrible people: murderers, etc. Brunner appears to be taking their side, which makes her against us. We certainly don’t want to give our support to someone with such deviant loyalties and abnormal values.
We can also see guilt by association in the ad. The ad mentions candidates Jamison and Zayas in the same breath as Brunner. Although they were not involved in the Dubose opinion, mentioning them alongside Brunner implies that they share her opinions on the issue and harbor the same alien priorities.
Finally, the ad appeals to conspiratorial thinking by using the buzzwords “activist judges who want to take over the Supreme Court”. The ad suggests that these are not sincere public servants but rather actors in a conspiracy to impose their aberrant agenda on normal people. Conspiratorial thinking works together with fear appeals and the similarity principle to make us highly suspicious of these candidates’ motives and intentions.