Supporters of a participatory budgeting charter amendment launch their campaign at Cleveland's Public Square.
Supporters of a participatory budgeting charter amendment launch their campaign at Cleveland's Public Square. Credit: Nick Castele / Signal Cleveland

The labor union representing around 1,000 City of Cleveland workers is filing the radio airwaves with a call to vote against Issue 38, the participatory budgeting amendment

No on 38 – a political action committee created by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – has ordered at least $75,000 in local radio ad time, filings with the Federal Communications Commission show. The 60-second spots will air from the end of October until Election Day on Nov. 7.

The People’s Budget amendment would set aside an amount equal to 2% of the city’s General Fund budget – or about $14 million – to be spent according to a slate of neighborhood votes. 

Advocates of the amendment promote it as a way to give residents a direct say in how their taxes are spent. Cleveland’s labor unions have locked arms against the measure, arguing it will hurt services. 

“We wanted to get the message out to not only our members but to other Clevelanders to let them know why we believe this is bad for the city,” AFSCME Cleveland regional director Marquez Brown told Signal Cleveland.  

AFSCME represents workers across city government, from the airport to the Health Department to recreation centers, Brown said.

In the union ad, speakers warn that a victory for Issue 38 would mean cuts to city services like snow removal. Supporters of the issue have decried such arguments as “scare tactics.” 

“It might sound good, but when you read the fine print, it’s a no for me,” one voice says in the AFSCME ad.

No on 38 was formed as a PAC a day before a mid-October campaign finance deadline, so it did not file a pre-election financial disclosure with the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. Brown said the PAC is drawing its money from AFSCME and the building trades. 

The PAC is spreading its money across the radio dial. It reserved time on stations owned by major commercial radio companies Urban One, iHeart Media and Audacy. 

The size of the ad buy far exceeds the $4,500 in radio spending by the People’s Budget Cleveland Committee, the pro-Issue 38 campaign. 

In the People’s Budget ad, which runs 15 seconds, a speaker says the charter amendment “would allow Clevelanders to pitch ideas and vote on projects to get funded in our neighborhoods.”

The pro-Issue 38 campaign also bought a 30-second ad on community radio station WOVU. In that commercial, a voice says, “If politicians can find money in the budget to pad the profits of billionaires, we can invest our own money into our own streets with Issue 38.” 

Cleveland City Council is also running a campaign to defeat Issue 38. The Council Leadership Fund, a PAC run by the council president, raised $95,000 in September and October. Among its donors were the owners of the Cleveland Browns and a PAC tied to Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert’s business holdings. 

The People’s Budget campaign raised $20,000 in cash and has received in-kind help from the nonprofit Ohio Organizing Collaborative. 

Government Reporter (he/him)
Nick joins us from the world of public radio. He has more than a decade experience covering politics and government in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. In 2021, he produced and hosted "After Jackson: Cleveland's Next Mayor," an Ideastream Public Media podcast on the Cleveland mayoral race. He has also covered breaking news, opioid lawsuits and elections nationally for NPR.