An investigation by nonprofit journalism group ProPublica has uncovered the identity of one of the secret super PACs funding advertisements attacking U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and promoting his challenger, Ohio state treasurer Josh Mandel.
The group is the Government Integrity Fund and is headed by Columbus lobbyist Tom Norris. Norris’ lobbying firm Cap Square Solutions employs former Mandel aide Joe Ritter.
Ritter declined to comment to ProPublica about his role with Norris’ lobbying firm or whether he is involved with the Government Integrity Fund.
The race between Brown and Mandel is considered vital to Republicans who want to take control of the Senate and Democrats who want to hold on to their majority. It has turned into Ohio’s — and the nation’s — most expensive race.
The Associated Press reported in August that outside groups — like the Government Integrity Fund — have spent $15 million supporting Mandel, while similar groups have spent $3 million for Brown.
It’s unknown where the money is coming from because federal regulations and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United case allow the groups to spend unlimited amounts of cash on political ads without disclosing their donors.
Such groups are classified as non-profit “social welfare” groups, which don’t have to release donor information or register with the Federal Election Commission. They’re supposed to be “primarily” engaged in promoting social welfare.
Super PACs aren’t supposed to coordinate with campaigns, but it is common for them to hire politicians’ former aides.
According to ProPublica, Ritter was first hired by Mandel as an aide when the candidate was in the Ohio Legislature. He was then the field director for Mandel’s state treasurer campaign and then became a constituent and executive agency liaison when Mandel won that race. He left the treasurer’s office after six months to work for Norris’ lobbying firm.
Ritter was part of an ethics complaint filed after a Dayton Daily News investigation into Mandel’s practice of hiring former campaign workers for state jobs. Ritter has contested the charges.
Norris' ties to the Government Integrity Fund was discovered by ProPublica through documents filed with Cincinnati NBC affiliate WLWT. The Federal Communication Commission requires TV stations to keep detailed records about political advertisers.
A prominent Republican congressman is under investigation for insider trading. U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), who heads the House Financial Services Committee, is being probed by the Office of Congressional Ethics for making suspicious trades and buying certain stock options while helping oversee the nation’s banking and financial services industries.
The Enquirer’s top boss has told CityBeat that her connection to a major real estate development group was “overlooked” in a lengthy, front-page article about the organization that was published April 15.
Publisher Margaret Buchanan wrote in response to an email that she didn’t influence the preparation, editing or placement of an article about the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC). Buchanan sits on 3CDC’s executive committee, and is in charge of overseeing publicity and marketing efforts for the organization.
The Enquirer published a 1,900 word-plus article about 3CDC, lauding the group for its efforts to redevelop Over-the-Rhine despite the economic downturn. Buchanan’s role with 3CDC wasn’t mentioned, but she told CityBeat it has been disclosed in past articles and will be done again in the future.
Buchanan’s response was sent the same day that CityBeat published a column criticizing the lack of disclosure, and questioning whether her role violates The Gannett Co.’s ethical guidelines for news-gathering.
Here’s the full text of Buchanan’s response:
Over several years, The Cincinnati Enquirer has fully covered the pro's and con's (sic) of 3CDC's development efforts in Over-the-Rhine for our readers and we are very proud of that coverage.
As publisher, I sit on 3CDC's executive committee — and did not influence any of the reporting on this issue. Our editor is completely responsible for all editorial decisions. Typically my participation on this committee is disclosed, although it was overlooked for the article that ran on Sunday, April 15. It will continue to be disclosed in the future.
A search using the ProQuest database of The Enquirer’s archives found that the newspaper has published 481 articles and news briefs mentioning 3CDC since the group began its efforts in 2004. (Given how the database is organized, however, it’s likely that some of the entries might be duplicative.)
Of the 481 entries, Buchanan was mentioned in 15 articles. That equates to about 1/32nd of the articles.
Most of the published mentions about Buchanan’s ties to 3CDC weren’t in articles about the group’s retail and residential development projects. Rather, they mostly occurred in articles about 3CDC’s efforts to move a homeless shelter away from Over-the-Rhine.
Also, one mention was in an article about the new School for Creative and Performing Arts, while another occurred in a piece marking the 10th anniversary of the police shooting death of Timothy Thomas.
Interestingly, most of the mentions occurred after 2010, when local blogger Jason Haap and CityBeat began publishing items about the lack of disclosure.
This week’s Porkopolis column mentioned Gannett’s ethics code, which includes such admonishments as “We will remain free of outside interests, investments or business relationships that may compromise the credibility of our news report,” and “We will avoid potential conflicts of interest and eliminate inappropriate influence on content.”
The code also states “When unavoidable personal or business interests could compromise the newspaper’s credibility, such potential conflicts must be disclosed to one’s superior and, if relevant, to readers.”
In her email, Buchanan didn’t address why these rules don’t apply to her connection to 3CDC.
CREDO Action Campaign Manager Josh Nelson told CityBeat that the group emailed the petition with 4,021 signatures to the Department of Labor Wednesday morning.
The petition reads: "Requiring employees to attend a Mitt Romney political rally without pay is totally unacceptable. I urge you to conduct a thorough investigation to determine whether Murray Energy violated any federal laws on August 14th, and to hold it fully accountable if it did."
Romney appeared at the event to attack what he called President Barack Obama’s “war on coal.” He was flanked on stage by hundreds of miners with soot-stained faces.
Dozens of those miners told WWVA-AM West Virginia talk show host David Blomquist that they were pulled from the mine before their shift was over and not paid for the full day of work. The miners, who Blomquist did not identify, said they were told that attendance at the rally was mandatory.
Murray Energy Chief Financial Officer Rob Moore told Blomquist on his radio show that managers “communicated to our workforce that the attendance at the Romney event was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend.”
He said that people who did not show up to the event, which organizers say drew 1,500 miners and family members, were not penalized for their absence.
“Forcing Ohio workers to participate in a political rally is unacceptable, so we're joining our friends at SEIU in calling on the U.S. Department of Labor to conduct an investigation to determine whether or not any federal laws were broken,” Nelson wrote in an email to CREDO Action’s Ohio activists on Sept. 1.
A spokeswoman for the Labor Department was not immediately able to confirm whether the department had received the petition or planned to launch an investigation.
This post will be updated with comment from the Labor Department when it becomes available.
• I’m grateful to the Enquirer for running a story on Sen. Rand Paul’s response to the State of the Union Message. It wasn’t on NPR or any other network that I could find. His Washington office did not respond to my question of whether the Kentucky Republican offered his remarks to any broadcasters/cable networks.
• Tens of millions of Americans will become eligible for subsidized medical care under Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Who’s going to treat them? I haven’t seen that in the news. And while reporters are working out that story, ask how the required additional primary care physicians will pay off college and medical school debts on the salaries that will be paid to their specialties.
• And once journalists dig into the supply of physicians to handle Medicaid expansion, I hope they’ll ask who’s going to staff quality preschool education for every American child. Obama can be aspirational, but we’re not talking about minimum wage diaper changers. Early learning centers require trained pre-school educators. And while they’re at it, reporters should ask where these new early childhood educators will train and who’s going pick up the tab. After all, they’ll never repay college loans on day care wages.
• Maybe I missed it in the admiring coverage of our government killing American Islamists abroad with drone rocket attacks: What prevents Obama from killing Americans in this country with drone strikes? None of the news stories or commentaries I’ve read or heard addressed that point.
There would be no shortage of targets. Wouldn’t the sheriff have loved a drone-launched missile to kill Christopher Dorner, the rogue ex-LAPD cop? That might have spared the deputy whom Dorner killed during the flaming finale in the San Bernardino mountains. And what prevents our increasingly militarized police from using their own armed drones?
Imagine what authorities could have done with armed drones during earlier, infamous encounters:
A missile fired at armed members of the American Indian Movement at Wounded Knee, S.D., could have avenged inept, vain and foolish George Armstrong Custer and FBI agents killed in the 1973 siege.
No feds would have died if a drone-launched missile incinerated Randy Weaver’s family with during its deadly 1992 confrontation with feds at Ruby Ridge, Idaho.
David Koresh and the Branch Davidian religious sect were incinerated by the feds’ 1993 armored assault in Texas. That would have been a perfect photo op for a domestic drone attack.
• Sometimes, “national security” is the rationale for requested or commanded self-censorship, even when secrets aren’t secret.
For instance, British editors held stories about Prince Harry until he returned the first time from Afghanistan. However, an Australian women’s magazine reported he was in combat. The non-secret was a secret because no one paid attention.
More recently, the new U.S. drone base in Saudi Arabia was supposed to be a secret. Obama officials asked major news media to hold the story and they agreed. National security, you know.
But it wasn’t a secret. Washington Post blogger Erik Wemple said Fox News already had reported U.S. plans to build the facility in Sept. 2011. Three months before that, the Times of London reported construction of the Saudi drone base.
When the New York Times broke the agreement and reported the Saudi drone base, everyone jumped on the story. Now, the Times, the Post and AP are trying to explain why they kept the non-secret from us.
• Gone are the days when senior Israeli government officials could call in top editors and broadcasters and tell them what they could not report. Last week, a tsunami of technology overwhelmed official Israeli efforts to censor the story of Prisoner X. Israeli journalists were not to report his existence or mention the censorship order. National security, you know. However, an Australian network named an Aussie as Prisoner X and said he reportedly committed suicide three years ago in an Israeli prison. Social media and the online world took it from there: "Aussie recruited by Israeli spy agency dies in Israeli prison." Israel dropped efforts to censor the Prisoner X story and is issuing official statements about the case.
• San Bernardino’s sheriff asked journalists to quit tweeting from the final gunfight with former LAPD cop Christopher Dorner. Bizarre. If authorities feared Dorner would gain tactical information, they misread his situation: Dorner was surrounded in a mountain cabin, tear gas was being lobbed in and men outside were trying to shoot him. He probably was too busy to read tweets. Moreover, only one reporter was close enough to tweet anything remotely useful to anyone. Most reporters initially or finally ignored the sheriff.
The tweet issue first arose during the 2008 Muslim terrorist attack on Mumbai when invaded the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Some authorities reportedly feared accomplices outside were reading news media tweets and forwarding tactical information about police and army movements to gunmen inside. I don’t remember if anyone asked reporters to quit tweeting.
• A new poll says Fox hit an alltime low for the four years Public Policy Polling has tracked trust/distrust among TV networks: 41 percent trust Fox, 46 percent do not. The poll didn’t find anything for other networks to brag about. Only PBS had more “trust” than “distrust” among viewers: 52 percent trust, 29 percent don’t trust. The poll questioned 800 voters by telephone from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3.
• Garry Wills’ new book, Why Priests, sets out to debunk Catholicism’s dearest dogmas and doctrines concerning priests, bishops and the papacy. NPR’s Diane Rehm gave him an hour last week to say why Catholic ordained clergy are an unnecessary accretion. Then she asked an outgunned parish priest from the Washington, D.C. area for a rebuttal. If she really wanted a lively, informed argument, there is no shortage of priest-scholars who could have matched Wills’ credentials and talents as an historian. It was unfair and cringe-worthy.
• It’s touchy when an unpleasantry is brought up in an obit: a long forgiven conviction, a “love child,” whatever. More often, predictably awkward moments are omitted in the spirit of de mortuis nil nisi bonum. Here’s HuffingtonPost on a full-blown omission in the recent obit on former New York mayor and mensch Ed Koch:
“The New York Times revised its Friday obituary . . . after several observers noticed that it lacked any mention of his controversial record on AIDS. The paper's obituary, written by longtime staffer Robert D. MacFadden, weighed in at 5,500 words. Yet, in the first version of the piece, AIDS was mentioned exactly once, in a passing reference to ‘the scandals and the scourges of crack cocaine, homelessness and AIDS.’ The Times also prepared a 22-minute video on Koch's life that did not mention AIDS. This struck many as odd; after all, Koch presided over the earliest years of AIDS, and spent many years being targeted by gay activists who thought he was not doing nearly enough to stop the spread of the disease. Legendary writer and activist Larry Kramer called Koch ‘a murderer of his own people’ because the mayor was widely known as a closeted gay man.”
• New York’s Ed Koch admired Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl’s recorded last words before Muslim terrorists beheaded him. Koch had Pearl’s affirmation of faith engraved on his own tombstone in Manhattan’s Trinity Church graveyard: “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.”
• A former student reporter rarely rates an obit in the national media, but Annette Buchanan wasn’t ordinary. In the mid-1960s, she refused a court order to name sources for her story about student marijuana use on the University of Oregon campus. Her story ran in the Oregon Daily Emerald, the campus paper. No shield law protected her promise of confidentiality. The Emerald said she was fined the maximum $300 and the state supreme court affirmed her contempt of court conviction. That led to the creation of Oregon’s shield law for journalists. She died recently.
• An unresolved First Amendment issue is whether bloggers can be protected by state shield laws that allow journalists to keep sources secret. The latest case is from New Jersey. Poynter.com said blogger Tina Renna refused to identify government officials whom she said misused county generators after Hurricane Sandy. Union County prosecutors demanded the 16 names, saying Renna wasn’t a journalist protected by New Jersey’s shield law because she’s been involved in politics, her blog is biased and she’s often critical of county government.
The Newark Star-Ledger took her side. It said shield law protection “shouldn’t hinge on whether someone is a professional, nonpartisan or even reliable journalist. It’s a functional test: Does Renna gather information that’s in the public interest and publish it? Yes.” Renna “can be a little wild, she’s not the same as a professional reporter and she drives local officials crazy. But part of democracy is putting up with Tina Renna.” A court will probe whether Renna is a journalist as defined by the state shield law; that is, whether bloggers can be included by analogy under protected electronic news media.
• Few ledes — introductory sentences in news stories — are as lame as those saying the subject “doesn’t look” like some stereotype. For years, it usually referred to a woman in an unconventional (read men’s) occupation or pastime. “She didn’t look like a steelworker . . . “ or, “You wouldn’t think a tiny blonde bagged a deadly wild boar with a huge .44 magnum revolver.” Male subjects aren’t immune, as in this lede from a recent Washington Post story: “Farmer Hugh Bowman hardly looks the part of a revolutionary who stands in the way of promising new biotech discoveries and threatens Monsanto’s pursuit of new products . . . ”
What do revolutionaries look like? Lenin was pictured in suit and tie. Gandhi wore a white, draped sari or dhoti, Mandela and fellow ANC rebels often wore suits and ties. Young 1960s American and French student rebels never wore suits and ties and needed haircuts. Today’s young North African activists dress the same for class or a demonstration.
“Doesn’t look like” wouldn’t even fit an androgynous male model in the annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show. He’d be there because he looks like a classic, young, leggy “angel.”
• Have you noticed how hurricanes, floods, blizzards and tornadoes are morphing from evidence of climate change into photo ops? News media see them as so common that little reporting is required beyond images and stories of hardship: shoppers hoarding sliced white bread, downed trees and shattered homes, marooned airline passengers and days without power. Maybe there’s the throwaway quote from some climatologist about change affecting weather, but for the most part, that’s it. I’m betting this deliberate ignorance is a Republican Party plot to show that increasingly frequent, dangerous weather reflects the Intelligent Design that gave us dino-riding cavemen a few thousand years ago.
• The Enquirer devoted Page 1 to a dramatic OMG! graphic and story suggesting Cincinnati was terrible because it had no black candidate for mayor. An accompanying list of movers and shakers had few blacks. The presentation suggested the all-white mayoral contest meant amiss in a city where whites are the largest minority. However, whites and blacks told reporters that leadership rather than color was foremost among attributes they sought in a mayor. Moreover, with so many African Americans in visible leadership roles in the city, having a black mayor succeed a black mayor was less of an issue than the paper suggested.
Just a few weeks after leaving office, ex-Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner is trying to raise awareness about a political action committee (PAC) she helped create while campaigning last year for the U.S. Senate nomination.
Courage PAC is designed to increase grassroots advocacy and citizen activism on several issues, and perform a watchdog role on Ohio government now that Republicans fill most statewide offices.