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.
As we head back to work and school today after the holiday break, Barack Obama's inauguration as president is just two weeks away. The much-promised and long-anticipated change is almost upon us, and we'll finally get what we've been hoping for after "catching the car" we were chasing.
A groundbreaking piece of legislation that would update investigative practices used by law enforcement agencies statewide has passed out of committee and is headed for a vote by the full Ohio House. State Rep. Tyrone Yates (D-Walnut Hills), chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee, announced today that Substitute Senate Bill 77 was approved. The committee voted 8-2 in favor of the bill.
For all the rhetoric about the United States' right to freedom of the press, the best reporting on the governmental secrets revealed by WikiLeaks, and the deeper issues they raise, has been done by media outlets in other nations. And the best and most in-depth interview with Julian Assange has been done by a British journalist for Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite news channel.
David Frost, who famously interviewed President Nixon a few years after his resignation following the Watergate scandal, now has a program on Al Jazeera, entitled Frost Over the World.
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.
Some major decisions are expected in the next few days, and we're not referring to how the dithering, ineffectual Cincinnati City Council will finally close a $54 million deficit.
Rather, the decisions coming soon are who will replace Republican Chris Monzel on City Council, and who will replace Tom Callinan as editor at The Enquirer.
Between tweeting happily about U.S. Rep. John Murtha’s death and gloating over Cincinnati losing out on federal funding for its proposed streetcar project, an anti-tax group has also posted on its blog about something more substantive: A legal victory against an Ohio law it said was unconstitutional.
Voters First Ohio is not letting Republicans get away with any dishonesty on Issue 2. In a complaint filed to the Ohio Elections Commission yesterday, the pro-redistricting reform group claimed a recent mailer from Republicans contained three incorrect statements.
“In an effort to affect the outcome of the election and defeat State Issue 2, Republicans have knowingly, or with reckless disregard of the truth, made false statements in printed campaign material disseminated to registered voters,” the complaint said.
If approved by voters in November, Issue 2 will place the responsibility of redistricting in the hands of an independent citizens commission. Currently, politicians handle the process, which they use to redraw district boundaries in politically advantageous ways in a process known as “gerrymandering.” Ohio’s First Congressional District, which includes Cincinnati, was redrawn by the Republican-controlled process to include Warren County, which contains more rural voters that tend to vote Republican, and less of Cincinnati, which contains more urban voters that tend to vote Democrat.
The Voters First complaint outlines three allegedly false statements made by the Republican mailer. The first claim is “Some of the members will be chosen in secret.” As the complaint points out, this is false. The redistricting amendment on the November ballot will require nine of twelve members to be chosen in public, and then those nine members will pick the three final members. All of this has to be done in the public eye, according to the amendment: “All meetings of the Commission shall be open to the public.”
The second disputed claim is that the amendment will provide a “blank check to spend our money” for the commission. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled against that claim on Sept. 12 when it ruled against Secretary of State Jon Husted’s proposed ballot language for Issue 2: “The actual text of the proposed amendment does not state that the redistricting amendment would have — as the ballot board’s language indicates — a blank check for all funds as determined by the commission.”
The mailer also claims that, in the redistricting amendment, “There’s no process for removing these bureaucrats, even if they commit a felony.” But the amendment says commissioners must be electors, and when an elector is convicted of a felony, that status is lost. The complaint says commissioners can also be removed “by a judge under a petition process that applies to public officials generally for exercising power not authorized by law, refusing or neglecting to perform a duty imposed by law, gross neglect of duty, gross immorality, drunkenness, misfeasance, nonfeasance, or malfeasance.”
The Ohio Elections Commission will take up the complaint Thursday morning. The full complaint can be read here.
Matthew Henderson, spokesperson for the Ohio Republican Party, called the complaint a "distraction”: “It’s a cheap shot. It’s up to the Ohio Elections Commission, and they’ll likely throw it out. It’s essentially a distraction from the real issues. The bottom line is that Issue 2 is going to create a panel of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats, and they’ll have influence over our elections.”
He added, “Ohio voters will be able to decide for themselves this fall whether they want to pay for these commissioners or not.”
When pressed about whether or not the Ohio Republican Party is sticking to the claims found in the mailer, he said that’s up to the Ohio Elections Commission to decide.
It is true the independent citizens commission created by Voters First is unelected, but that’s the entire point. The current problem with the system, as argued by Voters First, is elected officials are too vested in reelection to place the district boundary needs of the public above electoral needs. That’s why districts like Ohio’s First Congressional District are redrawn in a way that includes Cincinnati and Warren County — two regions that are vastly different.
While current Republicans oppose redistricting reform in Ohio, some Republicans of the past advocated for it. Ronald Reagan was one such advocate: