CityBeat Blogs - Campaign Finance <![CDATA[Elections Commission to Hear Suit Against Smitherman]]>

The Cincinnati Elections Commission will hold a hearing June 23 on City Councilman Christopher Smitherman’s campaign finances after Nathaniel Livingston Jr., a well-known Cincinnati radio personality and former City Council candidate, filed a rather colorful complaint against him.

The complaint filed with the Commission says Smitherman exceeded campaign contribution limits during his 2013 campaign and unfairly gave city contracts to family members.

But it also says so much more.

Livingston goes after Smitherman with the gloves off. He starts off his complaint with some choice words about the councilman, calling him “an arrogant politician who is closely aligned to the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party.”

Livingston goes on to say that “Smitherman has publicly stated that his life goals are to become a decamillionaire and President of the United States. Chris will do anything to obtain money and power.”

Dang. That’s harsh. With the first name and everything. But Livingston’s just getting warmed up.

“He basically makes money by selling mediocre insurance products to gullible individuals,” the complaint continues, questioning Smitherman’s credentials as a financial advisor.

Call out someone for their alleged tea party affiliation, sure, but casting aspersions on the value of a man’s insurance products is another thing entirely.

Low blows aside, the complaint says that Smitherman broke campaign finance laws when his brother, Albert Smitherman, gave him a total of $2,200 and his sister-in-law, Liza Smitherman, chipped in $2,700 for his campaign.

The limit for individual donations between city council elections is $1,100. The complaint is made on a bit of a technicality; both Albert and Liza gave their first contributions just days after the 2011 elections, and didn’t donate any other money in that earlier election. Cincinnati Election Commission rules do allow for carryover of funds from previous elections under certain circumstances.

Another donation of $500 by Liza Smitherman under the name Brewster Pumping LLC is also flagged in the complaint. That donation was made in October 2013, and the address listed for the contribution is that of Liza and Albert’s business, Jostin Construction LLC.

Livingston says this is evidence of corruption, and that Councilman Smitherman has been actively working to get jobs for the company. Jostin was subcontracted for $22,000 worth of work on the city’s streetcar project in November 2013, but later declined the job.

Livingston himself has been in trouble for campaign finances. In 2009, the Ohio Elections Commission sued him for $43,000 for not filing campaign finance information for his 2001 City Council bid. That suit was later dismissed.

<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel was involved in two car crashes and reported neither, and one of the crashes may have violated federal campaign finance law. During a March accident, Mandel, a Republican, was riding in a vehicle owned by his 2012 U.S. Senate campaign months after he lost to Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown. Federal law states Senate campaign property can't be used for personal use or to campaign for a different office, such as state treasurer. Mandel’s state treasurer campaign says it rented out the car from the Senate campaign, but The Associated Press found the check didn’t clear out until June 30 — seven months after the Senate campaign and four months after the crash — and the rent wasn’t fully paid for until reporters started asking questions.

Republican state legislators are drafting a bill that would overhaul Ohio’s Medicaid program. The legislation isn’t the Medicaid expansion, which Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder now says isn’t a good idea. Instead, the upcoming bill would make changes to attempt to control Medicaid’s rising costs, which have put an increasing strain on the state budget in the past few years. Batchelder says the bill will be introduced in the fall and likely voted out of the House by the end of the year.

Mayoral candidates John Cranley and Roxanne Qualls are rolling out their latest endorsements. Yesterday, State Rep. Alicia Reece said she’s backing Cranley. On Friday, Qualls touted support from Equality Ohio, the Miami Group of the Sierra Club, the National Organization of Women Cincinnati, Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 392 and the Ohio-Kentucky Administrative District Council of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsworkers. Endorsements rarely influence the outcome of elections.

The Ohio Parole Board rejected a killer’s plea for mercy. Harry Mitts Jr. is scheduled to die by injection on Sept. 25 for killing two men, including a police officer, at an apartment. Court records claim Mitts uttered racial slurs before killing his first victim, who was black. Mitts’ defense says he was blacked out from alcohol the night of the slayings and didn’t know what he was doing. With the board’s rejection, Mitts’ fate is now up to Gov. John Kasich, who could commute the sentence to life in prison.

Susan Castellini, wife of the Cincinnati Reds CEO, will join the Cincinnati Parks Board after being appointed earlier in August by Mayor Mark Mallory and City Council.

Hospice of Cincinnati obtained a $2.3 million grant from from Bethesda Inc. and Catholic Health Initiatives to launch an initiative that will encourage doctors, terminally ill patients and their families to discuss end-of-life planning.

Three former employees are suing Cincinnati-based Jeff Ruby eateries for allegedly taking tips from staff, which supposedly caused employees to earn less than minimum wage.

Between Sept. 19 and Sept. 30, Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino will become the first venue in Ohio to host a World Series of Poker circuit event.

Popular Science claims it met the world’s smartest dog.

<![CDATA[Report: Kasich Met with Billionaire GOP Donor]]> UPDATE 12/5/12: In a video posted by the Ohio Capitol Blog, Gov. Kasich responds to reporters' questions about the meeting: "He’s a big Republican activist, so I went over to talk to him. I talk to lots of people.," Kasich said. He said topics of conversation included the planned Ohio Statehouse Holocaust Memorial, but not donations for 2014 or 2016. "Hey, I wuld like everybody to help me, but I didn't get into, 'Hey, I need this from you.'"

A political news organization is reporting that Ohio Gov. John Kasich last month met with a Las Vegas casino billionaire who regularly donates millions to Republican candidates and causes.

POLITICO says Kasich met privately with billionaire Sheldon Adelson at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino during last month’s Republican Governors Association winter meeting. A call to Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols to confirm the meeting and inquire as to what was discussed was not immediately returned.

POLITICO, which often deals in political gossip, postulates that Kasich could run for president in 2016. The newspaper reports that Adelson also met with Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Bob McDonnell of Virginia — also rumored 2016 GOP candidates.

Adelson and his family have donated $84 million to Republican groups. Those donations include $20 million each to super PACs supporting Romney and Gingrich.

“After shadowy outside groups spent more than $40 million to support Josh Mandel’s losing campaign for Senate, Governor Kasich is actively positioning to be the next Ohio darling of the special interests,” Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Jerid Kurtz said in an emailed statement.

“Ohio voters should be deeply disturbed that over two years away from his re-election campaign, Kasich is already showing signs he’s willing to serve the special interests and take the same path as Josh Mandel.”

Adelson is under federal investigation by the Justice Department for allegations of bribery and money laundering. A majority of his casino empire is based in Asia.

<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> Only four days left to early-vote in person. Find out where to do that here.

U.S. employers hired 171,000 people in October and revised job growth over the previous two months, finding it had been stronger than previously thought. However, unemployment inched up to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent in September, due to more out-of-work people looking for work. People are only considered unemployed if they’re actively searching for work. More people entering the workforce and increased job growth had the stock market jumping, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average futures up 30 points within minutes of the opening bell.

COAST has been keeping busy this week. The anti-tax group filed two lawsuits, one trying to block the sale of some land near the former Blue Ash Airport to prevent the cash from being used for the streetcar, and the other against Cincinnati Public Schools over allegations that staff used school emails to promote voter registration drives and offering to volunteer and contribute to the campaign supporting the CPS school levy (issue 42).

A firm specializing in storm damage forecasting estimates that superstorm Sandy could cause $30 billion to $50 billion in damage, making it the most second-most expensive storm the U.S. has ever seen, right behind Hurricane Katrina.

The U.S. Senate race between incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown and Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel has been expensive, no doubt. But what has all that money gone to? An analysis by The Enquirer shows that the nearly $30 million spent by both campaigns on the race has gone from everything from pollsters to Cincinnati Reds tickets to a used Jeep Cherokee. The largest expenditure for Brown’s campaign was $1.7 million for staff salaries, while the largest of Mandel’s expenditures was $1.7 million on TV ads.

People thinking about entering law school next year, rejoice. Despite a dire job market for new graduates, both campaigns have mobilized armies of lawyers in preparations to sue for votes in battleground states. If the next election is this close, you might have a job in four years. Assuming the Mayans were wrong about the apocalypse and everything.

A joint committee of Cincinnati City Council met Thursday to discuss allegations that workers at the University Square development in Clifton aren’t being paid enough. They didn’t take any action, other than asking the city to investigate, but agreed that there needs to be better oversight to make sure workers on taxpayer-funded projects are paid what they’re supposed to earn.

If you are accused of a crime in Ohio and police take your DNA, they get to keep it on file, even if you’re acquitted. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that DNA samples are like fingerprints and can be kept even if a suspect is acquitted of a crime.

A federal judge on Thursday refused to change an Ohio law that could prevent some prisoners from voting.

A bunch of dirty hippies “light warriors” buried hundreds of muffin-crystal-thingies in at Serpent Mound to help realign the energy of the ancient Native American burial mound. They were caught because they made a YouTube video of their alleged desecration.

<![CDATA[State Rep Decries Voter Fraud Billboards]]>

A Cincinnati-area state representative is decrying billboards throughout Ohio whose aim, she says, is voter intimidation.

Democratic Rep. Alicia Reece held a news conference Monday morning in front of a billboard that read, “Voter Fraud is a Felony!”

The billboards were paid for “by a private family foundation,” but Reece claims in a news release that the sponsors are essentially anonymous and the billboards are being strategically placed in low-income and black neighborhoods.

“We are asking the Outdoor Advertising Association of Ohio to work with the anonymous sponsors of the billboards to have them removed immediately,” Reece wrote in a statement.

“It’s obvious that the billboards are designed to intimidate voters and leave some wondering if merely voting is now a crime.”

Mike Norton with Norton Outdoor Advertising — the company on whose billboards the ads appear — said there are 30 such signs in the Greater Cincinnati area. 

He said the sponsor didn’t ask for any demographic targeting and the ads are appearing in all neighborhoods wherever there was open space.

Norton said the sponsor wished to remain anonymous and he isn’t at liberty to give out its name.

As for the anonymity of the ads sponsor, “Our company’s stand on political advertising is we do our very best to make sure it’s accurate and it’s not an attack ad,” Norton said. “This seemed to fall well within the bounds of reason on both of those benchmarks.”

The billboards are not illegal, and they are considered Constitutionally protected speech.

The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School issued a policy paper finding that cases of fraud by individual voters are extremely rare.

The center found that in the 2004 presidential election saw a voter fraud rate of 0.00004 percent. 

Cincinnati isn’t the only city to see such billboards. They have also made appearances in Cleveland and Columbus, as well as southeast Wisconsin.

According to the Plain Dealer newspaper in Cleveland, the billboards there are owned by Clear Channel Outdoor. A company spokesman told the newspaper that Clear Channel’s policy is usually to identify who sponsors a political ad, but in this case a salesperson made a mistake.

<![CDATA[ODP Asks State, Feds to Investigate Coal Company]]>

The Ohio Democratic Party is asking both state and federal prosecutors to look into allegations that a major coal company is coercing its employees to donate to political causes against their will.

The ODP on Monday sent letters to U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Steven Dettelbach and Acting Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty asking them to launch a criminal investigation into Ohio-based Murray Energy Corporation.

The letters allege that Murray Energy “may have engaged in a pattern of illegal activity, extorting millions in financial contributions from employees and vendors for Republican candidates running for public office.”

Murray Energy fired back in a Monday statement, saying the allegations “are simply an attempt to silence Murray Energy and its owners from supporting their coal mining employees and families by speaking out against President Barack Obama’s well known and documented War on Coal.”

The allegations stem from an Oct. 4 investigation by left-leaning magazine The New Republic.

The article is based on the accounts of two anonymous former Murray managers and a review of letters and memos to Murray employees. It suggests that employees are pressured into making donations to Republican candidates and contributing to the company’s Political Action Committee. 

“There’s a lot of coercion,” one of the sources told the magazine. “I just want to work, but you feel this constant pressure that, if you don’t contribute, your job’s at stake.”

ODP Chairman Chris Redfern told reporters during a conference call that party research found that Ohio political candidates — including all current statewide officeholders — had received almost $750,000 from Murray Energy, its subsidiaries and employees.

Neither Dettelbach or McGinty returned CityBeat calls for comment on any pending investigations.

Murray Energy in its statement called The New Republic biased and radically liberal. The company’s characterization in the article is incorrect and untruthful, according to the statement. 

Murray had previously come under fire when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney held a campaign event at one of its mines. Some workers claim they were pulled out of the mine early when it closed for the event and forced to attend without pay.

<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Even though he has criticized super PACs in the past, President Obama has decided he will allow a pro-Democratic one to assist him in his reelection bid. Priorities USA Action, a super PAC founded by two former White House aides, will help Obama counter the deluge of money being raised by GOP groups during the 2012 election cycle.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney told a conservative radio talk show host on Monday that he doesn’t support funding for Planned Parenthood and believes Susan G. Komen for the Cure should have stuck by its original decision to pull grants from the organization.---

“Look, the idea that we’re subsidizing an institution which is providing abortion, in my view, is wrong,” Romney said on Scott Hennen’s show. (Interestingly, Romney pledged to protect a woman’s right to choose during his 2002 gubernatorial campaign in Massachusetts.)

Confusion seems to be reigning among the major nations about how to best handle the violent crackdown on dissidents in Syria. A Russian official said there should be a solution based on a plan put forward by the Arab League, but Syrian officials later clarified that he wasn’t referring to the current plan that calls for President Bashar al-Assad to resign in favor of his vice-president.

Workers in Greece are staging a 24-hour general strike to protest new government austerity measures that would eliminate 15,000 civil service jobs this year. The plan was crafted in response to demands by Greece’s partners in the European Union, which want economic reforms as a condition to get a $170 billion bailout to avoid a March 27 default on its bond repayments.

February is Black History Month, but African-American writer Sean Thomas-Breitfeld says the celebration needs to move beyond remembering the struggles of civil rights leaders in the 1950s and ‘60s. He says the economic history of blacks needs to be recalled to better understand current conditions in America.

“It’s an unlucky accident for African-Americans that the range of government policies and programs that created the middle class largely excluded them,” Thomas-Breitfeld writes in The Nation. “For instance, the GI Bill that provided returning World War II veterans with money for college, businesses and home mortgages didn’t work for the many black veterans who were discriminated against by colleges and banks.”

Some people have criticized the Millennial Generation (people now in their 20s) and Generation Y (people in their 30s) as self-indulgent and pampered, making them a poor fit for many workplaces. That view is getting some ammunition with the rise of “helicopter parents,” mothers and fathers who lobby on their children’s behalf with bosses and prospective employers. Grow up already, and stop throwing tantrums in your cubicle!

David Lewis, an anti-abortion activist who is running against U.S. Rep. John Boehner (R-West Chester) in the GOP primary, paid to air a graphic TV commercial over the weekend on several Cincinnati and Dayton stations that upset some viewers. WLWT-TV (Channel 5) was among the stations. WLWT representatives said “the station is required to give federal candidates unrestricted access to airwaves leading up to the election,” and got noted First Amendment attorney Louis Sirkin to clarify the situation for people.

If you’ve been feeling grumpy lately, blame it on the weather. The Enquirer reports that data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows Greater Cincinnati ranks 163rd among 176 weather stations across the United States for sunshine during February. The region ranks 151st nationwide for sunshine as measured at the airport; cities like Chicago, Minneapolis and Detroit have more sunny days than we do.

See, it’s not just you. (Well, maybe it is. But we won’t tell.)

<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Now that the Jan. 31 filing deadline with the Federal Election Commission has come and gone, media outlets have had time to pour over the paperwork and discover how large a role “super PACs” are playing in this year’s presidential race. The short answer: Pretty large.

The New York Times reports about 60 corporations and wealthy individuals gave checks of $100,000 or more to a super PAC supporting Mitt Romney in the months leading up to the Iowa caucuses, underwriting a $17 million blitz of advertising in the early primary states.---

Meanwhile, American Crossroads — the GOP group backed by former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove — raised $51 million last year. Most of its $11 million in contributions over the past three months came from roughly a dozen wealthy donors.

In other news, the nation’s unemployment rate dropped for the fifth consecutive month to 8.3 percent, its lowest level in three years, the Labor Department reported this morning. Data reveals 12.8 million people were unemployed in January, down from 13.1 million a month earlier.

The group of computer hackers known as Anonymous intercepted a confidential telephone call between FBI and Scotland Yard, and revealed its contents to the public. The call involved efforts to track Anonymous and similar groups, along with dates of planned arrests.

An opinion column in The Washington Post alleges U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will attack Iran in April, May or June. Panetta and the Obama administration declined comment.

An Islamist-led opposition party has won a sweeping majority in elections to Kuwait’s parliament. Overall, the party will get 34 of the 50 seats in the legislative body.

Locally, the historic Roebling Suspension Bridge will get some early spring-cleaning done today. Crews will work on the span to remove graffiti, and traffic will be reduced to one lane. Completed in 1866, the structure was the largest suspension bridge in the world at the time. It was designed by John A. Roebling, who later built the iconic Brooklyn Bridge.

Buckeye Chuck and Punxsutawney Phil are about to get in a fight, and the fur will fly. Chuck is the Ohio counterpart to Phil, the famous Pennsylvania groundhog used in a superstitious rite to determine how long winter will last. Chuck failed to see his shadow at dawn on Thursday, meaning an early end to winter. Phil, however, did see his shadow, meaning six more weeks of cold weather (such as it is.)

Anyone looking for a spring or summer job should check out Kings Island’s website. The amusement park near Mason will hire more than 4,000 seasonal workers this year. The park opens April 28.


<![CDATA[Ohio Gets New Election Rules]]>

In an effort to promote greater transparency about who makes campaign contributions, outgoing Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner today unveiled a new set of election rules.

The rules, which were approved by the Ohio Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review, is aimed at offsetting some of the impact of the Citizens United ruling issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in January. In the landmark 5-4 decision, the court overturned a lower court’s ruling and removed existing restraints on corporations, allowing them to spend unlimited amounts of money in political campaigns.---

Brunner calls Ohio's new rules “truth serum,” which will help voters learn “vital information” about who's funding campaigns.

Under the rules:

** Corporations, nonprofit groups and labor unions must identify the ads they've paid for and disclose how much they've spent in independent campaign expenditures;

** Corporations, nonprofit groups and labor unions must include their Internet Web addresses so voters can learn more about them. If the information isn't included, media outlets can't use the ads;

** Corporations, nonprofit groups and labor unions must disclose that their ads haven't been authorized by a candidate or committee;

** Independent campaign expenditures by corporations and businesses owned 20 percent or more by foreign citizens are prohibited;

** Corporations, individuals and businesses that were awarded state or federal money through Ohio government are prohibited from making independent campaign expenditures within 12 months of the award;

** If the rules are violated, the Ohio Secretary of State will have the authority to investigate and refer complaints to the Ohio Elections Commission.

"Even though we can't change Citizens United in Ohio, we can apply 'truth serum' to make sure citizens' voices remain strong despite its effects," Brunner said in a prepared statement.

"We have more tools available for us to speak and fight for what we believe in as citizens in the most unique democracy in the world," she added. "We can read and learn-and we can advocate."

Brunner, who didn't seek reelection, leaves office next week. She will be replaced by Republican Jon Husted.

<![CDATA[CCV Facing Deficit]]>

A prominent local anti-gay, right wing group sent a mass e-mail to supporters today seeking money to avoid a $150,000 deficit next year, which is close to what the group's president makes in salary.

The e-mail distributed by Sharonville-based Citizens for Community Values (CCV) states it's ready to “jump into 2011 with both feet!”---

It continues, “Of course, we felt the financial strain of 2010, like many of you, and faced the reality of a $150,000 shortfall in our budget. It didn’t keep us from accomplishing voter registration and education goals for the General Election, or organizing events such as David Barton rallies and a community support meeting.

“And we’re hoping the shortfall won’t keep us from realizing specific plans for 2011 — only six weeks away!,” the e-mail states. “Plans to identify coordinators in each of the 88 Ohio counties to help organize swift action regarding local concerns. Plans to pass an effective human trafficking law that will shut down more sex businesses in Ohio. And plans to hold the newly elected officials accountable to what the values voters expect.”

CCV's e-mail then offers a link to contribute to the organization online, as well as an address where checks can be mailed.

The group's most recent paperwork filed with the Internal Revenue Service to keep its tax-exempt status, filed in 2008, reveals CCV paid $268,181 in salaries and other compensation to its three employees that year.

Of that amount, $110,558 was paid in salary to President Phil Burress, who also received $7,265 in “other compensation,” which typically means reimbursement for travel expenses or the cost of benefits.

Burress continues to get a pay bump from CCV every year. For example, his 2008 salary is $22,977 more than what he was paid six years earlier, $87,581.

Pretty good work, if you can get it.

Also in 2008, David Miller, CCV's vice president of public policy, got $67,460 in salary and $9,312 in other compensation; Jerry Lyon, vice president of operations, got $65,632 in salary and $7,954 in other compensation.

It was during that same year — 2008 — that CCV paid the Rev. Charlie Winburn to meet with area clergy and businesspeople to garner support for an unsuccessful campaign targeting adult services advertisements in CityBeat's newspaper and on our Web site. As part of the effort, CCV paid Winburn to take a trip to Florida for “research.”

Beginning in December 2009, Miller now also works at City Hall as chief of staff for Winburn, who won election that year to Cincinnati City Council.

Besides the compensation for the three employees, CCV also paid $4,800 in rent to Board Member Roger Weaver, who owns the office building used by the group.

CCV's tax documents show the group received $1.4 million in contributions in 2004; $1.2 million in 2005; $1.6 million in 2006; about $745,000 in 2007; and $1.2 million in 2008.

Here are the group's lobbying expenses for roughly the same period: $102,795 (2005), $205,681 (2006), $168,010 (2007) and $73,867 (2008).

Among its causes over the years, CCV pressured the region’s convenience stores into stop selling soft-core pornographic magazines like Playboy, pushed for a charter amendment in 1993 that prohibited Cincinnati officials from passing laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation (which was repealed by voters in 2004), and was behind Ohio’s anti-gay marriage ballot initiative in 2004.

<![CDATA[Portman PAC Uses Cash for Perks]]>

A nonpartisan investigative journalism group uses Rob Portman as an example in a new report detailing how politicians use money donated to political action committees (PACs) for purposes other than those outlined in their mission.

The report, entitled “Political Inaction Committees,” by the Center for Public Integrity concludes PACs have wide discretion about how they can use money, despite promises to donors.---

It states, “... there are few rules and no accepted norms for PAC spending, and a Center for Public Integrity analysis of more than 5,200 PACs shows a wildly disparate — and in some cases troubling — range of spending and budgeting policies among them. As Paul S. Ryan, program director and legal counsel at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, noted, donating to PACs is a 'contributor beware' proposition.”

In Portman's case, contributions to his “Ohio's Future” PAC are supposed to be used for creating methods for improving the state's economy and making it more competitive.

But the PAC has spent large amounts on items like renting private jets and leasing a private Cincinnati club for a “kickoff event.”

The report states:

After a dozen years in the U.S. House, a year as President George W. Bush’s U.S. trade representative, and a stint as head of Bush’s Office of Management and Budget, Republican Rob Portman, 54, is currently his party’s nominee for an open Ohio U.S. Senate seat. In addition to his campaign account, he can rely on Ohio’s Future PAC, his own leadership committee, to cover many of his costs.

The PAC’s website says its mission is “to develop creative solutions to Ohio’s economic challenges and support public policies that help make our state more competitive.” It enlists potential backers with a sales pitch that their donations “are helping recruit and support leaders who are focused on creating a better business environment in Ohio to expand jobs and opportunities.”

It has boosted at least one sector: private aviation. Out of about $364,000 in spending, Ohio’s Future PAC has used more than $28,000 on travel costs since the start of 2007, including more than $15,000 on private airplane rentals, fueling, piloting, and landing fees. These payments went to companies including Anchor Equipment Leasing LLC of Covington, Ky., and One Charlie Victor LLC and Aviation Specialists of Cincinnati. The aviation companies declined to disclose the itineraries or passengers manifests for these flights, information not apparent from the PAC’s FEC filings.

As Portman blasted Washington on his campaign Web site for record spending while “Ohio families are living under tight budgets, fighting to make ends meet,” his PAC used thousands of dollars on overhead, $2,434 to host a kickoff “welcome event” at a private Cincinnati club, and $455 for “PAC apparel.”

The PAC did, however, contribute about $140,000 to federal and non-federal campaign committees, about 39 percent of its disbursements.

Portman’s office did not respond to requests for comment. He did tell The Columbus Dispatch in 2008 that the PAC “helps me to keep my options open” for future campaigns, but that his sole focus that year was helping to elect McCain and other Republicans.

Other PACs also are mentioned in the report.

Portman, a Republican from Terrace Park, is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by George Voinovich, who is retiring. Portman's challenger is Democrat Lee Fisher.

The center's full report, written by Josh Israel, Aaron Mehta and Gabriel Debenedetti, is available here.

<![CDATA[SPJ, Others Blast Cincy Tea Party Deal (Updated)]]>

(UPDATE AT BOTTOM) Fox News commentator Sean Hannity’s participation in a Cincinnati Tea Party event today is drawing sharp criticism from experts on journalism ethics.

Hannity will be taping his TV show tonight during the local Tea Party’s second annual Tax Day rally, which is being held at the University of Cincinnati’s Fifth Third Arena.---

Admission is being charged to attend the event. The cost is $5 for the general public and $20 for “premium reserved seating by the Hannity show,” according to the Tea Party’s Web site.

In an article by Joe Strupp for the Media Matters Web site, the president of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) criticizes the deal, stating it’s unethical that a news show that regularly covers the Tea Party movement would seek to raise money for the event during a production of the show.

"Unequivocally, from our standpoint, this is wrong," SPJ President Kevin Smith told Media Matters. "For a news organization to charge people for access, then take that money and roll it over to a political action group that they cover quite a bit."

Smith continued, "It has gotten to the point where you cannot delineate between Fox News and the Tea Party movement — it is incestuous. There is a clear conflict of interest here."

Smith wasn’t alone in his assessment. Several journalism experts also criticized the arrangement.

"If the job of a news organization is to present the facts in an unbiased way and if Fox is charging people to raise money for a political cause, then they are undermining their mission to be fair and balanced," National Public Radio ombudsman Alicia Shepard told Media Matters. "Is Sean Hannity's mission to be fair and balanced or to be a pundit with a political bent? It is clearly new territory."

Frank Sesno, an ex- CNN Washington correspondent who now is director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, said, "It violates virtually every rule of every ethical guideline that journalism covers. The idea that you would support a (political) movement and ask your audience to pay for it."

Hannity’s guests during tonight’s taping will be actor Jon Voight and Joe the (not quite a) Plumber.

UPDATE: Fox News executives canceled the event due to the controversy. “Fox News never agreed to allow the Cincinnati Tea Party organizers to use Sean Hannity’s television program to profit from broadcasting his show from the event," Bill Shine, the network’s executive vice president of programming, told The Los Angeles Times."When senior executives in New York were made aware of this, we changed our plans for tonight’s show.”

<![CDATA[GOP: Pay Up, Suckers]]>

Carl Lindner and Richard Farmer, are you paying attention?

In an exclusive at the Politico Web site this week, reporters obtained a copy of a confidential PowerPoint presentation created by the Republican National Committee about how it intends on raising money during this election cycle.---

The document describes wealthy donors as “ego-driven” who can be persuaded to ante up with offers of access and “tchochkes.” Another of their motivations is listed as “peer to peer pressure.”

The 72-page document saves most of its scorn, however, for smaller donors. It lists one of their primary motivations as “fear”; it further describes them as having “extreme negative feelings toward existing administration” and being “reactionary.”

The GOP’s average contribution last year was $40, the document revealed. Overall, the RNC raised $81 million in 2009.

This year’s goal is to raise $8.6 million from major donors.

The RNC’s playbook for raising cash for this year’s House and Senate campaigns relies on heavy use of the theme, "Save the country from trending toward Socialism!”

Some of the Republican Party’s largest contributors hail from Greater Cincinnati, particularly the tony Indian Hill suburb.

Farmer, CEO of Mason-based Cintas Corp. and his family have given more than $1.9 million in political contributions during the past decade to Republican candidates and groups, and Farmer was the 15th largest fund-raiser for George W. Bush’s 2000 election.

Lindner, founder of the United Dairy Farmers convenience store chain, was listed as a “super ranger” in 2004 by the RNC for raising at least $300,000 for George W. Bush’s reelection campaign. He also donated $250,000 for Bush’s second inauguration ceremony.

Remember that the next time you're standing in line complaining about the cost of a Brown Cow or a Sherbet Freeze.

<![CDATA[Montgomery: Pick Me, I'm Rich]]> This week’s issue of CityBeat features an article about the Ohio Republican Party’s jockeying about who exactly will be its candidate for state auditor. Now we can add yet another name to the list of potential contenders.

Robert Montgomery, the Franklin County recorder and a favorite of conservatives, has written a letter to the Republican State Central Committee detailing why he thinks he’s the best person for the job.---

In the letter, sent Monday, Montgomery wrote, “The likely Democratic candidate for Auditor, David Pepper, has already raised over $300,000 as of July 2009 and will certainly have much more on hand for this filing on January 31st. Mr. Pepper comes from a very wealthy family and will be able to self-finance, if necessary, as shown in previous races. The Auditor race will be a sprint to November, with almost all attention devoted to fundraising — which is why I believe I am uniquely qualified to step right in and win this crucial Appointment Board seat for the following reasons.”

Montgomery then lists seven reasons why he’s qualified, three of which have to do with money.

He writes, “First, I have already raised over $350,000, with over $300,000 on hand in the bank. Rather than discussing this as ‘blue sky,’ or talking about my goals, attached as Exhibit A is my most recent Ohio Campaign Finance Report cover sheet proving this.

“Second, I have been able to raise significant money from and for an office that is much more difficult (Recorder) than State Auditor. I have marshaled an unprecedented ‘war chest’ for a sitting Recorder in the county seat of our state’s capital.”

Like many candidates who jump from one race to another, Montgomery could channel his war chest funds into state GOP accounts, and then into an account for an auditor’s race campaign.

Later, Montgomery adds, “Prior to entering public life when I was 31, I founded my own wireless cable company which employed over 200 people in 12 offices that operated in five states and the U.S. Virgin Islands, all while I attended law school at night. Our first year in business, we generated over $3.8 million in sales and grew to over seven million dollars in sales annually.”

Also, Montgomery touts his last name as an advantage. “Third, I have a good ballot name that has been a proven vote getter in Central Ohio where I have won previous elections where many Republicans have lost.”

Besides touting his own record, some political observers believe the passage might be a reference to Betty Montgomery, a popular fellow Republican who formerly was state auditor and state attorney general. The two aren’t related.

Although the official Franklin County Recorder’s Office letterhead is used for the pitch, there is a disclaimer at the bottom that his campaign committee paid for it and taxpayers didn’t incur any expense.

Still, the use of the letterhead — complete with the county seal — gives the appearance Montgomery is writing the document in his official capacity as recorder. That’s an odd choice as he’s stumping to run for a state office (auditor) whose function is to help keep government clean and working well.

<![CDATA[Common Cause, Others Fight Court Ruling]]> This week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations to make unlimited contributions to political campaigns has been widely criticized by many moderates and progressives as an action that could distort democracy and confuse the electorate.

Now Common Cause/Ohio is joining the wave of opposition, calling the decision “a major blow to established campaign reforms and to the democratic process itself.”---

The high court voted 5-4 to remove campaign spending limits on corporations. Overturning nearly 100 years of judicial precedent that allowed governments at all levels to limit the influence of corporations on elections through large contributions, the court’s majority opinion ruled that First Amendment rights of free speech trumped any restrictions on corporate campaign spending.

“In the name of free speech, the five justices who signed off on (this week's) decision have further tilted the political playing field in favor of ‘big money,’ and diminished the free speech of those who don’t have access to great wealth,” said William Woods, chairman of Common Cause/Ohio.

“A healthy democracy requires that all candidates for public office have a fair chance to communicate their messages to the citizens who will vote,” Woods added. “‘Big money’ has already had a warping impact on today’s campaigns, and the Court’s decision in (the case) will greatly magnify this trend.”

Like several other activist groups, Common Cause pledged to work with state and federal lawmakers to draft new initiatives aimed at ending excessive corporate influence on elections. In common Cause’s case, it advocates implementing public financing of political campaigns.

Work is already underway to offset the decision, which has been blasted by President Obama, many Democrats and various good government groups.

Congressman Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) has filed six campaign finance reform bills this week, according to Raw Story. One of the bills would impose a 500 percent excise tax on corporate spending on elections.

Grayson has created a Web site to gather signatures in support of the bills. Within the first 24 hours of its activation, it had received more than 40,000 signatures.

Other groups like and Credo Action also have started similar petitions.