by Andy Brownfield
Investigation finds Super PAC headed by Columbus lobbyist running ads attacking Brown
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
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’
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.