To hear the Columbus Dispatch tell it, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman’s lead in the polls over former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland is driven by his campaign RV as he tools around the Buckeye State, pressin’ the flesh, back-slappin’, glad-handin’, county fairin’, and otherwise gettin’ on the level with regular folk.
And, Strickland, by contrast, is portrayed as a 75-year-old “old-school, old-man” who is running a “campaign that is failing to engage voters.” Woof. Didn’t the Wolfes sell? It’s not until the 17th ‘graph that the Dispatch mentions in passing the “flood of TV commercials by special-interest groups.”
Talk about burying the lead. This is the story of the 2016 U.S. Senate Race in Ohio, and there is no other. As of mid-August, $33 million had been spent by outside groups in this race, including nearly $19 million by “dark money” groups in opposition to Strickland. Ohio has become the dark money heart of it all; the heart of darkness, if you’ll allow.
The notorious Koch Brothers have not one but two Super PACs dumping money into the race, spending nearly $9 million against Strickland so far through Americans for Prosperity and the Freedom Partners Action Fund. The Senate Majority PAC has spent $10.2 million in Ohio’s U.S. Senate race. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent $3.1 million on Portman’s behalf. The National Rifle Association has spent nearly $1.8 million.
If you’ve turned on your television anytime recently, you’ve noticed. The markets are flooded with anti-Strickland propaganda, all pushing the notion that the Great Recession of 2008, which hit in the middle of his gubernatorial term, was somehow his fault and therefore all the blame for the economic downturn and budget crunch Ohio experienced should be placed upon his shoulders. The Akron Beacon Journal editorial board recently did a nice job dispelling this nonsense.
Going negative in political ads works when you have enough time to reinforce the message. They’ve already been airing ad nauseam and we’ve still have 11 weeks to go before the Nov. 8 election.
Why the flood of cash? There’s so much at stake. Majority leadership of the U.S. Senate likely hinges on this one race.
Democrats are looking at winning three or four seats in the U.S. Senate this cycle, and whether it’s three or four makes all the difference. It’s the ballgame. Three Democratic wins and the Republicans maintain the majority; four and the Democrats snag it.
And while the Trump Train is dragging down other Republican U.S. Senate candidates, so far Portman hasn’t been hurt by the Republican nominee; even though he’s endorsed him; even though he’s said he trusts The Donald with nuclear weapons; even though polling shows that Portman’s own voters are less likely to support him when they find out he supports Trump. It’s what dark money and negativity can do, apparently.
And oh lawdy lawd, is that dark money a’ flowin’. OpenSecrets.org did a whole story about it back in June. Remember, in the following block quote, the figures are from June and the spending’s only gotten more ridiculous since.
Dark money has played a much larger role in the Ohio Senate contest than average for the 2016 cycle. Across all races, dark money groups – 501(c)(4)s and (c)(6)s – have spent $37 million of the over $400 million spent so far, so about 9.2 percent of outside spending this cycle. Of the $15.5 million spent by outside groups in the Portman-Strickland faceoff, 23 percent has been spent by dark money 501(c) organizations — two-and-a-half times the cycle’s average. Most of that has come from the coffers of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the national business lobbying group, and from Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the 501(c)(4) controlled by the Koch brothers.
Eighty-five percent of the $10.3 million that conservative groups have spent attacking Strickland has come from three groups: a super PAC, the Fighting for Ohio Fund; AFP; and another Koch-backed group, the super PAC Freedom Partners Action Fund.
The Koch brothers, through AFP and Freedom Partners, have spent more money – $5.5 million – trying to sway voters in Ohio than they have in any other race this cycle. The billionaires have said that their network of nonprofits will spend $250 to $300 million on politics during the current election cycle, but pledged not to involve themselves in the fight for the Republican presidential nomination. Instead, expenditures on the Ohio Senate race account for 46 percent of the money spent by these two major Koch organizations this cycle.
Also, too, “the Karl Rove affiliated dark money (c)(4) One Nation announced (in June) that it has spent $6 million aiding Portman so far,” but, as of then, “none of it has shown up in the FEC’s database.”
Y’all remember when Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy ruled in Citizens United that ““independent expenditures do not lead to, or create the appearance of, quid pro quo corruption.”
Does it still make you laugh? Cry? Both? Me too.
D.C. DeWitt is a writer and man of sport and leisure. He has also written for Government Executive’s RouteFifty.com, the National Journal’s Hotline, and The New York Observer’s Politicker.com. He is the Associate Editor of The Athens NEWS in Athens, Ohio. DeWitt can be found on Facebook and Twitter @DC_DeWitt.