The senate race in 2012 between first-term Democratic candidate Sherrod Brown and first-term Republican challenger Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel was loaded with campaign spending that overwhelmingly benefited Mr. Mandel, a former Marine whose political fortunes have taken him from city councilman to state representative to state treasurer.
When the race in that presidential election year ended, Sen. Brown won a second term even though Team Mandel enjoyed the help $40 million in campaign cash can buy. Identifying the secret donors who pumped millions into Mandel’s losing campaign has been an on-going quest by Team Sherrod and others who advocate for more public transparency, especially when it comes to who’s shelling out big bucks for one candidate or the other.
With that quest in mind, news that a federal court ruled last Friday that the Federal Elections Commission [FEC] should look into a group who spent millions on his Mandel’s behalf while trying to keep a deep-pocketed donor to the state treasurer’s campaign secret arrives as the two candidates likely to face each other again in 2018 ready for the coming battle.
The Federal Election Commission should not have dismissed a political watchdog’s request to compel a super PAC founded by Karl Rove to disclose the identity its donors, a federal court ruled, according to Courthousenews.com, which provided a link to the 22-page ruling itself.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is an organization that focuses on fighting the influence of money in politics. Ohio voter Nicholas Mezlak sought the disclosure from Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, which contributed at least $17 million to multiple U.S. Senate races during the 2012 election, court reporting shows.
In its November 2012 complaint, CREW claimed Crossroads GPS failed to make the requisite disclosures for some of its independent expenditures arising out of a $3-million anonymous matching challenge at a fundraiser in Tampa, Florida, as required by the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971. Under a section called “Anonymous Matching Challenge for the Ohio Senate Race,” the court brief revealed that in the spring of 2012, Karl Rove, an “’uncompensated advisor to Crossroads GPS,’ received a phone call from an unnamed donor regarding the Ohio Senate race between incumbent Sherrod Brown and his challenger, Josh Mandel.” According to news reports, the donor stated, “I really like Josh Mandel,” and “I’ll give ya $3 million, matching challenge.”
Rove reportedly briefed the attendees in Tampa on 15 active Senate races and played television ads targeting Democratic Senate candidates in six states. Rove spoke with the anonymous donor, who ultimately contributed more than $3 million to Crossroads GPS. The matching challenge generated an additional $1.3 million.
Although “the conversation did not discuss the details of any particular independent expenditure, Mr. Rove stated that he understood the contribution to be intended for “‘aid[ing] the election of Josh Mandel,’” the court noted.
On November 14, 2012, CREW filed a complaint with the FEC alleging that Crossroads GPS had (1) “failed disclose the contributor who pledged to contribute $3 million to Crossroads GPS to aid in the election of Josh Mandel by funding Crossroads GPS’s independent expenditures in Ohio,” (2) “failed to disclose the contributors who made matching donations for the same purpose,” and (3) “failed to disclose the contributors at the August 30 meeting who contributed to Crossroads GPS, including those who contributed to further its independent expenditures in the Ohio, Virginia, Montana, and Nevada Senate races.”
Treasurer Mandel has come under fire more recently for spending millions of taxpayer dollars on a TV ad that some say was more political than informational.
Critics of Mandel say his office spent $1.84 million in taxpayer dollars on TV ads featuring himself and Ohio State University football coach Urban Meyer, designed to highlight an investment program for disabled Ohioans. Mr. Mandel subsequently announced his second run against Sen. Brown six months after the ads started hitting Ohio airwaves. Critics say the two-term treasurer knowingly dodged scrutiny of the self-promotional ads by spending less than $50,000 at each station, so the buys were not subject to external review.
Mandel’s office defended the ads as necessary to raise awareness of the new STABLE investment program, which allows people with disabilities and their families to contribute money tax-free for housing, education and other expenses, without affecting federal benefit eligibility, according to published reports. A cost breakdown given to reporters last June detailed only about half the actual costs of the TV commercials, reports say.
Sen. Brown is running for a third term in two years during the midterm elections. Unless Mandel is defeated in the GOP primary, odds makers would give him pole position to take on Sen. Brown again. And while the big grudge-match race is still a year away, Team Sherrod has sent out alerts that the Republican National Committee is ready to rumble again with the recent launch of negative ads against the senator.
“Today the Republican National Committee announced a six-figure campaign,” Team Sherrod posted recently, adding, “The ad buy includes a package of ads that will air in 2018 battleground states.”
With Citizens United in full swing, it won’t be a surprise to campaign watchers if more than $40 million comes pouring into Mandel’s second try at the established senator who knows that fighting back is more than raising and spending money on negative ads. Sen. Brown has built a reputation as a fighter for Ohio’s workers, and he has come under fire from Republican candidates like Josh Mandel who would like to ape the victory Donald Trump enjoyed in Ohio last year.
It will take more than scare tactics about national debt and sanctuary cities and visions of invading armies of ISIS regulars to topple Brown’s commonsense plans for boosting wages and benefits and safeguarding Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, three staples to workers and retirees.