One of Senator Sherrod Brown’s likely 2024 challengers says the Ohio Democrat should return all his campaign donations from Norfolk Southern and its lobbyists after one of the firm's trains derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, and left the town’s residents fearing for their health.
"Sherrod Brown has taken thousands of dollars in donations from Norfolk Southern," Republican businessman Bernie Moreno told the Washington Free Beacon. "That may explain why it took him so long to speak out about what happened in East Palestine."
Brown, who spent last weekend in California raising money for his reelection, has pointed the finger at Norfolk Southern's "corporate lobbyists" for the derailment, saying they have stymied congressional efforts to pass rail safety legislation.Brown has accepted more than $41,000 from Norfolk Southern and its lobbyists to his campaign and affiliated political action committee since 2004, a Washington Free Beacon review of campaign finance records concluded.
Moreno says Brown's failure to return the money from the very lobbyists he's blaming for the disaster undermines his established political identity as an advocate for the working class.
"He talks a big game on the campaign trail about standing up to corporate interests, but then takes money from those very same corporate interests to fund his political career," Moreno said. "If he actually cared about the people of East Palestine, he would have already returned every cent he ever received from Norfolk Southern."
Moreno, who has not yet declared his candidacy for Brown’s Ohio Senate seat, is widely seen as a leading contender for the Republican nomination. Considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats of the 2024 cycle, Brown has been in office since 2007 and has seen his state become more and more red. Republican senator J.D. Vance (Ohio) won his seat easily in 2022 against a well-funded Democratic challenger, longtime congressman Tim Ryan.
At least five Norfolk Southern lobbyists have donated to Brown over the years, totaling over $31,000. Three of those lobbyists, disclosure forms show, lobbied the Senate and White House in 2022 over issues related to "rail safety." Norfolk Southern has directly given Brown at least $10,000, campaign finance forms show. The most recent donation from a Norfolk Southern lobbyist came in 2021.
The derailment has released dozens of chemicals into the air and water around East Palestine. Some of those chemicals, scientists at the EPA say, include the carcinogenic vinyl chloride. East Palestine residents have complained of rashes and difficulty breathing, with some filing a class-action lawsuit against Norfolk Southern.
Brown did not respond to a request for comment.
Speaking to CNN earlier this month, Brown called the train derailment "the same old story" of corporate negligence.
"There’s no question [Norfolk Southern] caused it with this derailment … they underinvested in their employees. They never look out for their workers, they never look out for their communities, they look out for stock buybacks and dividends," Brown said on Feb. 19. "Something’s wrong with corporate America and something’s wrong with Congress and administrations listening too much to corporate lobbyists. And that’s gotta change."
In 2019 Brown promised if he ran for president he would swear off corporate PAC money. Since that pledge, Brown has taken in more than $1 million in donations from corporate PACs and more than $7 million over the course of his political career.