Democratic senator Sherrod Brown (Ohio) is jettisoning corporate PACs, despite relying on them heavily over his nearly 30-year political career.
During a recent trip to the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire, Brown announced to limited fanfare that he would reject corporate PAC donations if he runs for president. Brown, who has served in Congress since 1993 and elective office since 1975, is a relative latecomer to the decision. He has not yet announced if he is running for president.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) was the first to opt out of accepting corporate PAC money while running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. Following that precedent, Democrat senators Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), and Cory Booker (N.J.) made similar high-profile pledges in 2018. In total, more than 50 current Democratic members of Congress rejected campaign contributions from corporate PACs during the 2018 campaign cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Brown, however, refrained from hopping on the bandwagon while seeking reelection last year in Ohio. In between 2013 and 2018, the senator took more than $2.67 million from corporate PACs. The money came from PACs belonging to companies like General Electric ($40,000), New York Life Insurance ($37,500), and Deloitte LLP ($40,000), among others. The donations were essential to Brown's ability to maintain a large fundraising lead—$28.6 million to $4.5 million—over his Republican opponent. The cash advantage, in turn, allowed Brown to avoid the fate of other Senate Democrats seeking reelection in states carried by Trump in 2016.
A similar situation played out during Brown's reelection campaign in 2012 when he was a top target for Republicans. The senator, who at the time was leading the charge against the Citizens United decision, raised more than $2 million from corporate-affiliated PACs. The sum, which was bolstered by hefty donations from Comcast Corp. ($31,500), Deloitte ($39,5000), and Cardinal Health ($25,000), ensured Brown was able to outspend his GOP opponent by more than $6 million.
Since joining Congress, Brown has taken more than $7.4 million from corporations—accounting for more than 63 percent of his total PAC contributions. As previously reported by the Washington Free Beacon, the majority of the contributions came from corporations and lobbyists tied to the finance, insurance, and real estate industries. The donations only increased in scale after 2015 when Brown was appointed the top Democrat on the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee.
Brown accepted the donations while simultaneously being critical of "corporate greed" and the pervasive influence of corporations on the electoral process.
"Special interests should not have a louder voice in our democracy than middle-class families," Brown said in 2012 when introducing legislation requiring shareholder approval of all corporate political expenditures.
It is unclear if Brown's decision to abandon corporate PACs will extend to the general election. If so, the Ohio Democrat would likely be at a disadvantage, especially since the president has already raised $129 million for his reelection effort.
Furthermore, it is also uncertain if Brown will expand his pledge to include labor unions and ideological groups, which have formed the foundation of his political and fundraising support. Under federal campaign finance laws, labor unions and ideological groups operate within the same framework as corporate PACs.
The senator's office did not return requests for comment on this story.