Strickland Rails Against Outside Group Spending, Benefits From Outside Groups

Super PACs, union groups drop cash to prop up Ohio Democrat

Ted Strickland
Ted Strickland / AP
June 1, 2016

At the same time that the campaign for Ted Strickland has railed against outside group spending in the Ohio Senate race, the Democratic candidate has benefitted considerably from money spent by super PACs and outside groups.

The latest influx of cash intended to help Strickland defeat incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (R.) comes from two labor unions, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and the American Federation of Teachers. The political action committee associated with AFSCME announced last week that it purchased $582,000 worth of television advertisements in the state knocking Portman for his support of free trade.

AFT dropped $325,000 on an advertisement accusing Portman of supporting Social Security privatization, which his campaign has characterized as misleading because the senator has never voted to privatize Social Security.

Political committees associated with unions have contributed more than $220,000 directly to Strickland’s campaign, Federal Election Commission records show.

The union ad buys followed a major purchase by the Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC affiliated with outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), to help the one-time governor and congressman win in November. Earlier this month, the super PAC reserved $9.5 million in airtime for advertisements against Portman, in addition to the $1.8 million the group had already spent against the incumbent.

Before that, Planned Parenthood Votes, a super PAC associated with the nation’s largest abortion provider, spent over $300,000 on canvassing to support Strickland and oppose Portman between May 9 and 11.

Despite this support, the Strickland campaign has fundraised off of its supposed independence from super PACs and criticized the influence of outside groups on the race. The campaign sent a fundraising email to supporters on May 14 accusing Portman of "[relying] on his super PAC and a handful of billionaires to do his dirty work."

"We don’t have a super PAC, and quite frankly, we don’t want one that spends millions to spew out lies ad distortions," campaign manager Rebecca Pearcey wrote, appealing to Strickland’s "grassroots" supporters. "Let’s … show Portman that his super PAC and his special interest money pales in comparison to our grassroots strength."

While Strickland’s campaign might not be directly tied to a super PAC, the Democrat stands to benefit from the millions spent by the Senate Majority PAC and other outside groups. The campaign’s message of opposition to big money in elections has not changed.

One day after the Senate Majority PAC announced its nearly $10 million ad purchase, the Strickland campaign circulated a petition to "keep dark money out of our elections."

"Our democracy shouldn’t be for sale. And our voices shouldn’t be drowned out by a few ultra-rich super PAC founders," the May 19 fundraising email, authored by Strickland, read. "Let’s keep control of our future out of the hands of super PACs."

A follow-up email warned, "Democracy should not be up for sale to the highest bidder."

The Strickland campaign’s criticisms of outside spending have mostly focused on million-dollar ad purchases by groups with ties to Charles and David Koch, a pair of wealthy Republican donors, to help Portman. "Despite all the big spending, Ted REFUSES to rely on the billionaire class to fund his campaign," a fundraising email emphasized on Sunday.

Still, Strickland’s campaign has been fueled by money from wealthy Democratic donors. Billionaire financier George Soros and hedge fund manager S. Donald Sussman have contributed the maximum $2,700 to Strickland’s primary and general election campaigns.

Just this cycle, Soros has spent or pledged over $13 million to help Hillary Clinton and other Democratic candidates win their races, while Sussman has committed $6 million to Democratic causes.

Additionally, Strickland for Senate has received contributions from more than two-dozen bundlers for Hillary Clinton, who have each raised more than $100,000 for her presidential ambitions.

"No candidate in America is more reliant on outside special interest money than Ted Strickland whose campaign has struggled to raise money for his retread candidacy because people remember his record as Governor when Ohio lost more than 350,000 jobs and ranked 48th in job creation," Portman campaign spokesman Michawn Rich told the Washington Free Beacon in a statement. "And nobody is more hypocritical either."

A spokesman for the Strickland campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

The Senate race in Ohio, a key battleground state, is poised to be the most expensive in the country during the 2016 election cycle.