Ted Strickland Accepts First Bundled Lobbyist Contributions

Democratic Senate candidate receives influx of cash from Washington lobbyists

Ted Strickland
Ted Strickland / AP
April 25, 2016

Update 5:06 P.M.: A previous version of this story said that Sen. Rob Portman was a lobbyist before beginning his career in Congress. Portman was a lawyer for a firm that lobbied government officials, but the senator never lobbied himself.


Ted Strickland, a Democrat running for Senate in Ohio, accepted more than $22,000 in bundled lobbyist contributions while advocating against the influence of "wealthy special interests" on political fundraising.

Strickland, a former governor of Ohio and congressman who is running to unseat incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (R.), received $22,740 in bundled lobbyist contributions from J Street PAC in the first quarter of 2016, Federal Election Commission records show. J Street, which bills itself as "pro-Israel" and "pro-peace," is a liberal Middle East activist group based in Washington, D.C. that lobbied for the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran.

This represents the first round of bundled lobbyist contributions that Strickland has received in his campaign, though the Democrat has previously accepted contributions from several prominent D.C. lobbyists.

The bundled lobbyist contributions were disclosed in an FEC filing made public last week, after the Strickland campaign mocked Portman for "staying in touch with [his] lobbyist roots" as a senator. Before beginning a career in Congress, Portman was a lawyer for a firm that lobbied government officials but never lobbied himself, according to an official at the firm who supervised him.

Portman has not accepted bundled lobbyist contributions, FEC records show.

In addition to the bundled lobbyist contributions from J Street PAC, Strickland has accepted thousands of dollars in contributions from powerful Washington lobbyists, including Heather Podesta and her ex-husband Tony Podesta, both of whom are top bundlers for Hillary Clinton. Heather Podesta + Partners has lobbied for clients including Marathon Oil, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Prudential Financial, and Time Warner Cable. The Podesta Group, Tony Podesta’s lobbying shop, has lobbied on behalf of Lockheed Martin, solar power company SolarReserve, and Wells Fargo.

Strickland has also received donations from Steve Elmendorf, Jeff Forbes, Holly Fechner, Joel Johnson, Lisa Kountoupes, and Robert Raben, all of whom were listed as top lobbyists by The Hill in 2015.

Elmendorf, whose firm’s clients have included the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Goldman Sachs, is one of the Washington lobbyists who has gained access to President Obama’s White House. Elmendorf has brought at least 18 clients to the White House for meetings since 2009, including representatives from General Electric and the American Wind Energy Association, USA Today reported last year.

Forbes’ firm has lobbied for a range of organizations including the Clean Energy Group, the National Rifle Association, and PhRMA.

Raben, who served as assistant attorney general under President Bill Clinton, runs a consulting and lobbying shop that lists among its clients Islamic Relief Worldwide, a Muslim charity believed to be a terrorist organization by the governments of Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia. Israel has said that the organization funnels money to Hamas.

Strickland has worked closely with lobbyists in the past. The year before Strickland launched his Senate bid, he earned more than a quarter million dollars heading up the lobbying arm of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. Strickland, who oversaw the think tank’s political advocacy arm but was not a lobbyist himself, once described the position as his "dream job."

The Center for American Progress Action Fund dropped $40,000 on lobbying in 2014, the year Strickland served as its head, according to Open Secrets.

Additionally, after leaving the office of governor in 2011 Strickland established a strategic consulting firm, Midwest Gateway Partners, with several of his former aides. Washington-based lobbyist Steve Ricchetti was involved with the firm, according to media reports at the time.

The consultancy was formed to focus on business expansion and political advocacy campaigns. There is no evidence that Ricchetti or his brother Jeff, another lobbyist who has donated to Strickland’s senate campaign, did any lobbying for Midwest Gateway Partners, nor is there evidence that the firm did any lobbying at all.

The website for Midwest Gateway Partners is now defunct and redirects to the site for Remington Road Group, another consulting group run by former Strickland aides, most of whom have donated to his campaign for Senate, the Washington Free Beacon previously reported. The Strickland campaign has simultaneously paid Remington Road Group more than $70,000 for "strategic consulting."

Steve Ricchetti went on to work as chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden in 2012, a hire that prompted many to question Obama’s commitment to curbing the influence of lobbyists.

Strickland has made railing against the influence of "dark money," "wealthy special interests," and "D.C. power brokers" a prominent feature of his Senate campaign. Strickland’s campaign has demonized Portman as "the ultimate Washington insider" and accused him of relying on the "Beltway Club" to fund his push for reelection.

Strickland has also positioned himself as an advocate for campaign finance reform and greater transparency in campaign fundraising.

"[The Citizens United Supreme Court decision] has created a rigged system where the Washington establishment and the wealthy special interests spend millions to elect those like Senator Portman who are pushing their agenda at our expense," his campaign website reads.

Strickland has benefited from the influence of Washington money beyond the cash he has received from lobbyists. The Senate Majority PAC, a Super PAC associated with outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), has spent roughly $850,000 on advertisements to take out Portman.

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