Ted Strickland, a Democratic candidate for Senate in Ohio, accepted over $118,000 in bundled lobbyist contributions this year while his campaign blasted his competitor for relying on "wealthy special interests."
Strickland for Senate received the bundled lobbyist contributions, disclosed in a recent Federal Election Commission filing, from three special interest groups based in Washington, D.C., during the first six months of 2016. In the same period, the Strickland campaign cast incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (R.) as a "Washington insider" who is out of touch with Ohio voters due to ties to lobbyists and special interests.
The League of Conservation Voters Action Fund, the political arm of a "clean energy" group that advocated for the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations on coal-fired power plants, bundled over $48,000 for Strickland’s campaign between January and June. The environmental group has endorsed Strickland and is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars against Portman in the state, which could cause trouble for Strickland among Ohio’s southeastern coal-country voters.
J Street PAC, a liberal Middle East activist group that lobbied for the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, also bundled over $47,000 for Strickland’s campaign between January and June. And the Council for a Livable World, a nonprofit that advocates for arms control and nuclear non-proliferation, bundled more than $22,000 for the Ohio Senate candidate’s campaign in the first half of 2016.
The bundled contributions could undermine the Strickland campaign’s efforts to draw a contrast between Strickland and Portman by accusing the latter of being beholden to Washington insiders.
"Portman may be beloved amongst Washington lobbyists, wealthy special interests, and the well-connected, but he’s totally disconnected from the concerns and values of hard working Ohioans," Strickland campaign spokesman David Bergstein said last month.
Portman has not accepted bundled lobbyist contributions, according to the most recent FEC data. Campaign officials said at a closed-door meeting last week that 80 percent of Portman’s donations have come from Ohio.
The Strickland campaign did not respond to a request for comment about the bundled lobbyist contributions.
Strickland has positioned himself as an advocate of campaign finance reform and greater transparency in political contributions. His campaign has railed against the influx of "dark money" and outside group spending in the Senate race.
Meanwhile, the Senate Majority PAC, a Super PAC affiliated with outgoing Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), has spent millions on the Ohio Senate race to help Strickland, labeling Portman a "Washington insider" and a "lobbyist." Portman was a lawyer for a firm that lobbied government officials but never lobbied himself, a partner at the law firm said in 2012.
The Ohio Senate race has become one of the most contentious in the 2016 election cycle, with outside groups spending millions on both candidates despite the Strickland campaign’s charges that Portman is the only one benefitting from special interest cash.
Strickland, a former governor of Ohio who headed the lobbying arm of a Washington-based liberal think tank before announcing his candidacy, has seen his favorability numbers decline since entering the race. He has come under question particularly for his shifting position on gun rights and his ties to organizations advocating against coal. Portman has expanded a slight lead over his competitor, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this month.