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Soft money group raises $1 million to advance Frank LaRose’s Ohio U.S. Senate bid

The political organization at the root of an FEC complaint against Ohio Secretary of State and U.S. Senate candidate Frank LaRose has disclosed its fundraising and expenses. The group, Leadership for Ohio Fund, was first organized to advocate for an election integrity division in LaRose’s office. More recently, it has been making the case for LaRose’s U.S. Senate run.

Leadership for Ohio Fund

The organization is what’s known as a 527 political organization, taking its name from a section in the Internal Revenue Code. The groups can raise unlimited funds, but they must disclose contributions and expenses to the IRS. They are also barred from “expressly” advocating for federal candidates. In practice, however, that leaves a lot of room to promote a candidate without explicitly urging voters to vote for them.

Conservative lawyer David Langdon established Leadership for Ohio Fund in March. He’s also behind several other political organizations setting their sights on elections prior to 2024. One, Protect Our Constitution, is working to pass Issue 1, which would establish a 60% threshold for passing constitutional amendments. Another is Protect Women Ohio, which is ostensibly fighting a reproductive rights amendment in November. But because Republicans placed Issue 1 on the ballot largely to kneecap that abortion rights proposal, Protect Women Ohio has spent generously in favor of Issue 1 as well.

Leadership for Ohio Fund drew scrutiny and an eventual FEC complaint because it was seemingly pushing for LaRose’s candidacy before LaRose had officially declared and with his apparent blessing. The FEC complaint contends that while LaRose fully intended to run, he improperly portrayed himself as “testing the waters” to raise funds outside campaign finance limits.

What they raised

The organization’s report covers its financial activity through June 30 — roughly four months of fundraising and spending. In all the group raised $1,023,877 and spent $344,536.

IRS rules require the group to itemize donors who gave at least $200 in aggregate and expenses of at least $500 in aggregate. The filing doesn’t show any expenses falling below that threshold, but it reports $139,174 in donations that fell below the aggregate limit.

The remaining donations amount to almost $885,000 across 126 itemized donors. That’s an average donation amount of $7,021.45. The three biggest contributions were for 50,000 each. Two of those donors come from the real estate world. George Skestos, CEO of Ohio home builder Homewood Homes and Texas based Hillwood Development both cut checks. George Fisher, owner of beer distributor Cavalier, gave $50,000 as well.

Fundraising went well with the rest of the beer and wine industry, too. The organization brought in another $68,500 from individual distributors as well as the Wholesale Beer and Wine Association. Other notable donors include Tim Smucker, Chairman emeritus for the J.M. Smucker Company, and Pete Edwards, co-owner of the Columbus Crew. Smucker gave $5,000 and Edwards gave $10,000.

…And what they spent

The organization’s expenditures include a mix of spending on mailers, consultants, and fees for the ubiquitous GOP fundraising platform WinRed. But the biggest individual line item was $122,000 for Causeway Solutions. The Louisiana firm conducted a poll indicating LaRose has the best chance in the GOP field of defeating U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-OH.

Leadership for Ohio lists the expense on June 9. That’s two days after the resulting poll was publicized and three weeks after the pollsters began reaching out to voters. The same firm ran another poll which made its way into print July 19. That’s after report’s cutoff, but it’s unclear whether the $122,000 expenditure covered both surveys or just the first.

The FEC complaint against LaRose highlighted Causeway’s polling in its argument. It argued the poll represented an effort to advance LaRose’s candidacy. Because of LaRose’s coordination with the group, and assurances to donors that he would soon enter the race, those expenditures should apply be counted toward candidate limits.

Under federal law, an individual becomes a candidate once they raise or spend $5,000 — or a third party does so on their behalf.

Source: Ohio Capital Journal



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