One of the most expensive Senate campaigns is going on right here in our own backyard as incumbent U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) faces off against Josh Mandel (R-Ohio). Beginning in May, a then-unknown group began pouring money into the race, and to date has spent over $1 million on television ads bashing Brown and praising Mandel. Now it seems that we may have some clues as to who is behind the Government Integrity Fund group that is pouring money into Ohio's senate race.
Like many other non-profit groups that are playing a big role in this year's elections, the Government Integrity Fund is shrouded in mystery. As it is a non-profit group, the GIF is not required to reveal donors. The group has also not answered questions about who runs the group, and the GIF's website lists no contact information other than a P.O. Box.
Just one name appears on the group's incorporation papers, Columbus lawyer William Todd, who has told reporters that he has "no role in their affairs."
Now, previously unreported documents that were filed with an Ohio television station reveal a little more about who is behind the GIF. The Government Integrity Fund is run by a state lobbyist who employs a former top Mandel staffer.
The lobbyist in question is Tom Norris. He is listed as GIF's chairman and treasurer, and owns an Ohio lobbying firm, Cap Square Solutions. Last year Norris hired a top Mandel aide, Joel Ritter, to work at his firm.
It is not clear what role, if any, that Riter has in the Government Integrity Fund. He has declined to state whether or not he is involved with the group. Neither Norris nor the Mandel campaign has responded to requests to comment.
The documents that identify Norris are public due to a Federal Communications Commission ruling that requires television stations to retain detailed records about political advertisers. Up until recently, these documents were only available by actually travelling to the various stations. However, ProPublica's Free the Files project has highlighted the issue and this summer the FCC passed a rule that requires the stations in the U.S.'s top markets to upload the files to a government website.
The documents were filed with a Cincinnati NBC affiliate, WLWT, which is one of the stations that the Government Integrity Fund has been advertising on.
In August alone, outside groups have spent $15 million supporting Mandel, compared to about $3 million supporting Brown.
It is still not clear who is donating the money needed to pay for all of the group's ads because the group is a non-profit "social welfare" group and is not required to release donor information or register with the Federal Election Commission.