Operators of an Ohio Super PAC behind more than $300,000 in independent advertising against Republican U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel have ties to Mandel’s opponent, an Associated Press review has found.
Such ties break no election rules. However, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s campaign has roundly criticized a similar relationship between another outside group and Mandel’s one-time staffer.
Brown, a Democrat, and Mandel are locked in one of the most closely watched and expensive Senate contests in the country.
Records show Columbus attorney Don McTigue founded Ohio Families United in May. He was deputy elections director under Brown when the candidate served as Ohio’s secretary of state in the 1980s. The PAC’s treasurer, Zach West, is a Brown family friend and was a driver for Brown’s wife during the 2006 campaign.
In September, the Brown campaign characterized a business tie between former Mandel campaign and office staffer Joel Riter as part of a “pattern of corruption” by Mandel, the Ohio state treasurer.
Brown spokesman Justin Barasky said the two situations are different because Riter was part of Mandel’s then-current inner circle when he became associated with the lobbying firm behind The Government Integrity Fund. That group, another super PAC able to raise and spend unlimited donations, spent $1 million on independent advertising against Brown.
The fund’s founder, Statehouse lobbyist Thomas Norris, shared office space and some clients with Riter.
Any strategic coordination between such independent expenditure groups and candidate campaigns is barred by federal election law.
AP’s review of Ohio Families United found Brown’s campaign has made payments to McTigue’s law firm this year, even sending one $75 check in June — a month after the PAC was launched.
Barasky said the check went to another attorney at McTigue’s firm, in compliance with a federal prohibition against such political committees and campaigns employing common vendors. He said the check covered the crafting of an email.
Federal Election Commission rules requiring walls be set up between candidates and independent expenditure groups don’t apply to vendors such as lawyers, only to those whose business is to create, produce, or distribute campaign advertisements.
“They do not prohibit the same law firm from representing both candidates and other entities that may make independent communications,” Barasky said.
McTigue has spent the decades since working for Brown as a lawyer for many Ohio Democrats and Ohio Democratic causes.
He told the AP that he carefully followed all applicable laws in setting up Ohio Families United.