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Exposed: The secretive money group attacking U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown

Published: Sat, September 8, 2012 @ 12:08 a.m.

SEE ALSO: Medical group pulls support for Agana after Obama-Hitler comparison

By Justin Elliott


In May, a previously unknown group started pouring money into Ohio’s U.S. Senate race, considered one of the most important in the country and currently the nation’s most expensive.

The group, the Government Integrity Fund, has spent more than $1 million so far on TV ads bashing Democratic incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown and praising his Republican opponent, Josh Mandel.

Like many other such nonprofit groups that are playing a dominant role in this year’s elections, the Government Integrity Fund is shrouded in mystery. It isn’t required to reveal donors, nor has it answered questions about who runs the group. The fund’s bare-bones website lists no contact information beyond a P.O. box.

The only name listed on incorporation papers for the group is a Columbus lawyer, William Todd, who told ProPublica, “I really have no role in their affairs.” (In June, Todd also declined to respond to questions from a Huffington Post reporter, citing attorney-client privilege.)

But previously unreported documents filed with an Ohio television station pull back the curtain a bit: The Government Integrity Fund is run by a state lobbyist who in turn employs a former top Mandel staffer.

The lobbyist, Tom Norris, is listed as the Government Integrity Fund’s chairman and treasurer. Norris owns an Ohio lobbying firm, Cap Square Solutions, and last year hired a top Mandel aide, Joel Riter, to work at the firm.

Riter’s role in the Government Integrity Fund, if any, is not clear. The former Mandel aide declined to say whether he is involved with the group that is chaired by his current boss and running ads in support of his former boss.

“I can’t talk to you about this,” he told ProPublica. “I’m not going to comment on any kind of involvement I have with anyone.”

Norris did not respond to requests for comment, nor did the Mandel campaign.

The documents identifying Norris as the chairman of the fund are public because of a Federal Communications Commission rule requiring TV stations to keep detailed records about political advertisers. The files can be valuable, offering a look at exactly who is spending and how much. Until recently, the documents were only available by physically traveling to stations. ProPublica’s Free the Files project has spotlighted the issue, and this summer, the FCC passed a rule requiring the stations in the nation’s top markets to upload the files to a government website.

The documents were filed with a Cincinnati NBC affiliate, WLWT, one of the stations the group has been advertising on.

Here is a fund ad that attacks Sen. Brown for purportedly turning his back on his younger, more honorable self: “Young Sherrod Brown was independent of Wall Street,” the announcer says. “Today Sherrod Brown takes big money from those same corporate interests.”

The Associated Press reported last month that outside groups have spent $15 million supporting Mandel compared with about $3 million on the Democratic side.

Besides identifying Norris as the chairman of the group, the form filed with the TV station shows that the Government Integrity Fund has an office at 208 East State Street, a few blocks from the state house in Columbus. Riter, the former Mandel aide, also has an office in the building.

Asked about his office at 208 East State Street, Riter said: “Whatever office Government Integrity Fund has is not mine.”

Outside groups are not allowed to coordinate with campaigns, but it is common for politicians’ former aides to be involved with such groups.

Riter first worked as an aide to Mandel during the candidate’s stint in the Ohio Legislature. Riter then became field director for Mandel’s campaign for state treasurer, joining the treasurer’s office as constituent and executive agency liaison after Mandel won the race. Riter left his state job in the treasurer’s office after six months to become a lobbyist at Cap Square in 2011. According to state records, the firm lobbies for a range of interests, including the Ohio Ready Mixed Concrete Association and medical device companies.

Riter was featured in a Dayton Daily News article earlier this year investigating Mandel’s practice of hiring former campaign workers for state jobs. (That piece led a Democratic legislator to file an ethics complaint against Riter, who has contested the charges.)

The Government Integrity Fund was created in May 2011, and an affiliated super PAC, the Government Integrity Fund Action Network, registered with the Federal Election Commission two months later.

The super PAC, which does have to report its donors, has not been active and raised just $10,500 through the end of June, all but $500 from New York financier and benefactor of conservative causes Roger Hertog. Hertog also gave $5,000 directly to Mandel’s campaign last year. Hertog declined to comment.

Brown campaign spokesman Justin Barasky said that the Government Integrity Fund is the fourth largest outside group on the Republican side in Ohio, behind such national outfits as the Karl Rove-affiliated Crossroads GPS. “We don’t know anything else about them,” he said. “They are the only secretly funded group that is based here.”


1NoBS(2836 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

This story, and others like it, underscore the need for REAL campaign reform. This anonymous manipulation by throwing obscene amounts of money around has got to be stopped. And I mean BOTH parties.

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2dmacker(541 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

Josh Mandel is a former U.S. Marine who served his country. It's about time we have politicians who give more than lip service for our country.
Mandel as a Marine Corps veteran, served two tours in Iraq and served as State Representative from the 17th Ohio House District. He was first elected State Representative in 2006, knocking on 19,679 doors and wearing out three pairs of shoes. In 2008 he was re-elected to a second term, representing a district with a 2:1 Democrat to Republican voter ratio. Treasurer Mandel has a record of advancing the free enterprise system, advocating for limited government, and standing up to bureaucrats who treat businesses as if they're "guilty until proven innocent".
The current smear campaign being waged on behalf of Brown is disgusting.

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3Freeatlast(1991 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

Boy I see the right wing attack group ads seem to be working . As I read some of the comments here.

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4greene(167 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

Once again you, thethinker, have "EXPOSED" the Vindy. The Vindy does not have editors. Keep up the good work!

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5Attis(1134 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

The need for full disclosure of all political campaign donors is painfully obvious. Otherwise elections degenerate into auctions. Secretive super PACs, like this outfit, operate like criminal gangs who also find it beneficial to hide the identity of their operatives. Come clean Josh! Whose puppet are you?

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6DavidSyphard(1 comment)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

Exposed is correct! Why should you be allowed to hide behind such divisive tactics, propaganda is propaganda. We are unable judge the motives of this entity or others like it if they hide behind the of cloak secrecy.
If they have an opinion be proud and tell us who and what you are so I can judge, if you are honest and forthright. Otherwise I should question your motives and your integrity. I see this as only astute and reasonable thought. Questioning who or what things, are is the only way we can learn the usefulness of the information provided.
You mention 2 entities their web site does tell you who they are and their agenda. This does allow us to judge their motives.
On the other hand Government Integrity does not tell you who they. Is it funded by Terrorist the Chinese or maybe the Russian? We don’t know.
I question validity of their ads, because they are unwilling to support their statement without corporate vale. I also believe that corporations are not people and should not be allowed to participate in the debate. I'm sure they can't produce a birth certificate or a death certificate.
By allowing such blind attacks from either side of the aisle is wrong and should be stopped.


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7300(573 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

Mandel is a Zionist who doesn't care a bit about the US other than ensuring its support for Israel. He'll use any tactic to get his way, as was seen in the treasurer race.

The way he speaks, it's clear that he feels that he's on a mission from god. Unfortunately, it just exposes his mental state and messiah complex.

In other words, this is not some normal GOP candidate. This is a man whose allegiance is to a foreign state, not the US. The fact he's made it this far is scary enough, the fact that people are buying into his underhanded ways is even scarier.

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8AtownAugie(892 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

Back on July 15, Mr Francisco and Ms Lenhoff of YSU issued a press release *bragging* about the university teaming-up with ProPublica, the "author" of this article. The Vindy ballyhooed the venture, even though ProPublica is a far-left organization with a well-paid staff of about three dozen, based in NYC. ProPublica "reports on" (read "goes after") only those issues and people leftists/progressives do not like. Their editor-in-chief is paid almost $600,000 a year, thanks in large part to the founders, leftist billionaires Herb and Marion Sandler. (Yes, the same Sandlers of Golden West Financial fame -- or infamy -- fund ProPublica to the tune of $10 million/year.) To see a page one article in The Vindy as if it is anything close to objective reporting is breath-taking.

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9dreamcatcher52(140 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago


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10jeepers(127 comments)posted 3 years, 10 months ago

Any reader expecting to get any "news" that is not written with a democratic slant is delusional. When the opposing party's candidate raises $ then we need to reform the financing of politics. When it is "our" candidate, we tend to play it down. This valley has been so slanted for so long-when equal time is given to the repub's, the dems can't comprehend it. Similar situation in Cuyahoga County with Dimora and his ilk. He still doesn't think he did anything wrong because politics has been so crooked for so long. If you are in the minority here, it is easier to just ignore most of what is reported and vote the way you want. Don't try to convince each other we are smarter-you are dumber. That kind of discussion gets nowhere. Kind of like religion-our beliefs are pretty much set when we reach adulthood. Very seldom will you change a person of the opposing view to your way of thinking, voting, worshipping. What do you think? Are you really satisfied with ANY politician? I for one am not.

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