By DENISE GRANT
It is impossible to tell by looking at their campaign finance reports exactly how much money two super PACs spent this spring in the Republican primary election race between Jon Cross and Cheryl Buckland for an Ohio House seat.
Who bankrolled the competing super PACs is also unclear.
One thing is sure: the PACs’ spending war is continuing to influence politics in the 83rd Ohio House District.
Democratic candidate Mary Harshfield, of Findlay, who will compete with Cross in the November general election, said the idea of super PACs entering the fall campaign is intimidating.
A super PAC is a type of independent political action committee that may raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions and individuals, but is not permitted to contribute to or coordinate directly with parties or candidates.
The threat of unlimited super PAC spending “has stayed in the back of my mind,” Harshfield said. “It just gives you this feeling of being a very little person in the race, and even my own party, the Democratic Party, said it won’t spend money on the race. This is already a Republican district, and we all saw the terrible, bitter fight in the Republican primary.
“I’d hate to think of them (the super PACs) coming after me. I can’t imagine what they’d come up with on me, but I’m sure it would be something. All of this money is coming from unknown entities, and I probably don’t have much of a chance. It’s an unfortunate situation. There’s too much money in politics, and it keeps getting worse.”
Harshfield, who nearly pulled out of the race last month, is campaigning, but has publicly stated that she won’t spend money on the race. She’s staying in the race, she said, to give voters a choice in November.
She’ll be competing with Cross, of Kenton, who defeated Findlay’s Buckland in the Republican primary.
Cross is the president, chief executive officer and economic development director of the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance, Kenton.
Both Cross and Buckland said they did not know who organized and funded the super PACs and could not control their activities in the GOP primary campaign. Both candidates denounced the antics of the PACs.
Cross said he doesn’t think the super PACs will have much interest in the 83rd House District race this fall.
“The Republican primary was the big race. The primary was really what mattered,” he said. “The candidates have no control over those super PACs. It’s a sideshow. … I have been working hard to show voters that they will have a legislator who is going to take the time to build relationships.”
Cross said he just wants to move on.
“I have no idea who these ‘dark money’ people are, but I think the voters, and I am a voter, are tired of the negative campaigning,” Cross said. “I’m not really paying attention to the super PACs. I am focused on my campaign. The voters made their decision.”
However, Herbert B. Asher, professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University, fully expects the super PACs will return to Ohio this fall.
“They can basically enter any race they are interested in,” and provide little information about their funding or spending, Asher said.
All 99 Ohio House seats are up for election this year. Ohio state representatives serve two-year terms, with all seats up for election every two years.
The 83rd House District includes Hancock and Hardin counties, and part of Logan County.
Asher said campaign spending by candidates or political parties is “reasonably well regulated,” but the U.S. Supreme Court has “basically given corporations the same constitutional rights as individuals when it comes to expression.”
Asher is referring to a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which found that political spending by companies, nonprofits, associations and unions cannot be limited by the government.
That decision, known as Citizens United, has allowed super PACs to raise and spend money in political races without disclosing the source of the money or exactly how it is spent.
Campaign spending by Cross and Buckland in the Republican primary for the 83rd District seat topped $250,000, not counting super PAC spending on both sides.
Super PACs actively campaigned for Cross and Buckland in the primary election with radio spots and direct mail.
What influence the super PACs actually had on the 83rd House District race, or other races, is difficult to gauge.
“If you have one side getting a lot of money, and that money is converted into commercials, then they sure could have a big impact on a race,” Asher said.
But in this case, both Republicans had support from super PACs.
And it wasn’t just the 83rd House District race that attracted super PAC spending in Ohio’s Republican primaries this year, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
The Growth & Opportunity PAC Inc., which has a Lexington, Kentucky, mailing address, reported spending in 21 Ohio House district races, including districts 6, 19, 21, 37, 42, 43, 47, 50, 61, 65, 67, 72, 80, 81, 83, 84, 86, 87, 90, 91 and 98, which are scattered throughout the state.
The identity of the organizers and donors remains obscure with only corporate names listed on the reports as contributors, organizers, and recipients of the funds.
The filing deadline for the past 18 months of PAC activity was July 15.
The Growth & Opportunity PAC, which portrayed Buckland as a “political insider” and a “swamp creature,” and claimed she never supported “Trump Republicans,” reported spending about $45,000 on direct mailers. The money was paid to the Storytellers Groups LLC out of Illinois. The report gives no further information.
This PAC also reported spending about $515,550 on radio advertising. All the radio money was paid to Crossroads Media LLC, out of Virginia. The report gives no further information.
In all, Growth & Opportunity PAC reported spending a total of $979,983 during the 18-month reporting period from Jan. 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018, with most of the money spent on Ohio’s primaries.
The Growth & Opportunity PAC listed a single, $1 million donor on its campaign finance report: Generation Now Inc. No address was given.
The only name that appears on the report is that of the group’s treasurer, Eric Lycan, with a Lexington, Kentucky, address.
A competing PAC, called Conservative Alliance PAC, listed a post office box in Alexandria, Virginia.
During the Republican primary for the 83rd House District, along with derogatory radio ads about Cross, the Conservative Alliance PAC sent mailers to voters claiming that Cross is “not one of us.”
The mailers said Cross is a “San Francisco-style liberal trying to fool Ohio conservatives,” and showed an old Volkswagen van with “peace and love” painted on the side.
In its campaign finance report, the PAC said it spent $745,563 between Jan. 1 and June 30 in six states, including Ohio, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Virginia.
In Ohio, the spending totaled $499,690. Most of the money, $489,265, was paid to GRP Buying LLC, no address given, for advertising.
The PAC listed a single donor, the Prosperity Alliance, based in Washington, with donations totaling $756,000 between April 2 and June 28.
The only name appearing on the PAC’s campaign finance report is that of the treasurer, Chris Marston.