OHIO VALLEY — Incumbent Sherrod Brown holds a double-digit lead over his Republican challenger in recent polling for Ohio’s U.S. Senate race, but the influx of money from outside groups into the campaign shows that his opponent’s supporters hope to give him a tough fight.
Brown, a former Ohio Secretary of State who also served 14 years representing Ohio’s 13th Congressional district as a Democrat, was elected to the Senate in 2006. He will face off against Ohio’s Republican treasurer Josh Mandel in his battle to win a second senate term.
The race is one of the most expensive in the nation and has broken spending records in Ohio. While Brown has outraised Mandel in direct campaign contributions from individuals, the money pouring into the state from outside groups heavily favors Mandel.
“It’s more money than any senate race in the country,” Brown said in an interview with the Gallipolis Daily Tribune.
Brown has been the subject of several opposition ad campaigns, funded by $13 million in contributions from outside groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the 60 Plus Association.
“I’m their number one target,” Brown said of the spending.
The chamber is the top outside contributor to the race with $4.7 million spent against Brown to date. Following the chamber is Crossroads GPS, founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove, with $2.5 million in spending.
Brown says he expects the spending from outside groups to increase as the election nears.
“Karl Rove has reserved another seven and a half million,” he said.
Outside spending from groups supporting Brown has totaled $2.5 million.
Due to the Supreme Court’s landmark 2010 Citizens United ruling, which removed restrictions on political expenditures for corporations and unions, tax-exempt advocacy groups, while required to report spending, do not have to disclose the identity of their donors.
Brown said the identity of who is funding the ads remains a mystery.
“We know it’s Crossroads in this case, but we don’t know where the Crossroads money comes from,” Brown said. “Just like when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce buys ads, we know it’s the U.S. Chamber, but we don’t know where their money comes from, because it’s not in the U.S. Chamber general fund.”
Brown said, as a result of the lack of disclosure, voters can only speculate about the origins of the money behind the ads.
“We figure it’s from the oil industry, or it’s very likely drug companies or it’s very likely China money,” Brown said. “It could come indirectly from the Chinese, or it could come from companies in the U.S. who outsource jobs.”
Brown has been outspoken in his disagreement with court’s ruling in Citizens United decision, and says the decision opens the door for foreign interests to influence U.S. elections.
The front page of the senator’s campaign website hosts a petition urging the passage of a constitutional amendment to overturn the ruling.
“We, the undersigned, believe that democracy is not for sale. We believe that corporations are not people,” the petition reads.
Brown said he would agree to a voluntary ban between the candidates on outside spending, but says the money from outside groups is the primary reason Mandel’s campaign is considered competitive.
“Fundamentally, this would not be a race if it weren’t for the outside money,” Brown said. “ If there wasn’t 13 million going into this race, it wouldn’t be close.”
According to a Quinnipiac poll of 1.193 likely voters, taken July 24-29, Brown leads Mandel 51 to 39 percent. The poll carried a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percent.
On the Issues
Brown shared his positions on other key issues facing Ohioans in this election season:
The budget — Brown says the best way to reduce the deficit is by eliminating tax breaks for the wealthiest two percent who make above $200,000 per year.
He also emphasized the need to close tax loopholes for hedge fund operators, the oil industry and companies that engage in outsourcing of jobs.
“When a company shuts down in Gallipolis or Ironton and moves to China, we need to eliminate those tax breaks,” Brown said.
Prescription drug abuse — Brown has conducted several roundtables and events regarding the prescription drug abuse problem in the region.
He says prescription drug monitoring programs must be continued and illegal transfers from Florida must be stopped. Brown has contacted Florida Governor Rick Scott and urged him to maintain drug monitoring programs in his state.
Brown has proposed the establishment of a Medicaid “Lock-in” program to fight the illegal use of Medicaid cards to acquire prescription pain medications.
“If you’re on Medicaid you have to go to one pharmacy or one doctor,” Brown said. “You can’t doctor shop and you can’t pharmacy shop.”
Health care — Brown voted for The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2009, and has touted the changes to the health care system, such as free mammograms, prostate screenings and physicals.
Brown also pointed out that children with pre-existing conditions are covered under the act, and that adult children are able to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26.
Mandel has stated that he wants to repeal the act, a position on which Brown disagrees.
“I can’t imagine my opponent wants to take all of this away,” Brown said.
Midwest drought — Brown said the five-year farm bill, which is currently stalled in congress, needs to be passed to bring relief to Ohio farmers impacted by the historic drought in the region. The bill includes disaster aid and expanded crop insurance.
“The senate’s passed it, the house needs to pass it and the president, I know, will sign it,” Brown said. “Assistance for these farmers is pretty important.”