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Checking out Ohio candidates’ latest quarterly fundraising for U.S. Congressional races

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Checking out Ohio candidates’ latest quarterly fundraising for U.S. Congressional races

Feb 09, 2024 | 4:45 am ET
By Nick Evans
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Checking out Ohio candidates’ final fundraising reports before U.S. Congressional primaries
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The U.S. Capitol at night. (Bill Dickinson/Getty Images)

Around Ohio dozens of congressional hopefuls are knocking on doors and dialing for dollars. Last week, they submitted campaign finance reports. Thanks to a gerrymandered map, the eventual outcome in several districts is all but assured. But after a resignation, a retirement, and a last-minute scramble in one closely divided district, there are a handful of races that warrant attention.

In Ohio’s 2nd Congressional district, Republican U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup chose not to run for reelection. A dozen Republicans have thrown their hat in the ring for the GOP-friendly seat running across Southcentral Ohio.

In the 6th Congressional district, Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson bowed out early to lead Youngstown State University. Two state lawmakers and an East Palestine resident mobilized by last year’s derailment are seeking the Republican nomination in the eastern Ohio district.

And in Ohio’s 9th Congressional district Democratic U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur is once again defending her toss-up seat. She handily defeated conservative firebrand J.R. Majewski in the last election, and national GOP figures were hoping to coalesce around former state lawmaker Craig Riedel as an alternative this time around. But a leaked donor call in which Riedel was critical of former president Trump sent the party looking for an alternative to their alternative. State Rep. Derek Merrin, R-Monclova Township, jumped into the race.

U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio
WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 21: Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-OH, decided not to seek reelection and a vast field of Republican candidates are trying to succeed him. (Photo by Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images)

OH-2: lackluster fundraising and big loans

The candidates’ year end reports cover the final quarter of 2023, so any more recent uptick in donations won’t be reflected in their reports. Still, the field struggled to crack even $20,000 — half of the Republican candidates fell below the mark or brought in so little they didn’t file at all.

For context, Rep. Wenstrup’s year-end report in 2021 showed him bringing in more than $312,000. Incumbency undoubtedly juices that total. For instance, he brought in more than $200,000 from PACs. Still, the $109,000 he raised from individuals ahead of a sleepy primary election, is more than every current candidate save two.

Checking out Ohio candidates’ latest quarterly fundraising for U.S. Congressional races
State Sen. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

The one real standout was state Sen. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg. Despite living outside the district, he raised about $611,000. That’s about five times as much as his closest rival. The bulk of Antani’s fundraising — almost $400,000 worth — came from individuals in Ohio, but he also raised $20,000 or more in California, Florida, and Texas. PACs associated with hotel owners or the Hindu community gave another $25,500. Notably, Ananti appears to be eschewing the go-to conservative fundraising platform WinRed.

Antani does not, however, have the most cash to work with. Thanks to $1.25 million in personal loans, David Taylor leads the field there. Taylor is former assistant prosecutor who went on to run his family’s concrete company, Sardinia Ready Mix.

But Taylor’s loans are outpacing his roughly $20,500 in fundraising by a factor of 60 to 1. His biggest expense — nearly all of the total — went to advertising. In the TV spot he promises to help President Trump finish the wall “even if I have to take my trucks to the border and pour the concrete myself.”

Two other candidates, former Jackson County GOP vice chair Larry Kidd and business owner Tim O’Hara, have propped up their campaigns with sizable personal loans as well. Kidd has put up half a million dollars and O’Hara wrote a check for a quarter million. In Kidd’s case that loan is about 15 times what he’s raised so far; for O’Hara it’s closer to double.

Derek Myers raised just $2,500 from two donors, but sent out a press release claiming he’s actually raised more than $783,500 — just after the reporting deadline. The campaign described it as “a combination of contributions from passionate individuals and personal loans from the candidate himself.” That total represents an enormous cash infusion, but the breakdown of loans to contributions will have to wait for the pre-primary report in March.

Myers’ report also bills every expense to the campaign itself, largely obscuring the nature of transactions. In addition to spending $3,000 for a Mar a Lago event, the campaign reportedly paid itself $8,400 for “consulting.”

Apparently neither of the Democrats in Ohio’s 2nd Congressional district raised or spent the $5,000 necessary to require FEC reporting. In fact, one of them, Joe Wessells, dropped out of the race and endorsed Republican Phil Heimlich. Despite Heimlich’s party affiliation, the former Cincinnati and Hamilton County official has been openly critical of Donald Trump.

U.S. Rep. Bill Johnso, (R-OH)
Photo of Ohio U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, left, by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

OH-6: A crowded calendar

U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson’s early exit means the candidates running to replace him have a full calendar. The March 19 primary will include not only the typical nominating contest for November’s general election, but also for a June special election to finish out the remainder of Johnson’s term.

At year end the Democrats, Rylan Finzer and Michael Kripchak, hadn’t met FEC reporting thresholds. Republican Rick Tsai hadn’t either.

State Rep. Reggie Stoltzfus, R-Paris Township, and Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem, have taken different strategies to raise money.

Stoltzfus only raised about $30,000 from individuals, with contributions from fellow lawmakers Rep. Angie King, R-Celina, and Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Ashville, as well. The bulk of Stoltzfus’ cash however comes from a personal loan of $250,000.

Rulli on the other hand has been more successful raising money, reporting slightly more than $100,000 in individual donations. He got help from political committees controlled by state Rep. Mike Loychik, R-Bazetta, and Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce. Rulli added to his total with a $30,000 personal loan and almost $20,000 from a joint fundraising committee.

Still, Rulli trails Stoltzfus in cash-on-hand because of the latter’s campaign loan. Neither campaign has logged any expenses other than WinRed fees.

OH-9 Here we go again?

In 2022, Republicans identified the Northwest Ohio seat held by U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur as potential pick up. Two well-established state lawmakers jumped into the race but wound up splitting the vote. First time candidate J.R. Majewski squeaked by them in the primary but fell flat in the general election.

The 2024 primary is shaping up in much the same way. After some initial misgivings, Majewksi is running again. Former state Rep. Craig Riedel, who finished second in the last primary, is trying again, too. In the early going Riedel stacked up several endorsements from national GOP figures, but many dried up after Riedel was heard on a call with a potential donor distancing himself from Donald Trump.

The latest entry in the field, Rep. Derek Merrin, has yet to file with the FEC.

Rep, Marcy Kaptur speaks the Womens Workers Rising Rally
Rep, Marcy Kaptur speaks the Womens Workers Rising Rally on March 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for V-Day).

Kaptur heads into 2024 with $1.3 million on hand. In her latest report, she raised more than $200,000 from individuals, and added another $200,000 from PACs representing organized labor, business interests, and Democratic candidates or organizations. Nearly half of her donations from individuals came from Ohio, but she also cleared $10,000 from donors in California, New York, and Massachusetts.

Because until recently he was the party favorite, Riedel has been able to raise a substantial amount of money. But he’s still not in the same ballpark as Kaptur. Throughout 2023, he raised close to $1 million, but spent almost $400,000. He enters primary season with about $540,000 on hand.

In the most recent quarter, Reidel reported more than $170,000 in contributions, almost $130,000 of that from individuals. The biggest share of itemized donations came from Ohio, but it only represents about $36,000. Riedel brought in donations from 14 other states, with $16,000 from donors in Texas leading the pack. Reidel also got support from PACs, largely run by sitting members of Congress, to the tune of $43,000.

Majewski meanwhile has about a quarter as much in cash-on-hand, at $123,000, but he raised a similar amount in final quarter. For a candidate who has successfully leveraged social media to build his profile, Majewski’s support remains remarkably close to home. Of the $117,000 in donations from individuals he reported, almost $97,000 comes from Ohioans. Like Riedel he got donations from 14 other states, but the amounts were smaller. He picked up about six grand each in New York and Florida, and a couple thousand more in California and Mississippi.

While Riedel chalked up more than $40,000 from PACs, Majewski got just $7,000. State Rep. Josh Williams, R-Sylvania, kicked in $1,000 as did U.S. Rep. Mike Collins, R-GA. The remainder came from a group called Patriot Freedom PAC that backed Sarah Palin’s U.S. House bid in 2022.

While both Republican candidates report spending on direct mail and fundraising, neither spent on advertising during the final quarter.

UPDATE: this story was updated to include another round of pre-primary FEC reports.

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.