Who is bankrolling Ohio's campaigns for governor?

Rep. Jim Renacci
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COLUMBUS - Millions in personal donations boosted two GOP campaigns for Ohio governor, while a Southwest Ohioan holds the money lead among Democrats running for Ohio's top job.

With at least eight candidates for governor – four from each major party – Monday's campaign fundraising reports for the first half of 2017 provided an initial chance to weigh each person's viability in the race.

Personal fortunes boost Republicans

Three Republican candidates for governor each had more than $4 million on hand for their campaigns, after expenses. U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci and Attorney General Mike DeWine got to those sums with loans from their personal fortunes: $4 million from Renacci and $1 million from DeWine. Secretary of State Jon Husted outraised everyone by pure donations, but the loans from Renacci and DeWine eliminated his lead.

Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor did not put in her own money, which would be free of donation limits, and badly trailed her GOP opponents in fundraising. She is the favorite of term-limited Gov. John Kasich, but ended up with about 10 percent of the cash on hand her GOP rivals enjoy. (Taylor's husband runs a major Northeast Ohio commercial construction firm and donated $12,000 to her campaign, close to the annual maximum for anyone besides the candidate.)

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A Southwest Ohio leader

Among Democrats, former Montgomery state Rep. Connie Pillich had a head start on fundraising – she's been campaigning on some level since her failed bid for Ohio treasurer in 2014. And she has the only experience raising money as a statewide candidate. Although she's generally not considered the frontrunner, she led the field in both money raised and cash on hand after expenses, raising her profile in the race.

Still, some Democrats hoped former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton would build on her experience in Congress to draw on national donors and build a fundraising lead. Only $84,000 of Sutton's money came from outside Ohio, and she ended up last among Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls. In any case, the Democrats seeking to become governor are raising far less money than three of the four Republican candidates.

Who's missing?

Some Democrats are waiting for former Ohio Attorney General Rich Cordray to make a decision on whether he’ll enter the race. As the current head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Cordray is barred from campaigning for any office.

Chatter among Democrats puts him as a likely entry, and former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski this weekend called for Cordray's firing from his federal job. Sutton's fundraising haul could fuel arguments from those who want Cordray to enter.

Why the asterisk?

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley says she is running for governor in 2018. She's also running for re-election as Dayton mayor in 2017, although unopposed. Ohio law only allows her to have one campaign committee at a time, and she doesn't have to file for the governor's race until next year. So Whaley is paying for both her Ohio governor's campaigning and her mayoral campaigning out of an account for the mayor's race. She can change that to a gubernatorial account after the race is over, as long as she spends it down to $200,000.

Is that legal? Technically, yes, said Philip Richter, the staff attorney for the Ohio Elections Commission. Whaley's deadline for creating a governor's campaign fund is in February, when she must file petitions to get on the statewide ballot.

Is it ethical to use a mayoral account to pay for gubernatorial expenses such as campaign banners, staff, statewide travel or a website? "If someone wanted to say, 'That’s unethical. She shouldn’t be doing that,' well, you may be right. But that doesn’t mean there’s a statutory problem with what they’re doing," Richter said.

Ohio law only says campaign spending must be "ordinary and necessary."

Whaley's campaign says she has been transparent about her plans to run for governor, so donors and her Dayton constituents know what she's doing with the money. After some initial confusion, Whaley is limiting mayoral donations to the same amount as statewide donors must follow: $12,707.79 per calendar year. "Daytonians are proud of their mayor and look forward to her getting it done for Ohio just like she has gotten it done for Dayton," spokeswoman Faith Oltman said.