WASHINGTON—GOP Senate candidate Josh Mandel has tapped into the fundraising prowess of a conservative Washington advocacy group as he tries to build a war chest for the 2018 election.
Mandel, who is hoping to unseat Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, is one of nine candidates who have forged a fundraising agreement with FreedomWorks PAC, the political arm of a D.C.-based group affiliated with the tea party movement.
Other local lawmakers who have signed up include GOP Reps. Warren Davidson of Troy and Thomas Massie from Northern Kentucky, as well as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
The arrangement is legal but uncommon. And some critics say it raises questions about whether the candidates who benefit from the joint fundraising deal could feel beholden to FreedomWorks’ agenda, which includes rolling back environmental regulations, fully repealing Obamacare, and other hot-button issues.
“It's fairly unusual for an outside group” to team up with candidates in this way, said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan campaign watchdog group.
A spokesman for FreedomWorks did not respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for Mandel said the partnership is a reflection of the GOP state treasurer’s conservative bona fides.
“We’re proud to have the support of FreedomWorks and the broad coalition of grassroots conservatives throughout Ohio and across the country who are fighting to bring change to Washington,” Erica Nurnberg, Mandel’s campaign spokeswoman, said in an email to the Enquirer. “Our movement knows that Sherrod Brown is wrong for Ohio.”
FreedomWorks is a powerful small-government, free-market advocacy group that boasts 6 million grass-roots supporters and that produces an annual “scorecard” ranking lawmakers on key votes. The group was among the fiercest critics of ex-House Speaker John Boehner and vocally supported conservative House members who tried to oust him.
Among the group’s priorities so far this Congress: opposing the House GOP Obamacare replacement bill as insufficiently conservative, winning the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, and killing a bevy of regulations implemented by the Obama administration.
Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Garrison, said he was “honored” to team up with FreedomWorks not just on fundraising but “our shared fight for fiscal responsibility, free markets, constitutionally limited government, and individual liberty."
FreedomWorks set up the joint fundraising committee with Mandel and the eight other federal candidates last month. Typically, candidates use such joint accounts to share fundraising costs—and divvy up fundraising proceeds—with a national or state party, or with other federal candidates.
Brown also has set up a number of joint fundraising accounts, in which he’s teamed up with other Senate Democrats who can help him raise money. Among his partners: Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Jack Reed of Rhode Island.
The participants are still bound by regular donation limits but the joint committees allow mega-donors to write one big check to be divided among a bevy of candidates and party committees.
FreedomWorks’ fundraising partnership with Mandel and others could give the group special leverage with the participating candidates, said Brendan Fischer, an election law expert at the Campaign Legal Center, which advocates for tougher campaign finance laws. He said they may “feel a degree of gratitude” if this arrangement helps plump up their campaign coffers.
“If FreedomWorks needs something or there’s something at the top of their agenda … they want passed or blocked, it’s reasonable to presume the candidates who benefit from the joint fundraising committee are going to weigh that factor heavily in their decisions,” he said.
Nurnberg, the Mandel spokeswoman, dismissed that suggestion.
"Josh's bosses are the 11.6 million people of the state of Ohio,” she said. “But if that's your logic, isn't Sherrod Brown indebted to his liberal colleagues from places like Rhode Island who certainly don't represent Ohio values?”