4 takeaways from Ohio’s recent campaign finance filings 

By: - February 4, 2020 1:00 am

Stock image from Getty Photos.

Flipping the Ohio Supreme Court and making inroads within the Statehouse chambers was already going to be a challenge for Democrats in 2020.

A money disadvantage will make things even tougher. The party is being outraised and outspent by its opposition, campaign finance reports show. 

The most recent reporting deadline was Jan. 31, with candidates’ and parties’ fundraising totals now made available by the Ohio Secretary of State. Here are some takeaways from those reports:

1. GOP has a significant fundraising lead over Dems

Across the board, the Republicans have a money advantage on their side. 

The House Republican Campaign Committee took in $1.8 million, with $1 million of it coming from Speaker of the House Larry Householder. The Ohio House Democratic Caucus, comparatively, took in just over $400,000, with about one-fourth coming from Minority Leader Emilia Sykes. The Republican committee has three times as much cash still on hand than the Democratic committee does to spend on House races in 2020.

The disparity is even more stark in the Ohio Senate. The Republican Senate Campaign Committee received more than $1.5 million in donations, while the Ohio Senate Democrats took in $178,000. The Republicans have about six times as much cash on hand to spend in 2020.

These early totals bode well for the GOP, which is trying to maintain supermajorities in both the Ohio House and Ohio Senate. 

That will be trickiest in the Ohio House, where Republicans hold 61 of 99 seats. The supermajority ends if Democrats flip at least two districts this November. Republicans have more breathing room in the Senate, where Democrats would have to flip five seats to end the supermajority.

Ohio Democrats are fielding candidates in 83 of the 99 House seats and all 16 Senate seats up for election in 2020. The GOP is fielding candidates in 94/99 House seats and all 16 Senate seats.

2. Supreme Court advantage

Democrats are seeking in 2020 to take control of the Ohio Supreme Court for the first time in decades.

It will not be easy. Flipping the Supreme Court will mean defeating two incumbent Republicans, each of whom has already taken a massive fundraising lead.

Justice Sharon Kennedy is taking on challenger John O’Donnell, a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge, while Justice Judi French faces challenger Jennifer Brunner, a judge on Ohio’s 10th District Court of Appeals. 

In the first race, Kennedy received $688,000 in contributions compared to just $38,000 for O’Donnell. Kennedy earned max donations from a handful of donors, including a committee associated with former Congressman Pat Tiberi. She also earned $6,000 from the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and $5,000 from the Freedom Project, a political action committee organized by former U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner.

O’Donnell earned few sizable donations besides $3,800 from a pair of Columbus law firms. 

In the other race, French took in $460,000 while Brunner raised $78,000. French also earned the max from Friends of Tiberi, along with max donations from the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and utility company NiSource. Brunner’s top donors include a Cleveland law firm and the Ohio Association for Justice PAC.

3. Republican leadership is well-funded

As mentioned, Speaker Householder was a top fundraiser in the state last year. Even after giving a million dollars to the House Republican Campaign Committee, he carries over a 7-figure war chest into the 2020 primary and general elections.

He took in large contributions from FirstEnergy, Meijer and Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, among myriad other business and labor interests.

Senate President Larry Obhof took in more than $150,000, while the House’s Majority Floor Leader Bill Seitz raised more than $125,000.

Though outraised by her GOP counterparts, House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes has been one fundraising bright spot for the Democrats. The Akron politician brought in $104,000, her filings showed. She gave a large sum to her party’s campaign committee, but still had $41,000 on hand headed into 2020. Her biggest donors include a variety of Ohio worker’s unions.

4. An eye on key primary races 

The Capital Journal previously highlighted a number of key primary races to watch leading up to the March 16 election. The following are some Democratic and Republican primary fundraising updates. 


District 16: Democrats are trying to flip this suburban Cleveland seat by unseating Republican incumbent Dave Greenspan. Challengers Joe Romano and Monique Smith have raised $21,000 and $16,000, respectively, but they both trail Greenspan by a large margin. The Republican entered 2020 with $72,000 on hand. 

District 53: Four Republicans are running for a seat left open by term-limited Rep. Candice Keller in this district located between Cincinnati and Dayton. Thomas Hall raised the most ($4,075), followed by Diane Mullins with $3,205. Other challengers Brett Guido and Jeff Wellbaum reported no contributions. The winner will face Democrat Michelle Novak, who reported $675 in contributions in her effort to flip the district blue.

District 65: Four more Republicans are running in this primary left open by term-limited Rep. John Becker. Jean Schmidt, a former member of Congress, has raised a sizable total of $46,000. She’s trailed by Joe Dills who raised just shy of $22,000. Candidates John Kirby and Dillon Blevins reported no contributions. 

District 96: Two Democrats are running to hold a seat left by term-limited Rep. Jack Cera. Charlie DiPalma reported no campaign contributions, while Richard Olivito reported $2,500 in donations. The winner will face Republican Ron Ferguson, whose filing reported $10,695 in contributions. 


District 6: There are three Republicans and two Democrats battling for this open seat in the Dayton suburbs. Rep. Niraj Antani, looking to jump to the Senate, raised just above $20,000; Rachel Selby reported $2,500 in contributions; and Greg Robinson reported none. For the Democrats, Mark Fogel reported just shy of $20,000 in contributions, while challenger Albert Griggs reported none.

District 16: Republican Sen. Stephanie Kunze is seeking reelection in this suburban Columbus district, while four Democrats hope to challenge her for the seat. Kunze reported $114,000 in campaign contributions, having spent almost $60,000 thus far but still having six figures on hand. Among the Democrats, Troy Doucet reported having raised nearly $39,000 in a combination of donations and “in kind contributions,” followed by $17,000 for Crystal Lett, $1,000 for Eric Connelly and none for Mark Bailey.

Note: An original version of this story unintentionally omitted Rep. Antani’s fundraising total, and misstated the political parties of candidates Rachel Selby and Greg Robinson. The story has been corrected. 

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Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan

Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.