Many Ohio lawmakers use campaign $$ to subscribe to hometown papers

By: - February 7, 2020 1:00 am

Stock photo from Getty Images.

Dozens of Ohio legislators are choosing to spend their donors’ money in the interest of local journalism.

In total, 35 state representatives and senators paid for news subscriptions using campaign funds in 2019, a review from the Ohio Capital Journal has found. 

And though the president bemoans the alleged problem of “fake news,” it is actually Republican legislators who are more likely to subscribe to Ohio newspapers using these funds than Democrats.

These news outlets range from the biggest in the state to the smallest of weekly newspapers back in the polticians’ home districts. One state senator also subscribes to the Wall Street Journal, while another state representative pays a little over $5 per month for a digital Apple News subscription.

Rep. Tom Patton, R-Strongsville, subscribed to the Cleveland Plain Dealer and his campaign committee expensed a $25 delivery tip to his newspaper carrier. In one instance, the campaign committee for Rep. Scott Lipps, R-Franklin, paid for an extra stack of papers which reported the news of his swearing-in ceremony. 

Ohio political candidates are required to submit regular campaign finance filings, which include expenditures such as these. The Capital Journal reviewed the 2019 filings of all 99 state representatives and 33 state senators in reporting this story.

State law allows a wide lateral for politicians to spend donor money on advertising, fundraising and “duties of public office.” Candidates use funds in a variety of unusual ways, the Capital Journal reported Thursday, including on honey jars, self-branded combs and parade candy to hand out on the campaign trail.

Incumbents adhere to the “duties of public office” component by spending money on lunch meetings with constituents or trips to legislative conventions away from the state capital. 

Ostensibly, the decision by 35 current officeholders to use these funds for news subscriptions reflects an effort to keep up with the goings-on back home, so as to be better informed in their role as district representatives.

(The Capital Journal left messages with a half-dozen offices of Statehouse subscribers to hear insight on how legislators benefit from reading this local reporting. Somewhat ironically, none of the messages were returned.)

Among House Democrats, seven out of 38 members (18%) used campaign funds in 2019 to subscribe to at least one news outlet. Comparatively, 16 out of 61 Republican members did so (26%). 

In the Senate, three out of nine Democrats used funds to subscribe (33%) compared to nine out of 24 Republicans (38%). 

In total, 29% of all Republicans were subscribers along with 21% of Democrats.

Among Senate leadership, three out of eight members subscribed in this way (two Republicans, one Democrat). Among House leadership, four out of 10 subscribed (two for each party).

It should be noted that many others in the Ohio House and Senate likely do subscribe ⁠— either at home or at their offices ⁠— but do not use campaign funds to pay for it.

Sen. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark

The politician with the most 2019 subscriptions paid for by campaign funds was Sen. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark. His committee bought subscriptions to the Wooster Daily Record, New Philadelphia Times-Reporter, Perry County Tribune and Granville Sentinel newspapers.

Here is the total list, in alphabetical order by publication name:

Akron Reporter — Rep. Emilia Sykes, D-Akron

Apple News (digital) — Rep. Tom West, D-Canton

Archbold Buckeye — Rep. Derek Merrin, R-Monclova Twp.

Athens Messenger — Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville; Sen. Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction

Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune — Rep. Haraz Ghanbari, R-Perrysburg

Bucyrus Telegraph Forum — Rep. Riordan McClain, R-Upper Sandusky

Canton Repository — Sen. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton

Centerville Dispatch — Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood

Cincinnati Enquirer — Rep. Jessica Miranda, D-Forest Park; Sen. William Coley II, R-Liberty Twp. 

Cleveland Plain Dealer — Rep. Tom Patton, R-Strongsville; Sen. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton

Columbus Dispatch — Rep. Kristin Boggs, D-Columbus; Rep. Stephen Hambley, R-Brunswick; Rep. Gary Scherer, R-Circleville; Sen. Hearcel Craig, D-Columbus

Crain’s Cleveland Business — Sen. Sandra Williams, D-Cleveland

Dayton Daily News — Rep. Scott Lipps, R- Franklin

Findlay Courier — Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon

Fulton County Expositor — Rep. Derek Merrin, R-Monclova Twp.

Granville Sentinel — Sen. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark

Greenville Daily Advocate — Rep. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum

Kenton Times — Rep. Jon Cross, R-Kenton

Lancaster Eagle Gazette — Rep. Ron Hood, R-Ashville

Lorain Morning Journal — Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville

New Philadelphia Times-Reporter — Sen. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark

Norwalk Reflector — Rep. Dick Stein, R-Norwalk; Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville

Marietta Times — Sen. Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction

Martins Ferry Times-Leader — Sen. Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction; Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire

Massillon Independent — Sen. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton

Maumee Mirror — Rep. Michael Sheehy, D-Oregon

Monroe County Beacon — Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire

Morgan County Herald — Rep. Ron Hood, R-Ashville

Northwest (Napoleon) Signal — Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon

Perry County Tribune — Rep. Ron Hood, R-Ashville; Sen. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark

Perrysburg Messenger Journal — Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green

Piqua Daily Call — Rep. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum

Pomeroy Daily Sentinel — Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville

Sandusky Register — Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green

Sidney Daily News — Rep. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum

Steubenville Herald Star — Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire

Toledo Blade — Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green

Upper Sandusky Daily Chief-Union — Rep. Riordan McClain, R-Upper Sandusky

Wall Street Journal — Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Powell

Willoughby News-Herald — Sen. Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights; Rep. John Rogers, D-Mentor-on-the-Lake

Wooster Daily Record — Rep. Scott Wiggam, R-Wooster; Sen. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark

Xenia Daily Gazette — Rep. Bill Dean, R-Xenia

The committee for Rep. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, expensed a subscription for unspecified “Ohio Newspapers.” A person who answered the phone at Manning’s office was unsure which publication(s) Manning subscribes to. 

The committee for Sen. Bob Peterson, R-Washington Court House, expensed funding for unspecified “newspaper subscriptions.” A person who answered the phone at Peterson’s office said the senator follows news outlets throughout his 10-county district, but would not provide the names of outlets that are subscribed to. 

The committee for Rep. Gary Scherer, R-Circleville, besides subscribing to the Columbus Dispatch as noted above, also paid for a subscription to an unspecified Gannett publication.

The committee for Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Powell, besides subscribing to the Wall Street Journal as noted above, also paid for a subscription to an unspecified business journal.

The Ohio Capital Journal is part of the Ohio News Media Association, a statewide trade association of Ohio’s daily and weekly newspapers and other media. On Friday morning, OCJ Editor David C. DeWitt presented to the annual conference of the ONMA, reiterating that all Ohio Capital Journal content is free for republication.

“Part of our mission at the Ohio Capital Journal is to support and advocate for community journalism. So we encourage our readers to subscribe to their hometown newspapers, and we like nothing better than when community papers avail themselves of the free Statehouse news content we provide,” DeWitt said.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.