Ohio’s U.S. Senate fundraising shows Sen. Brown outpacing GOP rivals despite big checks

Republican candidates have loaned their campaigns millions but still haven’t closed fundraising gap

By: - October 20, 2023 4:50 am

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown. (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

Candidates for the Ohio U.S. Senate seat up for election next year filed campaign finance reports over the weekend. Six months out from the primary, Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown is dramatically outraising his Republican opponents. With $11.2 million on hand, Brown also has a substantial cash advantage — at least for the moment.

Republican candidates state Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, and entrepreneur Bernie Moreno made multi-million dollar loans to their campaigns to shorten the gap between their fundraising and Sen. Brown’s. Even Ohio Sec. of State Frank LaRose, less wealthy than his competitors, cut a $250,000 check to bolster his campaign account.

While the latest reports might offer a glimpse of the campaigns’ organizational capabilities, they’re likely not a great indication of how fundraising will shake out when it’s all said and done. Both major parties view Ohio’s seat as a key element in their bid to retake, or defend, the U.S. Senate majority.

In last year’s race, deep pocketed donors, not to mention candidates, burned through more than $50 million in the GOP primary alone. In the general election, a super PAC controlled by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spent $28 million to support now-U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance, R-OH. That super PAC spent another $4 million backing Vance before the race was done.

Vance’s own fundraising couldn’t keep pace with Democrat Tim Ryan. But Ryan didn’t have the same kind of outside funding from national Democrats. As an incumbent in a priority seat, Brown is not likely to have that problem.

Sherrod Brown

Brown’s total receipts clock in at $5.8 million for the quarter — $4.4 million of that coming from individual donors. His campaign has no debts, and $11.2 million in cash on hand. For comparison, that’s about $4.5 million ahead of the next closest competitor.

In a press release, Brown’s campaign emphasized its small dollar donors with contributions coming from all 88 Ohio counties.

“While the multi-millionaires running to take on Sherrod had to cut themselves fat checks in an attempt to buy Ohio’s Senate seat,” Campaign manager Rachel Petri wrote, “Sherrod is building a winning coalition based on his record of fighting for Ohio workers and the dignity of work,”

The largest share of Browns contributions come from Ohio, but he received donations all 50 states.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — JUNE 15: State Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chargin Falls (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original article.)

Matt Dolan

State Sen. Dolan reported raising $4.1 million in the quarter, but majority of those dollars came in the form of a $3 million personal loan. Earlier this year Dolan made loans to campaign totaling $4 million. According to his filing, the campaign hasn’t paid back any of that $7 million loan balance.

Dolan, whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians, leaned heavily on his personal fortune during the 2022 race, as well, eventually spending more than $10 million.

Notably, Dolan’s campaign had $6.7 million on hand at the end of the reporting period — a few hundred thousand dollars less than its outstanding debts to the candidate.

Bernie Moreno

Westlake entrepreneur Bernie Moreno brought in $4.1 million according to his quarterly report. Like Dolan, however, that total is buoyed up by a personal loan. Moreno previously expressed reticence to self-fund his campaign.

Bernie Moreno. Photo from his campaign website.

In an appearance on the podcast Saving Liberty, he tried to contrast his approach with Dolan’s.

“I don’t think it’s good for democracy for wealthy people to write a big fat check and buy themselves a Senate seat,” Moreno argued. “I will put in my resources, don’t get me wrong, but I am not going to write a check that allows me to buy a Senate seat.”

In an email announcing his fundraising totals, though, Moreno touted his loan, even suggesting there may be more to come.

“I am proud of the more than $1.1 million in fundraising our campaign has done this quarter, and proud to put my own skin in the game with an initial investment of $3 million,” he wrote.

Moreno’s campaign closed out the quarter with slightly more than $5 million in the bank.

Frank LaRose

Secretary of State Frank LaRose is the only GOP candidate to win a previous statewide race, and his campaign has been quick to emphasize that advantage in name recognition. An outside group called Leadership for Ohio Fund has touted it as well in a series of self-funded polls suggesting LaRose has the edge.

But independent polling from Baldwin Wallace University indicates all three candidates are doing poorly when it comes to name ID. LaRose is doing better than Moreno or Dolan, but still 43% of respondents said they weren’t familiar with him.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose. (Photo by Justin Merriman/Getty Images)

LaRose’s fundraising totals show the campaign cleared $1 million for the quarter, but that was thanks in part to a personal loan of $250,000.

That’s small compared to the checks Moreno and Dolan have written themselves, but there’s little to suggest LaRose’s personal fortune is on par with his competitors. LaRose’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for more information about the source of his loan, but it seems like a substantial sum given his current state salary income.

As Secretary, LaRose makes about $125,000 a year. While he hasn’t filed his financial disclosures yet as a Senate candidate, disclosures from his time in the Statehouse point to a 2018 salary nearing or in the low six figures. He also held investments in Disney, AB/InBev a handful of mutual funds. Statehouse disclosures, however, don’t require filers to indicate the amount of those investments.

In a memo, LaRose’s campaign brushed off the fundraising totals. Since the 2020 race, strategist Brett Buerck wrote, eight first-time Republicans have gone on to win, but only three outraised LaRose in their first quarter.

“Now Ohio Senator J.D. Vance raised just over $300,000 in his first quarter as a candidate,” he noted.

According to his report, LaRose has about $870,000 on hand.

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.



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Nick Evans
Nick Evans

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.