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Associated Press
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, left, and Republican challenger, Ohio treasurer Josh Mandel, are shown during a debate at the City Club in Cleveland. Operators of an Ohio Super PAC behind more than $300,000 in independent advertising against Mandel have ties to Brown. Such ties break no election rules. However, Brown's campaign has roundly criticized a similar relationship between another outside group and Mandel's one-time staffer.

Ohio PAC’s founder has past tie to Sherrod Brown

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Operators of an Ohio Super PAC behind more than $300,000 in independent advertising against Republican U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel have ties to Mandel’s opponent, an Associated Press review has found.

Such ties break no election rules. But Sherrod Brown, the Democratic Senate incumbent, has roundly criticized a similar relationship between another outside group and Mandel’s one-time staffer.

Brown and Mandel are locked in one of the most closely watched and expensive Senate contests in the country.

Records show Columbus attorney Don McTigue founded Ohio Families United in May. He was deputy elections director under Brown when the candidate served as Ohio’s secretary of state in the 1980s. The PAC’s treasurer, Zach West, is a Brown family friend and was a driver for Brown’s wife during the 2006 campaign.

In September, the Brown campaign characterized a business tie between former Mandel campaign and office staffer Joel Riter as part of a “pattern of corruption” by Mandel, the Ohio state treasurer.

Brown spokesman Justin Barasky said the two situations are different because Riter was part of Mandel’s then-current inner circle when he became associated with the lobbying firm behind The Government Integrity Fund. That group, another super PAC able to raise and spend unlimited donations, spent $1 million on independent advertising against Brown.

The fund’s founder, Statehouse lobbyist Thomas Norris, shared office space and some clients with Riter.

“Josh Mandel surrounded himself with unqualified cronies in the treasurer’s office – one of whom left Mandel’s employ to become a lobbyist, and after lobbying Josh Mandel weeks after leaving his post, became affiliated with a secretly funded group that’s spent more than $1 million against Sherrod,” Barasky said.

Any strategic coordination between independent expenditure groups and candidate campaigns is barred by federal election law.

AP’s review of Ohio Families United found Brown’s campaign has made payments to McTigue’s law firm this year, even sending one $75 check in June – a month after the PAC was launched.

Barasky said the check went to another attorney at McTigue’s firm, in compliance with a federal prohibition against such political committees and campaigns employing common vendors. He said the check covered the crafting of an email.

Federal Election Commission rules requiring walls be set up between candidates and independent expenditure groups don’t apply to vendors like lawyers, only to those whose business is to create, produce, or distribute campaign advertisements.

“They do not prohibit the same law firm from representing both candidates and other entities that may make independent communications,” Barasky said. He added that lawyers have the added rule of attorney-client privilege preventing them from sharing information inside a firm.

McTigue has spent the decades since working for Brown as a lawyer for many Ohio Democrats and Ohio Democratic causes.

He told the AP that he carefully followed all applicable laws in setting up Ohio Families United.

“You know, I worked for Sherrod 22 years ago, but since then my involvement with Sherrod and his campaign has been minimal,” McTigue said. “And certainly with regard to this, there’s been no coordination, no consultation or discussion.”

When Brown led the secretary of state’s office and McTigue served as deputy elections director, Zach West’s father, Wayne, was Brown’s assistant secretary of state.

The younger West, who also worked for a time at McTigue & McGinnis LLC, did not respond to telephone and email requests for comment.

In her 2007 book, “...and His Lovely Wife,” about her experiences on the 2006 Senate campaign trail, Brown’s wife, Connie Schultz, listed among her drivers “Zach West, a recent college graduate who lived and breathed politics, having known Sherrod since the day he was born.”

When asked what he would say to critics of the past ties between Ohio Families United’s operators and Brown, McTigue replied: “I’d say go talk to Karl Rove.”

The former political operative to George W. Bush co-founded a pair of independent expenditure groups, American Crossroads and the affiliated Crossroads GPS, that are spending tens of millions of dollars in Senate races this year. This week, they made their biggest buy of the election with a new $8 million round of ads targeting Brown and seven other Democrats running for the U.S. Senate.

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