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Mark Naymik
By Mark Naymik May 17, 2011

Ohio Democratic Party Chair Chris Redfern says donations from labor a small percentage of party's fundraising

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern and his GOP counterpart Kevin DeWine sparred recently during WCPN’s Sound of Ideas radio program in Cleveland.

Both are former legislators, young, brash and well-oiled talking-point machines who frequently appear together to defend their respective politics and candidates.

Controversial Senate Bill 5, the new law that overhauls the state’s collective bargaining rules for some 360,000 public employees, drove the discussion at several points on the May 4 program hosted by The Plain Dealer’s Tipoff columnist, Mike McIntyre.

Democrats and labor groups fiercely oppose the law and want to put it before voters in November. But a caller to the show who identified himself as a Democrat complained that the party is influenced too much by labor groups.

Not so, Redfern said.

"Over the course of the last six months, for instance, the Ohio Democratic Party has raised $1.1 million since the November election. A very small percentage of that has come from organized labor."

Given PolitiFact Ohio’s weakness for a political boast, especially one that includes a statistic – we decided to take a closer look.

Redfern’s reference to the last six months coincides with the current election cycle, which began when the books closed on fundraising for the Nov. 2, 2010, election.

PolitiFact Ohio asked for an accounting of the $1.1 million and the union contributions because political donations are not reported publicly in real time and parties typically have several accounts.

Party spokesman Seth Bringman said the money was raised this calendar year; that after the November election, fundraising didn’t get underway in earnest until after the December holidays.

The party raised $383,191 this year for its federal campaign account, which is used when the party promotes a candidate running for federal office, such as the U.S. Senate, Bringman said. The Federal Elections Commission requires the party to submit monthly reports on contributions to the federal account. PolitiFact checked the party’s claims against FEC records and found the figure accurate.

The party raised another $477,901 for its state account, as detailed in its "pre-primary" report filed in April with the Ohio Secretary of State, Bringman said. The report shows the party raised $455,281. The slight difference is a result of refund and other accounting issues required by the state. For the analysis, PolitiFact Ohio is using the figure reported to the state.

PolitiFact Ohio verified $858,472 through records. Bringman said the remaining money – about $242,000 --will be detailed in forthcoming reports. We’re taking him at his word, since the figure will be easily verifiable once reports are filed.

Next we looked to see what percentage of the money raised came from labor groups.

Bringman provided a list of contributions from labor organizations received this year. The contributions, which include $25,000 from the Ohio Education Association, total $66,645.

That translates to about 6 percent of the total raised this year.

PolitiFact Ohio matched these labor donations to the state report. Bringman insisted that the forthcoming reports detailing the remaining $140,000 will not show any additional labor-group money.

We also evaluated whether the money raised from labor over the last six-month reflects what the Democratic Party typically draws from labor. Is the figure an anomaly that works to Redfern’s advantage in responding to the caller?

On the radio program, Redfern went on to say that "our support, financially speaking, has been and will always be" from individual donors, many of them who make small donations.

That comment drew a rebuke from DeWine, who said the amount of money labor groups contributed to Democrats in 2010 is "staggering."

The GOP chairman produced a spread sheet for us that showed $8.2 million in contributions from labor groups to 2010 Democratic candidates – including those running for the Ohio General Assembly and statewide offices — and to state and county Democratic parties. Bringman estimated that together the state party, statewide candidates, General Assembly candidates and county parties raised about $50 million in the 2010. The would mean union donations accounted for about 16 percent.

So where does this leave Redfern’s statements on the Truth-o-Meter?

Campaign figures support his claim that that his party has raised $1.1 million since November. Unions contributed a bit under 7 percent of the total, which allows Redfern -- generously speaking -- to claim the it’s a "very small percentage" of what it raised so far.

One important caveat: The figures presented by both Democrats and the GOP only take into account money given to the Democratic Party and its candidates. But that doesn’t include any money spent directly by labor organizations on behalf of a candidate.

That’s a piece of additional information that provides clarification.  

On the Truth-O-Meter, we rate Redfern’s claim Mostly True.

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More by Mark Naymik

Ohio Democratic Party Chair Chris Redfern says donations from labor a small percentage of party's fundraising

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