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If you’re looking for fun with numbers (and who isn’t?), you could do a lot worse than download campaign finance data from the Federal Election Commission and sort it on a spreadsheet.
But you won’t have to. Josh Mandel’s campaign has done it for you. We’ve done it too, and can confirm that the Republican U.S. Senate candidate’s staff knows its stuff.
It also knows that Mandel got something wrong.
During an interview with WKYC in Cleveland on Sept. 1, Mandel was asked about some campaign contributions that have raised some eyebrows. The generous contributions were from employees of a Canton direct mail firm, Suarez Corporation. Bloggers, the Ohio Democratic Party and news reporters have asked how those employees could afford to write such campaign checks. There has been no proof that someone else actually provided the money, which would be illegal. But the unusual appearance has led reporters to ask questions..
Thus, the question to Mandel by WKYC reporter Tom Beres: What do you say to people who are disturbed by these contributions?
Mandel, who is currently Ohio’s treasurer, sidestepped the question, responding with a swipe at Sen. Sherrod Brown, the Democratic incumbent he hopes to defeat in 2012.
"Well, the majority last quarter of Sherrod Brown's campaign contributions came from outside of the state of Ohio," he said. "The majority of ours, came from inside of the state of Ohio."
That provoked a new question: Really?
There’s nothing improper about going out of state to raise campaign cash, unless an office holder is neglecting his duties. But while sidestepping the question, Mandel indirectly opened a new line of criticism: that Brown doesn’t have the faith of Ohio voters and contributors. The Mandel campaign says it intends to continue that line, saying it believes it is true.
But Mandel was wrong in his statement.
His spokesman, Joe Aquilino, shot us an e-mail while we were still sorting the data, saying, "Josh misspoke and meant to say that the majority this year of Sherrod Brown's campaign contributions have come from outside the state of Ohio. ("last quarter" vs "this year"). We'll keep using this talking point and it's actually much worse than what Josh said during the interview. We'll be using this statistic a lot to show Senator Brown's lack of support from people here in Ohio who actually know him and know his record."
This brings us to the numbers. We downloaded data from CQMoneyLine, a subscription service that sorts FEC data, and then turned to the original FEC records to do more crunching, factoring in itemized contributions (those of more than $200, which by law must list the donor’s name and address) and donations from political action committees. The Mandel campaign sent us its numbers, too, and they too came from an FEC download. The numbers matched.
They show that Mandel was wrong about the most recent quarter, which ended June 30. Brown got the majority of his contributions from Ohioans: $623,049 in state, compared with $609,506 out of state.
The previous quarter, however, more money came to Brown from out of state. Putting the two quarters together, the totals tipped the balance to the out-of-state side: $1,098,899 from Ohio, compared with $1,225,202 from out of state.
Does that make Mandel wrong in a narrow sense -- but right in a broader way? His campaign sees it that way.
Yet data that includes Brown’s current term but also goes back to his days in the House of Representatives, crunched on a regular basis by the Center for Responsive Politics for every member of Congress, shows that a majority of Brown’s donations have always been from Ohio.
That could change in the future, as it could for Mandel, who has only raised money during a single quarter so far in this race (and the majority of his donations were from Ohio). Both candidates must raise millions more. Both will look for deep pockets throughout the United States.
But Mandel was wrong on his specific claim. And if adding in one more quarter renders him sort-of right, a long history involving years of Brown elections renders Mandel wrong.
On the Truth-O-Meter, Mandel’s statement is simply False.
Josh Mandel interview with WKYC, Sept. 1, 2011
E-mail and telephone conversations with Mandel campaign spokesman Joe Aquilino, Sept. 7, through Sept. 12, 2011
Contribution data for Sherrod Brown and Josh Mandel, downloaded from Federal Election Commission and CQMoneyLine (subscription required), Sept. 7, through Sept. 12, 2011
Center for Responsive Politics, historical data on Sherrod Brown’s contributions
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