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By Nadia Pflaum October 20, 2016

Portman, Strickland duel over who's richer

There were times during the second debate between Sen. Rob Portman and former Gov. Ted Strickland in which the two politicians quibbled over who’s richer.

The feuding over fat wallets emerged in the first debate when Strickland announced that he’d calculated Portman’s hourly earnings at $333.57, after factoring in assets and his $174,000 salary as a U.S. senator. Strickland, a Democrat, juxtaposed the dollar figure with Portman’s stance against raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

Portman didn’t dispute the figure, but in the second matchup between the candidates, he hit back with a calculation of his own.

"(Strickland) went to Washington, D.C., and he became a lobbyist," Portman said. "He made $400,000 a year. So he wasn’t living on minimum wage, but he was working against the interests of Ohioans, including the people he used to represent."

Strickland sounded surprised, responding, "The senator said I made $400,000. My ... oh, senator, that’s a big whopper. I’ve never made $400,000 in my life."

We decided to take a look at Strickland’s earnings. Was he really a lobbyist pulling in $400,000?

There are some issues with Portman’s attack. But he isn’t far off with Strickland’s post-Congress earnings, if you’re willing to include a variety of compensation into the picture.

The first issue with Portman’s claim: Strickland was never a registered lobbyist.

After losing his re-election bid to Gov. John Kasich, Strickland took a job with the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. An amended 2015 financial disclosure filing shows that Strickland earned $199,125 between April 2014 to March 2015.

Strickland headed up the political action fund for the think tank. His position is listed as "director/counselor" on the group’s tax forms. So technically, he was not a lobbyist himself, but he oversaw the group’s lobbying arm.

When asked why Portman called Strickland a lobbyist, campaign spokesperson Michawn Rich said, "He did not misspeak. Ted ran the lobbying arm of the Center for American Progress. It's a fact."

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The second problem is that the earnings in question are not as straightforward as a $400,000 salary. You reach that amount by counting income from various jobs and retirement funds.

The Center for American Progress Action Fund reports on its 2014 IRS Form 990 that Strickland earned "other compensation" in the amount of $13,623. The 990 form reports compensation over nine months, and Strickland was there for a year. So if you divide $13,623 by nine, monthly compensation comes to $1,513. Accounting for a year’s time in that position, Strickland would have made about $18,164 in addition to the reported $199,125 income.

Strickland also disclosed $20,000 in earnings from consulting at the Bipartisan Policy Center, and $25,000 from working as a mediator with the Washington law firm Taft, Stettinius & Hollister. He reported $36,700 from his state retirement, and $25,500 from a PNC Bank-administered IRA fund.

Strickland is also earning a federal pension from his 12 years in Congress, which is calculated by taking an average of the three-highest salaried years in Congress, multiplying the average by 1.7 percent, and multiplying the result by years of congressional service.

Strickland’s three highest-earning years in office would have been 2004, 2005, and 2006, so the average comes to $161,800.

Strickland was in Congress for 12 years, and 12 x 1.7 percent equals 20.4 percent. We will estimate Strickland’s pension, then, to be about $33,000 a year. (No more math after this, okay?)

David Bergstein, spokesperson for Strickland’s campaign, disagrees that retirement earnings should be included as part of Strickland’s earnings in Washington.  

Subtracting the IRA and retirement fund, Strickland’s total annual earnings from a few gigs would be $295,289 — or $141.97 an hour.

Our ruling

Portman said Strickland "went to Washington, D.C., and he became a lobbyist. He made $400,000 a year."

Technically Strickland wasn’t a lobbyist; he oversaw a liberal think tank’s lobbying and activism arm. As for his income, if you add his disclosed earnings, figures from public IRS forms and retirement income, you get an estimate around $357,000. Not everyone would tally up annual wealth this way.

Portman’s statement is partially accurate but a bit sloppy in the details, so we rate his statement Half True.

Our Sources

Interview, Michawn Rich, spokesperson, Rob Portman for Senate, Oct. 19, 2016

Interview, David Bergstein, Ted Strickland campaign, Oct. 19, 2016

2014 Form 990, Center for American Progress Action Fund, "Ted Strickland earned $250,000 at think tank," Aug. 12, 2015

Columbus Dispatch, "Ted Strickland releases tax returns," April 28, 2010

Columbus Dispatch: "Portman: Minimum wage plan won’t work," Feb. 15, 2014

Cincinnati Enquirer, "Portman, Strickland clash in Columbus debate," Oct. 17, 2016


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Portman, Strickland duel over who's richer

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