The candidates for the Republican nomination for the 91st Ohio House District have raised a combined $137,376 in direct contributions to their campaigns, according to campaign finance reports filed by Thursday’s deadline.
Highland County Commissioner Shane Wilkin raised nearly $75,000 and spent more than $65,000, while Clinton County businesswoman Beth Ellis raised more than $62,000 and spent nearly $60,000. Wilkin had more than $12,000 left on hand, while Ellis had just under $3,000 on hand. The pre-primary reports cover activity through April 18.
The Ellis-Wilkin race is one of several House races in Ohio’s that are seen, in part, as proxies in the battle for the next speaker of the Ohio House. The two candidates for speaker – Finance Chairman Ryan Smith (R-93rd Dist.), who had the support of former speaker Cliff Rosenberger before Rosenberger’s sudden resignation earlier this month, and state Rep. Larry Householder (R-72nd Dist.), a controversial former House speaker – are supporting different slates of candidates in the primary.
In addition to her own campaign funds, Ellis was aided by another $62,140 in in-kind contributions from the Ohio Republican Organizational Committee (OHROC), the campaign committee of the Ohio House formerly controlled by Rosenberger until his recent resignation because of an apparent FBI investigation. OHROC’s support of Ellis has been mostly in the form of literature and mailings. Ellis has contributed $25,000 from her campaign to OHROC.
Ellis has two reports on file, one filed in January and the pre-primary report filed Thursday. Because he entered the race later, Wilkin did not have to file a January report.
Wilkin’s $75,000 in contributions came from 156 separate donations, most ranging from $100 to $1,000 contributions. But he has received larger contributions from political action committees associated with the energy industry, including $10,000 from First Energy, $3,500 from Murray Energy Corporation and $5,000 from American Electric Power.
Wilkin also received a $10,000 personal contribution from Wayne Boich Jr., described by the Columbus Dispatch as a “coal-industry titan” from eastern Ohio. Wilkin also received $7,708 from Householder’s campaign committee. Wilkin also loaned his campaign $3,000.
Ellis’ $62,000 in contributions came from 71 separate donations, most in relatively small amounts. But she also raised large sums, including $12,500 from Gregory Hobbs of Hobbs Industrial Piping in Dayton, $12,500 from Ginni Ragan, a longtime GOP donor, and $10,000 from Richard Smucker of Orrville. Additionally, she received $7,151 from Rosenberger’s campaign committee.
The Cincinnati Enquirer recently profiled Ragan and her connections to Rosenberger’s rise to power, saying, “Ragan’s bankroll helped construct the GOP-controlled Ohio House that Rosenberger built.”
At a candidate forum last week, Wilkin acknowledged sharing a campaign manager with Householder. Wilkin’s campaign finance report shows he has spent most of his campaign funds — $56,736 – with JPL & Associates for mailings and other media buys. JPL is operated by Jeff Longstreth, a longtime Householder campaign strategist.
While OHROC has funded Ellis’ mailings, her campaign has also spent $18,607 with AIM Media Midwest for advertising in print and online with two AIM publications, the Wilmington News Journal and The Times-Gazette.
Not accounted for in the filings with the Ohio Secretary of State are mailings that have targeted Ellis with negative messages paid for by an independent expenditure group called the Growth & Opportunity PAC. At least four such mailings have shown up in mailboxes across the district, including a new one Friday.
The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported last week that the Growth & Opportunity PAC “has sent nasty and costly attack mailers in recent days against nearly a dozen Ohio House Republican candidates around the state… some of the candidates it’s targeting (including Rep. Jim Hoops in HD-81, Beth Ellis in HD-91, Michael Canty in HD-6, and John Plecnik in HD-61) are considered supporters of Rep. Ryan Smith’s bid to become House speaker against Rep. Larry Householder.”
At last week’s forum, Ellis and Wilkin both criticized the mailings. Ellis said the mailers prove she is a political outsider, while Wilkin said, “Quite frankly, it sucks, and I don’t like it.” Both candidates said they have not promised their vote for speaker to either candidate for the post.
Wilkin said Friday he is gratified at the number of donors supporting his campaign.
“I’m pleased with all the public support I’ve received,” said Wilkin. “It’s expensive to run in a district of this size. To have that many supporters is humbling and an honor.”
Ellis said Friday she has tried to run a cost-conscious campaign.
“People have been really supportive, but I’m frugal. I hate to ask for money for something like this when we need it for veterans and people who are struggling,” she said. “It’s like, I raise what I need, not what I want. I ask, ‘Do we really need more?’”
The winner of the GOP primary will face Democratic candidate Justin Grimes in November, with the winner of that race beginning the new term in January. But because of Rosenberger’s resignation, the House GOP caucus has said it will appoint the winner of the May 8 primary between Ellis and Wilkin to begin serving in Columbus this year to fill the remainder of Rosenberger’s term.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456, or follow on Twitter @AbernathyGary.