Owner of West Chester’s EnterTRAINment Junction and West Chester resident House Speaker John Boehner among top contributors
Jane Prendergast reports:
Cincinnati’s an enduring ATM during presidential campaign years.
Residents in the 15-county metropolitan area have given almost $18 million this election cycle, mostly to Mitt Romney and Republican groups, according to an Enquirer analysis of current campaign donations to individuals and political action committees.
Billionaire Carl H. Lindner is still having significant influence after his death – members of his family and employees of his American Financial Group Inc. gave almost $2 million, the biggest chunk. The family also backed Romney in the 2008 GOP nominating season.
Residents of Indian Hill and Madeira continue to give more than in any other ZIP code in Ohio, contributing $3.6 million so far this year. The Cincinnati metropolitan area, including Southeast Indiana and Northern Kentucky, ranks a close second to Cleveland this season in terms of most generous Ohio metro areas, giving $13.4 million to candidates alone from the start of 2011 to date. Cleveland and Cincinnati have traded that title back and forth since at least 2000.
The giving, though small relative to places like Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles, elevates Cincinnati’s status on the national stage and helps attract candidates here more for fundraisers and events. The metro area ranks 31st nationally for individual donations, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks donations. But that still makes it tops in Ohio.
The donor lists show some names that have been familiar money sources for years. Names like the Lindners, Richard Farmer, former chairman of Cintas Corp., and Robert Castellini, CEO of the Cincinnati Reds.
But many of this year’s donors aren’t as well known. They’re people like Don Oeters, co-owner of the Watson’s pool and spa company; radar-detector engineer Mike Valentine; the Maas family, owners of JTM Food Group in Harrison; and Stephen Rosedale, owner of CommuniCare, a Blue Ash-based nursing home company.
The Enquirer’s analysis of Federal Elections Commission data, obtained from and categorized by Open Secrets.org, included contributions of $200 or more. That may distort the overall totals and how well Obama has raised money locally, since his campaign focuses a good deal of energy on contributions under $200. Other findings from the analysis include:
• Biggest individual giver – Oeters, also owner of EnterTRAINment Junction in West Chester. He gave $163,000 to FreedomWorks, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey’s conservative super PAC that advocates for less government and lower taxes.
• 45208 – After Indian Hill, the top givers live in the ZIP code for Hyde Park and Mount Lookout, with $1.5 million in total contributions to candidates and groups. Folks using 45202 (downtown), came through with $1.4 million.
• Money for Biden – Cincinnati lawyer Michael Cioffi is a “bundler” for President Barack Obama, meaning he gathers up money from friends and family, one of only five bundlers from Ohio. Cioffi, who runs the local office of Philadelphia law firm Blank Rome, bundled just over $418,000 so far. He hosted a party with the vice president.
• American Financial – The company and its employees rank 10th nationwide in largest contributions to the Romney Victory PAC. It gave $351,000.
• Super PACs – The most popular for local donors was the Romney Victory PAC, with almost $2.7 million in donations, followed by the Obama Victory Fund, with $301,113.
• U.S. Senate race – Almost 9 percent of the total $17,658,630 given in the Tristate went to the Sherrod Brown/Josh Mandel race, for a total of just over $1.5 million. Most of that – $1.1 million or 73 percent of the total – went to Mandel and his Josh Mandel Senate Victory Committee.
• John Boehner – The Speaker of the House, a West Chester resident, raised $1.64 million for three different committees, or 9.3 percent of the contributions given locally.
The Republican tilt by donors here isn’t new.
“It’s one of the reasons we’re so bullish on the region,” said Christopher Maloney, spokesman for the Romney campaign in Ohio, meaning the candidates visit a lot.
Ohio ranks 11th overall in giving to individual candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ web site, www.opensecrets.org. Ohioans have given $56.6 million since 2011 – 65 percent to Republicans, 26 percent to Democrats. The state ranks seventh in donations to Republicans, 14th to Democrats.
For comparison, Kentucky ranks 28th in overall giving, though residents there give a higher percentage to Democrats, at 39 percent. Indiana ranks 23rd, with a breakdown similar to Ohio’s – 65 percent to Republicans.
The most generous state? California, at $71 million, more than half to Obama. It’s not home to the most generous zip code, however. That’s 10022, in Manhattan, where people gave $21 million.
Donors give mostly because they’re ideologically aligned with a candidate, not so much because they want something specific.
“We’re long-time supporters of Democrats,” said Allan Berliant, CEO of Hyde Park-based Best Express Foods. “Yes, it’s philosophical. We believe in supporting the middle class and growing the economy through a strong middle class. We care about what we think is best for the country.”
He and his wife, Jennie Rosenthal Berliant, held a Peter Frampton concert on their lawn in 2004 to benefit John Kerry, the first candidate they actively supported. As for why they jumped into politics then: “It was really George Bush that got us going. Then we fell in love with Obama.”
Berliant was listed as a bundler also, with a total of more than $142,000 for the president. He and Cioffi share that title with big names like Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation in Los Angeles, who raised $2.3 million.
Romney doesn’t reveal his bundlers. The FEC requires candidates to make public only a list of their lobbyists who bundle for them. That list doesn’t include anyone from Ohio or Kentucky.
Castellini, as is his custom, declined to talk about his contributions. Cioffi referred all questions to Frank Benenati, Obama’s spokesman in Chicago. Other contributors did not return calls for comment.
Hamilton Countians gave the most, donating $13.4 million of the local total. But that number’s a bit skewed, given that many people contribute through their employers and therefore get counted in the ZIP codes where they work rather than where they live.
Warren County residents came through with $1.1 million, followed by Kenton Countians with $1 million total.
Data and investigations editor Mark Wert contributed.