‘Dark money’ filtering down to local races causing confusion

A national “dark money” political action group is throwing resources into local Statehouse GOP primaries here and across Ohio, including mailers in some local races that area Republican leaders call misleading.

Make Liberty Win, a group based in Alexandria, Va., has sent dozens of mailers attacking local Republican incumbents, including in Butler and Warren counties.

Julie Byrne, Warren County Republican Party chair, sent out an email on Feb. 23 informing voters that out-of-state organizations are misconstruing events to confuse them.

Byrne said as party chairman, she welcomes “robust, honest campaign activity during the primary.”

“Unfortunately, during this election cycle some people and some outside interest groups are misconstruing events to confuse voters,” she said.

Byrne was referring specifically to the primary for House District 56 — representing central and southwest Warren County — where incumbent Rep. Adam Mathews is facing challenges from Kathy Grossman and Heather Salyer. The county party didn’t endorse any candidate in the race at the candidates’ request, but the mailers allege the party “refused” to endorse Mathews.

“I normally do not insert myself or the party in disputes between Republicans when there is no endorsement in a race, but in this circumstance I feel compelled to set the record straight because the formal actions of the party itself are being misrepresented and we have had voters contacting the party confused about the issue,” she said.

On Friday, Mathews said, “It’s incredibly disappointing that outside groups, with a willingness to even make up bills that don’t exist, come in to baselessly attack us.”

Grossmann said she doesn’t know anything about Make Liberty Win.

“I don’t know anything about them and never heard of them before or their interest in Ohio,” she said. “I was really surprised by it.”

Salyer said, “I had nothing to do with the mailers.”

“I had never heard of the organization listed on the paid-for-by disclaimer. I am told those mailers have been sent all over Ohio and they have to do with the Speaker’s race.”

Indeed, the mailers accuse many they are targeting of being part of the “Blue 22″ group of Republicans who partnered with Democrats to elect current House Speaker Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill. But some of those targeted, including Mathews, were not part of the “Blue 22.”

What is Make Liberty Win?

The Dayton Daily News attempted to contact officials with Make Liberty Win via phone and email over the past few weeks, but no one from the organization responded.

Ohio campaign finance forms have scant information on Make Liberty Win, only a statement of organization filed Jan. 19. Expenditures reported in the 2022 election totaled more than $100,000. Expenditures from this year’s election haven’t been disclosed yet.

Make Liberty Win doesn’t report donors to the state. Federal campaign finance data analyzed by OpenSecrets shows that the PAC is funded by the Austin, Texas based group Young Americans for Liberty, which gave Make Liberty Win $4.5 million in December. Young Americans for Liberty is not required to disclose its donors under IRS rules; its most recent IRS form 990 from 2021 says it took in $13.7 million that year.

On its website, Young American for Liberty say “(YAL) is the most active and effective pro-liberty youth organization advancing liberty on campus. Our four-step mission is to identify, educate, train, and mobilize youth activists to make liberty win.”

The website for Make Liberty Win says it is “dedicated to electing 250 liberty-defending state legislators.”

Other races

In Ohio, Make Liberty Win has only actually endorsed four candidates. Locally that includes Xenia City Councilman Levi Dean, who is running to replace his father Rep. Bill Dean, R-Xenia, in House District 71. That district represents southern Clark County, eastern Greene County and all of Clinton County.

Dean is running in the Republican primary against Xenia School Board President Joshua Day, former Cedarville mayor Bob Fudge, and political newcomer Tyler Scott. All told this news outlet that they did not receive survey or interview requests from Make Liberty Win.

In that race, Make Liberty Win is putting out material promoting Dean rather than criticizing his opponents.

Dean told this news outlet that he came by his endorsement through a standard survey response and interview. After that, he’s had no contact with the PAC, he said, no directive over the mailers in his race nor any knowledge of what’s going on in other districts.

“I can’t really have any contact with any of the groups (that endorsed me),” Dean said. “I can’t have any say in what they send out, I can’t even send them, ‘Hey, this is the picture that I prefer you send.’ I can’t say anything about that or when it drops. I have no contact with any of the groups after the endorsement process is over.”

“I’ve always wanted to keep it clean and run a good hard race, and that’s still my goal,” Dean said. “I really have no clue what’s happening in the other districts, I’m just trying to keep fighting the fight here in mine.”

One of the Warren County mailers from Make Liberty Win did not have the legally required disclaimer of who sent it. The return address was listed as a co-op office in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Cincinnati.

A mailer from this same address was sent to voters in the 47th Ohio House District making allegations about incumbent Rep. Sara Carruthers’s adopted children that challenger Diane Mullins criticized as inappropriate.

“I think it’s wrong people outside the county can do this. Nobody’s held accountable,” said Matt Nolan, prominent Republican and Warren County auditor, about the mailers.

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