Ohio Senator Rob Portman told The Plain Dealer he didn’t know that money his PAC donated to Mississippi Conservatives PAC would be used for ads that portrayed the Tea Party and Senate candidate Chris McDaniel as racists. Portman said he had “absolutely no discretion” over how his donation would ultimately be used. “I believe using race as a political issue, as these ads apparently did, was wrong.”
“United States senators contributed money for ads to call Chris McDaniel a racist and to motivate black Democrats through hatred to come out and to vote for Thad Cochran,” Mitch Tyner, an attorney for McDaniel, told reporters this week. McDaniel ran against incumbent Senator Thad Cochran in the Mississippi primary, losing by just over 7000 votes in the runoff election.
Portman’s PAC, Promoting Our Republican Team, gave $25,000 to Mississippi Conservatives, a group associated with Haley Barbour that not only paid for racially charged anti-McDaniel ads, but also funded another group, All Citizens for Mississippi, that ran ads in the black community saying that McDaniel wanted to suppress the black vote and cut food stamps. A radio ad from All Citizens for Mississippi warned voters that, among other things, “A victory for Chris McDaniel is a loss for the reputation of this state, for race relations between blacks and whites and other ethnic groups.”
“As NRSC finance chair, I am working to secure a Republican majority in the fall, and I support Sen. Cochran’s re-election,” Portman said in a statement to The Plain Dealer. “My PAC donated money to a Mississippi PAC also supporting his election, but I had absolutely no discretion over how that money would ultimately be spent. In fact, I believe using race as a political issue, as these ads apparently did, was wrong. All who believe our country is heading in the wrong direction under the failed policies of the Obama Administration — including Tea Party activists and more moderate Republicans — must come together to take back the Senate and put our country back on the right track.”
Tom Zawistowski, executive director of the Portage County TEA Party and recent past president of the statewide Ohio Liberty Coalition, reacted angrily to Ohio Senator Rob Portman’s claims that he had no idea that the $25,000 from his PAC would be used by the Thad Cochran campaign to air racially charged attacks on the Tea Party.
“Isn’t it convenient Senator Portman, that you had nothing to say about the horrific, disgusting, totally dishonest racist ads run by Thad Cochran’s campaign until you were identified as having provide funding for this despicable human being Thad Cochran?” Zawistowski said in a press release. “Where was your moral outrage the days after the ads became public?”
Zawistowski said the Tea Party is made up of hard working, God-fearing, patriotic Americans who do not hate blacks or any other minority, yet Portman “did nothing to defend those TEA Party members from these vicious attacks” by someone he supported financially.
He asked why Portman is asking Tea Party activists to support a Republican who votes with Democrats most of the time and “who told black voters that the TEA Party is affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan,” saying that they want to deny blacks the right to vote. “Why in hell should we support someone like Thad Cochran after what he did?” Zawistowski asked.
Zawistowski said that Portman, a Republican who is considering a presidential run, should renounce his support of Thad Cochran immediately and demand that he drop out of the race. “You must demand that your fellow senators who supported Cochran do the same. Not to do so would show that you in fact condone the actions of the Cochran campaign and that you do not respect either the TEA Party movement or black voters.” He said that if Portman does not “choose the moral path at this critical time … we will do everything in our power to make sure that Thad Cochran and every RINO like him loses in the fall.”
Senators Mitch McConnell ($50,000), John Cornyn ($50,000), Bob Corker ($25,000), and Roy Blunt ($5,000) also contributed to the Mississippi Conservatives PAC that supported Cochran. [UPDATE: Just to clarify, the candidates themselves did not donate directly to Cochran's campaign. Instead, their leadership PACs donated to the pro-Cochran Mississippi Conservatives PAC.]
Mississippi Conservatives raised $2.9 million altogether — $1.7 million was spent on opposing McDaniel. A mere $122,904 was used to promote the incumbent Cochran. This week’s FEC filings show that Mississippi Conservatives, the group to which Portman and other Republicans contributed, was the sole funding source for All Citizens for Mississippi.