As the Democratic primary for Ohio’s 11th Congressional District draws to a close, establishment pick Shontel Brown, a current Cuyahoga County Council Member and county Democratic Party chair, is facing a potential ethics probe for her past work supporting millions of dollars in contracts awarded to companies run by her partner and campaign donors. According to a story published Tuesday by Newsweek and the Daily Poster, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office took interest in an earlier Intercept story and in June referred it to the state auditor’s office, where officials agreed the matter should go before the state ethics commission. Meanwhile, and unrelated to the potential probe, newly released campaign finance disclosures show that Brown and a major Democratic PAC supporting her campaign have been heavily funded by donors who usually support Republicans.
The revelations come with just one week left in the contest between Brown and Nina Turner, a progressive former state senator who stumped for Sen. Bernie Sanders during his 2016 and 2020 presidential runs and who, to many observers, remains representative of his campaign against Hillary Clinton.
Clinton, a high-profile backer of Brown, notoriously lambasted Sanders as “not a Democrat,” and said that she was proud that her greatest enemies were “Republicans.” But in this case, finance reports show GOP donors flocking to Clinton’s chosen candidate in the heated congressional race.
With Clinton and Sanders again pitted against each other, this time via state-level surrogates, the special election race for Ohio’s 11th Congressional District has been described as a reflection of “party tensions.” In addition to Clinton, Democratic establishment figures like Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., and well-funded super PACs have rallied behind Brown, while progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Justice Democrats have coalesced to support Turner.
Undergirding these tensions are donors with long histories of support for Republican candidates who are now funding Brown’s campaign, either directly or via the political action committee Democratic Majority for Israel, a major backer of her campaign. Most notable among them is New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a close ally of Donald Trump who donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration and has supported a slew of Republican candidates. A staunch supporter of Israel, Kraft in 2019 also launched and donated $20 million to a foundation to combat anti-Semitism and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, earning him a gala reception in Jerusalem to receive the Israeli Genesis Prize. Kraft has individually donated the election maximum $5,800 to Brown’s campaign, and with his family contributed more than $20,000.
The former chair of the Cuyahoga County Republican Party, Roger Synenberg, donated $1,000 to Brown’s campaign. Synenberg attracted controversy in 2018 for mailing an anonymous letter to a former county auditor, calling him a “snitch” for his role in an unfolding corruption investigation in the county.
Democratic Majority for Israel, a hybrid PAC/super PAC that has spent $1.2 million on ads supporting Brown and opposing Turner in the election, also has a slew of donors who have made ample donations to Republican candidates and causes. Leonard Feinstein, who donated $25,000 to DMFI on June 14, has made large contributions to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Republican Party of Cuyahoga County, and to committees supporting Republican Rick Berg’s 2012 campaign for Senate in North Dakota.
Steven Fishman, who donated $20,000 to DMFI on June 14, made over $10,000 in campaign contributions to Republicans running in 2020, including Lindsey Graham, Jim Risch, Mike Rounds, and Michael McCaul. He also donated $1,800 to Brown.
David Heller, a Cleveland-area real estate executive, donated $10,000 to DMFI on February 23 and also donated $2,800 to Brown. Heller, who has been an avid supporter of Republicans in Ohio and in Texas, donated over $13,000 to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine in 2020, as well as $5,000 to Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, who is leading the push to restrict voting rights in that state.
Neil Kadisha, who donated $2,000 to Brown on June 1 and $18,000 to DMFI on June 14, donated to Trump’s reelection campaign in 2019, as well as to then-Vice President Mike Pence’s PAC. In 2012, Kadisha made large donations to both the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Some Republican donors have not supported Brown directly but have poured funding into DMFI. David Horowitz, an executive at the New York school cafeteria food company Tasty Brands, donated $10,000 to DMFI on June 7. In 2020, he donated $25,000 to Sen. Mitch McConnell’s super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, as well as making maxed-out contributions to losing Georgia Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.
Philip De Toledo, the president of the Capital Group, donated $50,000 to DMFI on June 8, 2020. De Toledo donated over $25,000 in campaign contributions to Republicans running in the 2020 elections, including right-wing Reps. Patrick McHenry and Jim Risch.
Victor Kohn, another Capital Group executive who donated $100,000 to DMFI from his family trust on June 10, spent over $10,000 in the 2020 cycle supporting Republicans Mike Rounds, Bill Cassidy, Cynthia Lummis, Ben Sasse, and Kay Granger.
“How can we have someone who is the party chair and says that she’s a Democrat’s Democrat but is accepting Republican money?”
Reached for comment, a spokesperson for Democratic Majority for Israel accused The Intercept of wanting to “cherry pick contributors” and said that DMFI has only supported “outstanding” Democratic candidates. Shontel Brown’s campaign did not return a request for comment.
State Rep. Juanita Brent, a Turner backer who represents Cuyahoga County in the Ohio House, and was referred to The Intercept by the Turner campaign, panned the role of the GOP in the Democratic primary campaign. “As a Democrat who has helped Democrats all over the state, we cannot condone Democrats that are accepting money associated with Trump,” Brent told The Intercept. “How can we have someone who is the party chair and says that she’s a Democrat’s Democrat but is accepting Republican money?”