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Josh Mandel, Ohio GOP Senate Nominee, Faces Records Requests Regarding Lobbying Ties

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Ohio U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel.
Ohio U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel.

WASHINGTON -- The Republican nominee for Ohio's U.S. Senate seat, state Treasurer Josh Mandel, is facing a request for records from his state office regarding his relationship with a third party group running ads in his Senate race.

American Bridge 21st Century, a Washington-based Democratic super PAC, requested materials from the treasurer's office detailing Mandel's relationship with Tom Norris, a Columbus-based lobbyist who heads the third party group, the Government Integrity Fund. At issue is the question of whether Mandel and his top staffers have had dealings with Norris and Joel Riter, a former Mandel aide who left the treasurer's office in June 2011 to work for Norris at his lobbying firm, Cap Square Solutions. ProPublica reported in September that Riter may have been involved with the Government Integrity Fund, which has in turn raised questions of whether Mandel coordinated with the group, though prohibited under federal election law. Mandel is challenging Sen. Sherrod Brown (D).

Riter would not discuss his alleged involvement with the Government Integrity Fund with ProPublica, but had left Cap Square and relocated to the Washington, D.C. area prior to the ProPublica article. Norris and Mandel have both said there has been no coordination between the campaign and the Government Integrity Fund.

The records that American Bridge is seeking involve interactions that Mandel and Riter had with Norris during Riter's employment, and that the treasurer's office had with Riter and Norris after Riter departed state service.

“The public has a right to know if Mandel sent Riter to go run an outside group to support his campaign. The report of Riter’s involvement in the Government Integrity Fund raises some serious questions about how close Mandel is to this group,” American Bridge spokesman Matt Thornton said in a statement. “We trust this request is small and direct enough that Seth Metcalf will have no trouble providing the requested information in a timely manner.”

Thornton was addressing Metcalf's decisions in the past to decline American Bridge records requests, saying they were too broad. Metcalf is Mandel's general counsel and handles records requests for the treasurer's office. Over the summer, American Bridge threatened to sue Mandel's office to obtain requested records.

Among members of Mandel's inner circle, Riter has been a frequent target of critics, including as the subject of an ethics inquiry by a Democratic state legislator who alleged that Riter may have improperly lobbied the treasurer's office. Riter told The Huffington Post in April that he had obtained permission from the state ethics commission on his lobbying and did not deal with issues that he worked on in the treasurer's office. But last month, the campaign of Mandel's opponent, Sen. Brown, released a parody resume for Riter in the wake of the ProPublica report, claiming that Riter's entire career was based on supporting Mandel. Riter worked for Mandel in the state legislature and on his 2010 campaign before joining the treasurer's office.

Riter and Mandel's campaign and state spokesmen did not return messages left for comment, and Norris could not be reached for comment.

American Bridge's new action comes as the super PAC and Mandel have clashed in recent weeks. In late September, Mandel grabbed the video camera of an American Bridge tracker, Tyler Hansen, in an elevator. Mandel then said that Hansen made "physical contact" with him first, which he later repeated. A Columbus Dispatch reporter who was in the elevator did not write about Hansen making contact with Mandel. Earlier this month, a Mandel staffer was accused of shoving Hansen when the tracker tried to enter a room where Mandel was meeting the press.

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