July 15th, 2014 8:00 am | by NIGEL JAQUISS |

GOP Candidate for Governor Dennis Richardson Picks Up Out-of-State Checks

Unusual $15,000 contribution from Ohio political consultancy

richardsonRep. Dennis Richardson - dennisrichardson.com

State Rep. Dennis Richardson (R-Central Point), the Republican candidate for Oregon governor, has struggled to raise money in his campaign to unseat incumbent Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat.

Despite Kitzhaber's Cover Oregon-related woes—the state's insurance exchange crashed after the expenditure of $248 million—Richardson has less than $100,000 on hand, even though he's been campaigning for a year. (Kitzhaber has $886,000 on hand).

But this week, Richardson disclosed three sizable checks totaling $25,000, all from out of state: $5,000 from Montaire Corp., an Arkansas chicken producer; $5,000 from Blankenbecler Advisors an Ohio accounting firm; and $15,000 from The Strategy Group for Media, a Columbus, Ohio-based political consultancy that has helped dozens of GOP candidates around the country win election.

The Strategy Group for Media is a high-profile operation, profiled in Buzzfeed last year, after a nasty internal split saw founder Rex Elsass fire and sue his protege, Nick Everhart. The firm's website says it has helped elect more new Republican members of Congress than any other political consulting firm in the past decade. Well-known clients including Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.)

Elsass built a colorful reputation in Ohio, Buzzfeed says, before moving on the national stage. Here's in part what Buzzfeed (emphasis added):

Elsass went to work for the Ohio Republican Party in the early 1990s, where he got a reputation for being loud, gregarious, charismatic — and driven to win by whatever means necessary. He rose through the ranks quickly, becoming the executive director of the state party and building a small army of raucous, elbow-throwing young operatives who wanted to grow up to be just like him. Rex and his band of macho mischief-makers stomped around Ohio joyously looking for trouble. Newspaper reports from the time depict them heckling candidates at campaign rallies, picketing Democratic fundraisers, and sending out outlandish mailers that often seemed more like pranks than persuasion. Once, they reportedly followed the state’s Democratic House Speaker to his favorite bar and started a brawl on the off chance the politician would be pulled into the ugly spectacle. On more than once occasion, they were accused of leaving dead cats on the lawns and porches of political opponents.

It's not often that a political consulting firm contributes to a candidate. Usually, it's the other way around: The candidate pays the consulting firm for services rendered.

Richardson's spokeswoman, Meredith Glacken acknowledges that. "It is unusual," Glacken says of the  $15,000 contribution. But she says the money is coming from The Strategy Group and is not a pass-through from an anonymous donor.

"It’s not a third-party contribution. It is a contribution from the firm itself," Glacken says.

Although Richardson disclosed only two previous out-of-state checks of $1,000 or more in the past year, Glacken says more such checks should arrive.

“As Cover Oregon continues to become more and more of a national story, we’ve been seeing a lot more interest from groups like this who know that Kitzhaber is both responsible and vulnerable," she says. "It’s a pattern that will likely continue as we head into the fall."
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