Watchdog group says Dayton firm did not report $1M+ in political work. Photo by Jay LaPrete/Getty Images

Watchdog group says Dayton firm did not report $1M+ in political work

Says Freedom Vote “appears to have violated its tax-exempt status and federal campaign finance law.”

A watchdog group is accusing a Dayton firm of spending more money on political purposes than federal rules permit.

Freedom Vote — an Dayton-based group that calls itself a “charitable organization” — “appears to have violated its tax-exempt status and federal campaign finance law” by acting as a political group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) said in a complaint filed this week with the IRS and the Federal Election Commission.

Freedom Vote, with offices at 131 N. Ludlow St., is registered as a voter education and social advocacy organization, and as such has tax-exempt status.

Attempts Thursday to reach James Nathanson, the principal behind Freedom Vote, were not successful.

On its web site, Freedom Vote says it “provides education to the Ohio public regarding economic policy issues, including state and local government fiscal responsibility, job growth and private sector expansion.”

CREW is charging that Freedom Vote under-counted recent political spending, reporting just 48.8 percent of its activity in 2015 and 2016 as campaign-related — and neglecting to report more than $1 million in spending on political ads.

“When the omitted political advertisements are included, political activity actually accounts for about 80 percent of Freedom Vote’s expenditures,” CREW said in a statement this week. “As a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, Freedom Vote is not required to disclose its donors but may not make politics it primary focus.

The Dayton organization violated its tax-exempt status and should be registered with the FEC as a political committee, which would mean it must disclose its donors, CREW charged.

“Freedom Vote claims to be a social welfare organization, so it does not have to disclose donors, but in fact it acts just like a political committee,” Noah Bookbinder CREW executive director, said in CREW’s release.

The allegation is that Freedom Vote did not disclose more than $1 million dollars it spent on ads in 2016, when U.S. Sen. Rob Portman defeated former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland in a Senate race.

The ads were “unambiguously political,” running against Strickland, criticizing him for “job-killing policies” and for “losing” 350,000 jobs while he was in office, CREW said.

“It’s hard to imagine a clearer example of a political expenditure than money spent running advertisements in a Senate race,” Bookbinder said in his organization’s statement.