Warren County Primary Election Fraught With Funding From the Ohio House Republican Alliance


WARREN COUNTY, Ohio – As the March primary election draws near, campaigning efforts in contested Ohio House District races increase drastically.


Over a year of infighting has loomed across the Ohio Statehouse as Representative Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) gained speakership with the unanimous support of House Democrats and 22 House Republicans known infamously as the “Blue 22.” In 2023, these Republicans were censured by the Ohio Republican Party and dozens of county Republican parties including Warren and neighboring Butler County. Representative Derek Merrin (R-Monclova) was previously and unanimously chosen to be speaker by the Republican caucus months prior to the vote but lost the gavel as a minority of Republicans switched and voted alongside all Democrats for Jason Stephens.

(photo credit: wyso.org)

Since then, 17 of the 22 Republicans who voted for Stephens are seeking re-election, 12 of which are in contested primaries. According to pre-primary report filings from the Ohio Secretary of State, Ohio House Republican Alliance (OHRA), the official campaign committee of the Republican caucus pursuant to Ohio Revised Code, has spent over $2.9 million directed by Speaker Stephens in support of the re-election of incumbent contested members. Accordingly, all 17 of the 22 censured Republicans seeking re-election have donated to OHRA between ‘23 and ‘24.

Typically, without detached scrutiny, the OHRA fund is utilized as pay-to-play collateral for Republican incumbents ahead of their primary or general elections in the event they run opposed. 

This year, 11 candidates who voted for Merrin as Speaker did donate to OHRA. They were not provided the "incumbent benefit" of added campaign contributions because they are running unopposed in their primary, or are not seeking re-election, or are seeking another office, or term-limited. Let it be noted that both Merrin and Rep. Phil Plummer (R-Dayton) donated to OHRA for their 2022 Election Season but not the 2024 Election Season.

The 2024 Election Season funds of $4,187,324 according to transperancyusa.org are half of what the 2022 Election season funds of $8,374,961 were. Is this because many Republican incumbents opted not to donate campaign funds to OHRA because of the uncertainty around Speaker Stephens' questionable control of OHRA funds?


Certain members who did not vote for Stephens and are in contested primaries have donated to OHRA's House Speaker controlled fund. These members include Representatives Thomas Hall (R-Madison Twp.), Adam Mathews (R-Lebanon), Justin Pizzulli (R-Scioto County), and Sharon Ray (R-Wadsworth). Hall reported donating $5,000 between '23 and '24, Mathews reported $25,787.99, Pizzulli reported $52,500, and Ray reported $92,000 respectively. According to OHRA’s donation page, anyone who donates at least $23,000 donates as “Chair” status. 


On October 7, 2023, a lawsuit was filed in an effort to freeze OHRA funds by Republican State Reps. Ron Fergusson (Wintersville), Derek Merrin (Monclova), Phil Plummer (Dayton), and the Ohio House Republican Alliance against Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill), State Rep. Jeff LaRe (R-Violet Twp.), treasurer of OHRA J. Matthew Yuskewich and Winterset CPA Group, Inc.

The plaintiffs claim the majority of Republican caucus members held an official caucus meeting on January 24, 2023, and unanimously voted that the legislative campaign fund OHRA be controlled by Plummer as the Chair and Merrin as Vice Chair. The plaintiffs claim, “Stephens had publicly refused to accept the results of the majority vote of the Republican Caucus.” In furtherance, experts from The Associated Press declared that “Ohio law does not expressly require the speaker and caucus leader to be the same individual. The Associated Press was also provided an image of an OHRA credit card in Stephens’ name by an official political advisor.

On February 13, 2024, three Republican contested Representatives who did not vote for Stephens but donated to OHRA received media buy in funding from OHRA. Mathews received a contribution of $108,565.89 from OHRA, Pizzulli received $160,230.09, and Ray received a contribution of $97,421.71 respectively. A day later, on Wednesday, February 14, 2024, Franklin County Democrat Court of Common Pleas Judge Mark Serrott denied the request by plaintiffs to freeze OHRA campaign funds. Hall received $14,967 but not until after the judge's denial. 

Stephens reported spending $642,032.82 of OHRA’s funds on behalf of these 4 candidates through media expenditures of The Strategy Group for Media, Inc. headquartered in Delaware, OH. 

Mathews reported receiving the 9th highest amount of OHRA funding amongst all contested State Representatives totaling $119,344.54, more than contested members Jeff LaRe and DJ Swearingen (R-Huron) who both voted Stephens for House Speaker.


In Mathews’ district, OHRA expenditures have also been used to campaign against his opponents, Kathy Grossmann and Heather Salyer. Grossmann has had at least 3 negative mailers against her with her face superimposed on a body sent to households of the 56th District claiming, “Grossmann spent $500,000 of your tax dollars on gift cards” and a quote from Mason Vice Mayor Ashley Chance stating, "Grossmann couldn’t wait to brag about her massive government spending spree that did nothing to help our families or businesses.” 

Chance, on February 18, stated on a public Facebook post “If you see post cards attacking other political candidates, that simply means the one being attacked is doing something right and the swamp is mad!” 

In a response mailer refuting the claims, Grossmann states Ashley Chance voted for this ordinance, Ord. 2020-51 passed May 11, 2020 with:

  1. One month of free sewer services for all rate payers
  2. E-card to all residential rate payers from Mason sewer funds, not tax revenue
  3. Operated as a debit system, not pre-paid gift cards
  4. If unused, money remained in Mason’s sewer funs

“Speaker Stephens and candidates supported by OHRA in this primary make the case that the Ohio House desperately needs new leadership. The ads falsely attacking me are vulgar, sexist, and, I believe, meet the standards of defamation. Speaker Stephens and the candidates they support are responsible for these dishonest attack ads,” says Grossmann.

A video published by OHRA
states, “dark money groups in Washington want Trump gone and liberals like Kathy Grossmann and Heather Salyer in our statehouse. But Adam Mathews says, not on my watch.”

“Speaker Jason Stephens and his 'Blue 22' and their affiliates do not want to see a pro-Trump candidate like me elected to this seat. I am shocked by the dirty and false TV ad put out by the Blue 22 and their funding source, the Ohio House Republican Alliance. Speaker Jason Stephens really wants Adam Mathews elected,” says Salyer.

In other contested primaries, Stephens has directed OHRA spending toward negative advertisements. According to Ohio State Central Committeeman Josh Brown, District 16, "Stephens’ illegal spending includes:

  • accusing a Republican candidate (Sally Culling of Wood County) of being disloyal to the United States and implying that she is a murderer;
  • disseminating pictures of a Republican candidate’s husband when he had cancer (Gina Collinsworth of Scioto, Adams, and Brown Counties);
  • doctoring/editing the audio of a video to make a Republican candidate appear to say something that was the opposite of what he said (Ty Matthews of Hancock, Hardin, and Logan Counties);
  • falsely accusing an elected Republican official of being a criminal, showing a fake mug shot and a doctored, fake photo of her in handcuffs (Wezlynn Davis of Union and Marion Counties);
  • running negative ads against a candidate endorsed by the ORP;
  • running negative ads falsely accusing a candidate of stealing public funds (Kathy Grossmann of Warren County)."

According to Brown, Ohio Revised Code makes the Chairman of the Ohio Republican Party an ex officio member of the House Republican Caucus. Brown will submit a petition on March 20, 2024, with over 33 required signatures of the State Central Committee to call a special meeting to: 

  1. Condemn Speaker Jason Stephens’ actions; 
  2. Order Chairman of the ORP to take all measures necessary, including litigation, to take control of the OHRA and use the funds to benefit all Republican Caucus members properly; 
  3. Send a cancellation of all contracts for negative ads run against Republicans; and 
  4. Cancel all contracts to run negative ads against Republicans.”
(photo credit: Josh Brown for Ohio)

On March 25, 2024, the Executive Committee of the Warren County Republican Party will convene to discuss campaign claims made in the House District 56 race.

“The Blue 22 and Jason Stephens are spending massive amounts of money to get Adam Mathews elected. You have to ask yourself, why?” says Lori Viars, Vice Chairman of the Warren County Republican Party. 

Mathews, who voted for Merrin as Speaker not Stephens, which is shown in the House of Representatives Journal for Jan., 3, 2023, explained, “OHRA exists to defend incumbents, and every incumbent is expected to contribute. Contributions are given well in advance of primaries, in my case, July 2023, well before any litigation about the fund. The members themselves do not direct the use of these funds.”

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