Firm Worked For Cordray's Agency, Then Campaign

Sep 13, 2018

An advertising and media firm to which Ohio gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray's agency gave government work while he was a federal official now is doing political work for him.

Records reviewed by The Associated Press show Washington-based GMMB recently has been making Ohio ad buys for Democrat Cordray's gubernatorial campaign against Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine. The two are locked in a high-profile fight for the office Republican Gov. John Kasich vacates in January due to term limits.

GMMB's political work for Cordray, a Democrat who is a former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, follows Republican criticism that the bureau's decision to hire the firm under Cordray's watch was politically motivated.

GMMB was the lead advertising agency for the successful presidential bids of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. The Democratic former president is scheduled to campaign for Cordray in Cleveland on Thursday.

"The whole thing is peculiar," said Matthew Henderson, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson, an Ohio Republican who questioned the contract during a hearing in April. "Why was former director Cordray spending so much on a PR firm he would eventually hire to run his campaign for governor? And why was a government agency that was created to protect consumers and prosecute fraud spending a higher percentage on PR than a car brand like Chevy?"

Cordray's campaign said there's nothing improper about the firm's work for the government or the campaign. At the time it was hired by the federal consumer bureau, the agency was working to raise its pro-consumer profile among average Americans.

The federal Office of Inspector General reported in June that costs tied to GMMB's contract with the consumer bureau grew from the original estimated value of $11.5 million to $43.8 million from August 2013 to February 2018. Inspectors said the bureau could have better managed the contract and they urged stronger controls be put in place.

Mick Mulvaney, appointed by Republican President Donald Trump to succeed Cordray as bureau director, said during the April hearing that he planned to cancel the contract.

Besides Obama's campaigns, GMMB has served Democrat-aligned clients including Emily's List, the Democratic Governors Association, the League of Conservation Voters and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, according to its website. It also did government work pitching the benefits of the federal health care law, commonly known as Obamacare.

"This is particularly aimed at my colleagues across the aisle: That $242 million that I spent on the building, I could take that and hire Breitbart," Mulvaney said. "I could take that and hire the Drudge Report to do marketing that I like for the bureau. Not going to do it, because it's the wrong thing to do, but I have that kind of flexibility."

GMMB has worked for both Democratic and Republican administrations, including Trump's. The government watchdog said the firm was selected by the consumer bureau through an open competitive process.

Catherine Turcer, executive director of Common Cause Ohio, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said the Cordray campaign may have looked at GMMB's work for Obama and felt it was a good fit — but such relationships should still be approached with caution.

"The problem is, of course, that elections now are so closely tied to governing that it makes voters concerned because everything's so embedded and intertwined," she said. "It at least deserves a conversation."

A spokeswoman for GMMB could not immediately comment.

DeWine's campaign spokeswoman, Brittany Warner, said the relationship "presents a major trust issue with voters."

"Not only was Director Cordray's $43 million advertising budget a total waste of public funds, but its deeply concerning that these public funds were directed to a political firm that is helping to run his campaign," she said.