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In 2017, the year a nonprofit Vance formed to fight opioid abuse was most active, it spent nearly half of its receipts to pay a Vance political adviser to be executive director and to pay for a survey.
The survey was done as Vance was considering a 2018 run for the Senate. It’s unclear exactly what the survey asked about.
The nonprofit did little to fight opioid abuse.
In an Ohio race that could decide which party controls the U.S. Senate, Republican J.D. Vance’s Democratic opponent is accusing him of using money from a nonprofit for his own political benefit.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan’s campaign made the attack in a 30-second ad:
"When J.D. Vance moved back to Ohio, he told us his new nonprofit would help fix our state’s opioid crisis, but he failed to fund a single addiction program," the ad’s narrator says. "So, what did Vance do with the money? He funneled tens of thousands to his top political adviser and paid tens of thousands for political polling. An independent expert called the nonprofit a charade. Vance did nothing to help Ohio, but did everything to help his political career."
The ad’s claim about how the funds were used is largely on target.
In 2017, the year the nonprofit was most active, it spent nearly half of the money it took in to pay its executive director, who was — and remains — a Vance political adviser, and to pay for a survey.
The survey was done while Vance was considering a run for the U.S. Senate, though it’s not clear the survey was undertaken for Vance’s political benefit.
Vance, a venture capitalist, gained national attention after his 2016 memoir, "Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis," became a bestseller. The book examines the struggles of America’s white working class through Vance’s childhood in southern Ohio. Vance’s nonprofit, Our Ohio Renewal, described itself as "dedicated to promoting the ideas and addressing the problems identified in" "Hillbilly Elegy," including fighting opioid abuse.
Political consultant Jai Chabria was the nonprofit’s executive director while he advised Vance on whether to run for the Senate in the 2018 election, which Vance opted against. Chabria is the chief strategist on Vance’s 2022 campaign.
Here are key events that happened around the time the nonprofit was launched and as Vance weighed a run for Senate in 2018:
In December 2016, Vance said he would be moving back to Ohio from California to start a nonprofit that would work on a few issues, including opioid addiction. He was more specific in a March 2017 column in The New York Times, writing that the organization would "combat Ohio’s opioid epidemic."
Our Ohio Renewal was formally created as a nonprofit in 2016, but according to its 2017 annual report, it didn’t launch publicly until spring 2017. Chabria, a former senior adviser to Republican John Kasich when Kasich was Ohio’s governor, was made the organization’s executive director.
Also in 2016 and 2017, Vance was considering a run in the 2018 election for the Ohio U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Sherrod Brown; Chabria was one of Vance’s key political advisers. Chabria told The Columbus Dispatch, for example, that Vance had attended a dozen Lincoln Day dinners, a major Republican Party event, across Ohio.
In September 2017, in reporting that Vance had decided not to run, The Atlantic said he had commissioned a poll testing his viability in the Republican primaries for governor and Senate, and that Chabria was convinced Vance had a future in politics.
Our Ohio Renewal filed a tax return only in 2017; it reported to the IRS that its receipts were less than $50,000 in 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2020, meaning it did not need to file a tax return. The 2017 return said the nonprofit was "dedicated to promoting the ideas and addressing the problems identified in ‘Hillbilly Elegy,’" including fighting opiate abuse. We also found a July 2017 snapshot of OurOhioRenewal.com, a site that is no longer active, which said one of the organization’s three initiatives was to "lead on solutions to opioid abuse."
In 2017, Our Ohio Renewal took in $221,135 in nonitemized contributions and grants and spent $50,078 on program services, including $45,000 for a survey on the "social, cultural and general welfare needs of Ohio citizens."
The return said the organization also paid $63,425 to Chabria.
Chabria would not say when the nonprofit’s survey was executed or whether it was the same polling undertaken in regard to Vance’s potential run for office.
Ryan’s ad alludes to an article by Insider in August 2021, nearly two months after Vance announced his 2022 Senate run for the seat Republican Rob Portman is vacating. A Ryan campaign news release about the ad also cited the article, in which Insider reported on the federal tax filings.
The article said a spokeswoman for Ohio's largest anti-opioid coalition hadn't heard of Vance's organization. It also quoted nonprofit expert Doug White, who reviewed the nonprofit’s tax filings, as saying, "This is a charade. It's a superficial way for him to say he's helping Ohio. None of that is actually happening, from what I can tell."
Ryan’s campaign pointed us to the nonprofit’s tax return and to news articles about Chabria and Vance.
The nonprofit said in its two-page 2017 annual report that its activities included researching kinship guardians and recommending how to support them in Ohio. In November 2017, Vance, identified as Our Ohio Renewal’s honorary chairman, wrote an opinion article for Cleveland.com that advocated for state legislation to support so-called kinship guardians — family members who help care for children when their parents, because of opioid addictions or other problems, can’t. The annual report said Our Ohio Renewal also authored a "working paper outlining state responses to the opioid crisis."
Ryan said that instead of fighting opioid addiction, a nonprofit founded by J.D. Vance paid his "top political adviser" and funded polling.
Vance’s nonprofit, which was founded partly to fight opioid abuse, paid Chabria $63,425 in 2017 to be its executive director. Chabria was a key political adviser to Vance and remains on Vance’s 2022 Senate campaign.
The nonprofit also spent $45,000 for a survey of the "social, cultural and general welfare needs of Ohio citizens." We could not find evidence documenting the survey’s exact questions.
We rate Ryan’s claim about Vance Mostly True.
RELATED: Ohio fact-checks
Facebook, Tim Ryan "Just the Facts" ad, July 19, 2022
YouTube, Tim Ryan "Just the Facts" ad, July 20, 2022
Tim Ryan campaign, "New Tim Ryan ad hammers JD Vance for his self-promoting opioid non-profit," July 19, 2022
Email, Tim Ryan campaign spokesperson Izzi Levy, July 21, 2022
IRS, "FinalLetter_81-4476744_OUROHIORENEWAL_11132017.tif," May 7, 2018 (effective Nov. 9, 2016)
IRS, Our Ohio Renewal Form 990-N filings, accessed July 22, 2022
IRS, Our Ohio Renewal 2017 Form-990, May 15, 2018
Our Ohio Renewal, "‘Why I'm Moving Home,’ 2017 Annual Report"
InsiderNJ, "MAD Global Expands to Ohio," June 1, 2022
Columbus Dispatch, "Well-traveled author finds home in city," July 31, 2017
New York Times, "Why I’m Moving Home," March 16, 2017
DocumentCloud, Our Ohio Renewal 2017 federal tax filing, accessed July 21, 2022
Internet Archive Wayback Machine, Our Ohio Renewal website, July 26, 2017
Philanthropy Roundtable, "Summer 2017 – Interview with J.D. Vance," accessed July 22, 2022
Vanity Fair, "J.D. Vance’s Rust Belt Rhetoric Gets A Reality Check," Aug. 30, 2021
Cleveland.com, "J.D. Vance passes up a U.S. Senate run in Ohio," Sept. 15, 2017
The Atlantic, "‘Hillbilly Elegy’ writer won't seek office," Sept. 14, 2017
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