Report: Norfolk Southern spent $4.25M on Cincinnati Southern Railway sale

CINCINNATI — A campaign finance report filed Thursday by the group pushing for the sale of the Cincinnati Southern Railway shows Norfolk Southern is the campaign’s sole contributor.

Building Cincinnati’s Future reported that it had received $4.25 million throughout its campaign. That money came from three separate donations by Norfolk Southern Railway.

Norfolk Southern first donated $2 million in July before adding another $1.5 million in August and $750,000 in October.

Jens Sutmoller, treasurer for Building Cincinnati’s Future, said in a statement that “of course, Norfolk Southern, the longtime operator of this rail line and only viable buyer, would always pay for this voter education campaign.”

“With one of the nation’s most closely watched ballot measures, Issue 1, on the ballot, this cycle is unusually expensive,” Sutmoller said. “For context, in the Cincinnati media market alone, more than $4.3 million has been spent on Issue 1, with an additional $5.6 million spent on the governor’s race from combined issue, candidate, and independent expenditure spending. With the increased costs, the $3 million+ spent on ad-buys, production, and direct mail is not unusual.”

Adam Koehler, co-founder of the anti-sale campaign Save Our Rail, called Building Cincinnati’s Future’s campaign finance report “wild.”

“What I take from that is they’re the only one that really cares and they really, really want it,” Koehler said.

Save Our Rail treasurer Shawn Baker said they raised $4,859.48 and spent $1,493.65.

According to the report, around $3.9 million of that money was spent on ad production, buying and printing by SKDKnickerbocker LLC. The Washington D.C.-based media strategist

The report also shows that $239,500 went to JS Strategies, the consulting firm of Jens Sutmoller.

Sutmoller is the treasurer of Building Cincinnati’s Future, as well as Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval’s re-election campaign. Pureval has told WCPO he has “no direct involvement” in Building Cincinnati’s Future despite claims that the shared treasurer is a conflict of interest.

Pureval also starred in pro-sale ads, but said he was getting “no benefit” from it.

“Norfolk Southern is not a supporter of mine, is not a donor of mine,” Pureval told the WCPO 9 I-Team. “I have no intention of taking any Norfolk Southern campaign funds. I am in this specifically because I believe it’s in the best interest of the city.”

Former Cincinnati Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman, who opposes the sale, has said Pureval’s connection to the campaign “doesn’t pass the smell test.” After learning about the report, Smitherman said in part, “we now know Norfolk Southern is trying to buy the election.”

Cincinnati residents will vote on Issue 22 in the Nov. 7 election.

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