Columbus, OH — According to a new investigation from Business Insider, J.D. Vance created a non-profit focused on combating the opioid epidemic that was a “charade” and “superficial,” bolstering himself and his personal ambitions. In its first year, the group spent more money paying Vance’s top political advisor than on programs to fight opioid abuse. Now, Vance’s campaign refuses to answer questions about the non-profit and hasn’t included his experience there on his campaign website.
“Only a Silicon Valley millionaire like J.D. Vance would use Ohio’s opioid crisis as a way to bolster his political career and enrich his political cronies. Maybe if Vance hadn’t spent so much of his life in DC and San Francisco he’d realize that Ohioans need real help and not fraudulent grifters,” said Michael Beyer, spokesperson for the Ohio Democratic Party.
Key points below:
Adam Wren and Meghan Morris
August 29, 2021
- After moving back to Ohio in 2017, Vance founded Our Ohio Renewal, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting the opioid epidemic that he wrote about so wrenchingly in his memoir. He also raised $93 million to launch Narya Capital, a venture-capital firm focused on startups in the Midwest. The two projects are key chapters in his political biography — accomplishments he’s frequently cited to portray himself as a job creator and champion of the white working class. “What we need in Washington is not just leaders who talk about doing things,” he said on a recent campaign stop in his hometown of Middletown, “but have actually done them and will continue to do them.”
- Plenty of politicians seek to bolster their image by pointing to their business acumen and philanthropic efforts. In reality, though, it’s not clear what, if anything, Vance has achieved through his company or his charity. A review by Insider of Our Ohio Renewal’s tax filings showed that in its first year, the nonprofit spent more on “management services” provided by its executive director — who also serves as Vance’s top political advisor — than it did on programs to fight opioid abuse. The group, which has shut down its website and abandoned its Twitter account after publishing only two tweets, says it commissioned a survey to gauge the needs and welfare of Ohioans, but Vance’s campaign declined to provide any documentation of the project. A spokeswoman for Ohio’s largest anti-opioid coalition told Insider that she hadn’t heard of Vance’s organization.
- “This is a charade,” said Doug White, a nonprofit expert and former director of the master’s program in fundraising management at Columbia University, who reviewed Our Ohio Renewal’s tax filings for Insider. “It’s a superficial way for him to say he’s helping Ohio. None of that is actually happening, from what I can tell.”
- Over a martini with a Washington Post writer in early 2017, Vance expressed misgivings about running for office. At the time, he was looking to help his home state through his nascent nonprofit, Our Ohio Renewal. “I’m not going to say that I’m never going to run,” he said. But he made clear what he thought of politics. “I think running a small nonprofit to work on the opioid crisis and bring interesting new businesses to the so-called Rust Belt — all of these things are valuable, if not more valuable, than running for office.”
- Our Ohio Renewal, Vance explained in August 2017, would identify “the things that have been tried, from prevention programs to physician training to treatment options, and trying to understand how well they are working.” Its mission statement was audacious: “Our Ohio Renewal is dedicated to promoting the ideas and addressing the problems identified in J.D. Vance’s #1 Bestseller, Hillbilly Elegy, related to divides along racial, economic, and cultural lines.” It would engage in political advocacy across Ohio, including “fighting against opiate abuse.”
- In its first year, according to an Insider review of its public tax filings, the nonprofit brought in $221,135. Jai Chabria, the nonprofit’s principal officer, earned more in management fees — $63,425 — than the company spent on programming, which totaled about $50,000. Chabria, a former senior advisor to John Kasich and an employee of Lehman Brothers and Barclays Capital, is now advising Vance’s Senate campaign.
- But Our Ohio Renewal’s biggest problem wasn’t its spending; it was its lack of fundraising. The nonprofit raised so little in each of the last three years — less than $50,000 a year — that it wasn’t even required by the IRS to disclose its activities and finances. “It’s a pittance, given what they said they want to accomplish,” said White, the nonprofit expert who reviewed the organization’s initial filing. “This is a very small operation. They’re not doing much. I don’t think it rises to the level of fraud, but they are sitting around doing nothing.”
- The only accomplishments listed in Our Ohio Renewal’s 2017 tax filing are the $45,000 it spent for a survey of the “social, cultural and general welfare needs of Ohio Citizens,” along with travel and meeting expenses. Vance told Columbus Monthly that the nonprofit sponsored a yearlong residency for Sally Satel, a psychiatrist and research fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, who treated patients at a methadone clinic in an underserved area of southern Ohio. But Our Ohio Renewal declined to respond to questions about its programs and finances, and Satel did not respond to Insider’s request for an interview.
- It looks different now, with him being a Senate candidate. […] Whatever Our Ohio Renewal did to fight the opioid epidemic, it did so without joining the state’s largest anti-opioid partnership. […] These days, Vance seems reluctant to even acknowledge his signature philanthropic effort. In the section of his campaign’s new issues page devoted to the opioid epidemic, the candidate makes no mention of Our Ohio Renewal. […] The nonprofit, he [Jivani] acknowledged, never lived up to the vision he and Vance hashed out that night in German Village. “It looks different now with him being a Senate candidate,” Jivani said.