Bil­lions of dol­lars in cam­paign cash have changed hands in Penn­syl­va­nia over the past two decades. Who’s giv­ing, and who’s get­ting?

The Republican Herald - - STATE - BY Mike Werescha­gin

The lead­ers of the largest full­time Leg­is­la­ture in the coun­try and the two men run­ning for gov­er­nor — 10 in­di­vid­u­als — have ac­cepted a grand to­tal of more than $ 132 mil­lion in po­lit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions since the clocks ticked over to the year 2000, ac­cord­ing to a Cau­cus anal­y­sis of state records. Add in the last two gov­er­nors — Repub

li­can Tom Cor­bett and Demo­crat Ed Ren­dell — and the to­tal more than dou­bles, to nearly $ 300 mil


Penn­syl­va­nia has no lim­its on cam­paign do­na­tions. If you want to hand a can­di­date a mil­lion dol­lars — as the pro- school- choice Stu­dents First PAC did for Repub­li­can gu­ber­na­to­rial nom­i­nee Scott Wag­ner in March — noth­ing but your check­ing ac­count bal­ance is stop­ping you.

That was the largest sin­gle do­na­tion among ac­tive politi­cians ( not count­ing the money Wag­ner and Demo­cratic Gov. Tom Wolf gave their own cam­paigns), al­though the Repub­li­can Gov­er­nor’s As­so­ci­a­tion gave seven do­na­tions of equal or greater value to Cor­bett in 2009. That sup­port helped en­sure GOP con­trol of state govern­ment dur­ing the last re­dis­trict­ing process.

Top of the ticket

More than 280 do­na­tions to state

lead­ers in the last 19 years were for $ 100,000 or more. That in­cludes four $ 500,000 checks given to Wolf by a pair of pub­lic em­ploy­ees unions, two each from the Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees In­ter­na­tional Union and Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of State, County and Mu­nic­i­pal Em­ploy­ees.

Those two unions are Wolf’s big­gest PAC sup­port­ers, with the SEIU do­nat­ing just over $ 2 mil­lion and AFSCME giv­ing about $ 1.7 mil­lion. The unions rep­re­sent tens of thou­sands of state em­ploy­ees, as well as health care and lo­cal govern­ment work­ers.

“Gov. Wolf ’ s mis­sion has al­ways been to help the peo­ple of Penn­syl­va­nia by ex­pand­ing ac­cess to health care, in­vest­ing in ed­u­ca­tion and work­force de­vel­op­ment, and pro­tect­ing our se­niors,” Wolf cam­paign spokes­woman Beth Me­lena said.

The other three in­ter­est groups that round out Wolf ’ s top five donors are the Penn­syl­va­nia State Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion ($ 1.6 mil

lion), a Philadel­phia- based PAC called Fair­ness PA ($ 1.6 mil­lion) and the Com­mit­tee for a Bet­ter To­mor­row ($ 1.3 mil­lion), which rep­re­sents the Philadel­phia Trial Lawyers’ As­so­ci­a­tion.

Formed in 2015, Fair­ness PA is a rel­a­tive new­comer to this rar­efied air of Penn­syl­va­nia’s po­lit­i­cal fun­ders. Its money comes from unions, lawyers and even an heir to the Rock­e­feller for­tune, Al­ida Messinger, of St. Paul, Min­nesota, who do­nated $ 150,000 in 2016.

The group has no web­site, and its ad­dress is a Philadel­phia post of­fice box used by an­other PAC, New Lead­ers PA, which reg­is­tered with the state on April 9. The two PACS are not re­lated, said Adam Bonin, trea­surer of Fair­ness PA and a Philadel­phia lawyer who spe­cial­izes in election law.

“Fair­ness PA is a statewide coali­tion of busi­ness lead­ers, la­bor or­ga­ni­za­tions, pro­gres­sive or­ga­ni­za­tions, pro­fes­sion­als and other in­di­vid­u­als com­mit­ted to elect­ing Democrats across Penn­syl­va­nia to ex­ec­u­tive, leg­isla­tive and ju­di­cial of­fices. We’ve been able to en­gage a broad coali­tion be­cause there is so much at stake,” Bonin said.

He did not re­spond to ques­tions about how that mis­sion dif­fers from the state Demo­cratic Party’s. The Wolf cam­paign didn’t ad­dress ques­tions about whether it ap­proached Fair­ness PA for do­na­tions, or what, if any, is­sues were dis­cussed with those as­so­ci­ated with the PAC.

Asked why the PAC backs Wolf, Me­lena said: “Fair­ness PA is a statewide po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee com­prised of hard­work­ing Penn­syl­va­ni­ans, in­clud­ing pro­gres­sive or­ga­ni­za­tions like Planned Par­ent­hood and busi­ness, le­gal, com­mu­nity and la­bor lead­ers who share Gov­er­nor Wolf ’ s vi­sion for a bet­ter and more fair Penn­syl­va­nia.”

Both he and Wag­ner are their own big­gest sup­port­ers. Wolf gave him­self a head start in a crowded 2014 Demo­cratic pri­mary field with more than $ 10 mil­lion of his own money. Wag­ner did the same this year in his four- way pri­mary with about $ 8 mil­lion, a num­ber that has since swelled by an­other mil­lion.

Where Wolf has a short list of mil­lion- dol­lar donors, Wag­ner has just one: the Stu­dents First PAC, a com­mit­tee that backs can­di­dates who sup­port school choice.

“Scott wel­comes sup­port from any­one that sup­ports his agenda, which in­cludes in­vest­ing an ad­di­tional $ 1 bil­lion per year in stu­dents and teach­ers without rais­ing taxes,” Wag­ner cam­paign spokesman An­drew Romeo said.

Wag­ner’s ed­u­ca­tion plan would fur­nish that money by “tight­en­ing our belts and cut­ting cor­po­rate wel­fare,” as well as pri­va­tiz­ing the state’s liquor store sys­tem, ac­cord­ing to a sum­mary of the plan posted on his cam­paign web­site.

Wag­ner’s next- high­est donors are the Repub­li­can Gov­er­nor’s As­so­ci­a­tion and York Build­ing Prod­ucts Co. PAC, both of which do­nated $ 250,000. The RGA’S sup- port this cy­cle, which will again de­ter­mine who sits in the gov­er­nor’s man­sion dur­ing the next re­dis­trict­ing process, is a frac­tion of the $ 12 mil­lion it gave Cor­bett in his two cam­paigns.

The lead­er­ship

Sup­port­ers for House and Se­nate

lead­ers don’t break down quite as neatly along par­ti­san lines as the gov­er­nor’s can­di­dates.

Unions, for in­stance, are two of Se­nate Pres­i­dent Pro Tem Joe Scar­nati’s top five PAC donors. The Key­stone Moun­tain Lakes Re­gional Coun­cil of Car­pen­ters do­nated $ 235,000 to him, and the Op­er­at­ing En­gi­neers Lo­cal 66 gave an­other $ 200,000. Among his sup­port­ers, they’re topped only by the Philadel­phia trial lawyers’ PAC ($ 276,000) and the PA Fu­ture Fund ($ 440,000), a com­mit­tee helmed by long­time GOP fundraiser Bob Asher.

Scar­nati, through the Se­nate Repub­li­can Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, did not re­spond to emailed ques­tions.

The Penn­syl­va­nia GOP es­tab

lish­ment has for years re­sisted the na­tional party’s in­creas­ing an­tipa­thy to­ward or­ga­nized la­bor. That was on dis­play dur­ing Cor­bett’s term, when they con­trolled ev­ery branch of state govern­ment. Cor­bett won election in 2010, one of a raft of Repub­li­cans swept into of­fice by the GOP wave in Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s first midterm election — a re­sult Obama called a “shel­lack­ing” in a post- election news con­fer­ence.

The tea party move­ment that year re­ceived much of its fi­nan­cial back­ing from groups such as the Koch broth­ers’ Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity, which sup­ports lib­er­tar­ian, anti- union politi­cians in state- level races around the coun­try. Repub­li­cans, em­bold­ened by new ma­jori­ties in state­houses around the coun­try, be­gan en­act­ing laws de­signed to weaken ex­ist­ing unions and make it harder to form new ones.

Ex­cept in Penn­syl­va­nia. Leg­is­la­tion ban­ning manda­tory union mem­ber­ship in work­places — known to sup­port­ers as right- towork leg­is­la­tion — and pri­va­tiz­ing the state’s union­ized liquor store sys­tem never made it to Cor­bett’s desk, stalling in ei­ther the GOP- con­trolled House or Scar­nati’s Se­nate.

The in­ac­tion dis­ap­pointed con­ser­va­tives but spared the state the up­heaval seen in places such as Wis­con­sin, where Gov. Scott Walker’s agenda drew mas­sive protests from pub­lic- sec­tor unions and a re­call chal­lenge that forced him to cam­paign to keep the of­fice he’d just won. Pro­test­ers filled the state capi­tol, slow­ing the busi­ness of gov­ern­ing while draw­ing na­tional me­dia at­ten­tion.

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween Se­nate Repub­li­can in­cum­bents and or­ga­nized la­bor, par­tic­u­larly in the south­east part of the state, can make it dif­fi­cult for Demo­cratic chal­lengers to break through, said David Mar­shall, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Se­nate Demo­cratic Cam­paign Com­mit­tee. Else­where in the state, the re­la­tion­ship falls along more tra­di­tional lines; all five of Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Jay Costa’s top sup­port­ers are unions.

“You shouldn’t just as­sume their sup­port be­cause you’re a Demo­crat. They’re not an arm of the Demo­cratic Party,” Mar­shall said. “If we want their sup­port, we have to speak to their needs, speak to their in­ter­ests.”

sim­ple ad­di­tion

On the other side of the spec­trum, school choice ad­vo­cates find friends on both sides of the aisle in Penn­syl­va­nia. What’s gen­er­ally thought of as a Repub­li­can cause na­tion­ally — cham­pi­oned most promi­nently by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary, Betsy Devos — en­joys Demo­cratic sup­port in some cor­ners of the Capi­tol.

Sen. An­thony Wil­liams’ largest con­trib­u­tor is the same as Scott Wag­ner’s. The Stu­dents First PAC has given Wil­liams $ 455,000, while other, sim­i­larly minded PACS have do­nated tens of thou­sands of dol

lars more to the Philadel­phia Demo­crat.

Wil­liams said his sup­port for school choice grew from con­ver­sa­tions with con­stituents up­set about the seem­ingly ar­bi­trary na­ture of how their chil­dren were as­signed a school and the lack of re­course if they were un­happy about the de­ci­sion. He also was founder and a board mem­ber of the Hardy Wil

liams Academy, a char­ter school named af­ter his fa­ther, Sen. Hardy Wil­liams, and served on the board of di­rec­tors of Univer­sal Com­pa­nies, which op­er­ates char­ter schools.

“I was an African- Amer­i­can from an ur­ban com­mu­nity who spoke vo­cally about ( school) choice,” Wil­liams said. “To­day, it’s not un­com­mon for other AfricanAmer­i­cans in other com­mu­ni­ties to be openly sup­port­ive of op­tions for ed­u­ca­tion.”

His po­si­tion con­trasts starkly with his fel­low Demo­cratic lead­ers, each of whom took more money from the teach­ers union than any other PAC. The PSEA gave $ 257,000 to Costa, D- Al­legheny County; $ 283,000 to House Mi­nor­ity Leader Frank Der­mody, an­other Al­legheny County Demo­crat; and $ 157,000 to House Mi­nor­ity Whip Mike Hanna, D- Clin­ton County.

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