Will money play a crucial role in state row office elections?
By Carley Mossbrook, Capitolwire
Democratic candidates for state row offices swept their Republican contenders in contributions and spending during the first four-and-a-half months of this year’s election season.
Between Jan. 1 and May 16, the Democrats running for attorney general, auditor general and treasurer raked in $3,532,796, while their Republican counterparts brought in $457,103, according to the candidates’ finance reports.
The GOP challengers also spent much less over the spring season, which included the primary election, $700,491 to the Democrats’ $3,296,071, with most of the money going to and flowing from Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro and Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, the two candidates running for Attorney General.
Though this may come as a concern for the state Republican Party, it is unclear how important a financial edge will be for the row office candidates.
“Overall, these are not the highest profile elections,” said Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College. “They’re running in a year in which we have a presidential election going on and the U.S. Senate election that makes it even more difficult for them to gain traction and to get a lot of press attention.”
Therefore, money may not be the most important factor to win them a seat, he said.
Instead, the winners will likely come down to which party turns out more voters and who wins the presidency and U.S. Senate race, he said.
“Because these voters aren’t going to know these candidates for row office, for the most part, that coat-tail is important,” he said.
However, the coat-tail advantage may only help if the presidential race turns out to be a big win for Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump, said Chris Borick, professor of political science and director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion.
If the race appears to be close leading up to Nov. 8, money is going to be all the more important to give them a boost, he said, calling the candidates “hostage to what happens at the top of the ticket.”
If recent polls are any indication of the presidential election’s competitiveness, the row office candidates may want to have their wallets ready.
A Sept. 11 Quinnipiac poll shows Clinton’s lead over Trump dropped by 4 percentage points, from 52 percent to 48 percent, in Pennsylvania since Aug. 9. Trump’s likelihood of winning grew by 1 percent, from 42 to 43 percent. Undecided voters made up 5 percent of the polling sample.
Row office candidates typically receive minimal attention during the general election – thanks to the noisy and crowded atmosphere of presidential and Senate races, Borick said – but have received even less this year.
The lack of attention will force candidates to pull out all the stops to sway voters to their corner by November, he said.
“There’s going to be a real diverse effort to get the attention of voters,” Borick said, including fighting for limited television ad time and utilizing social media, which offers a free platform for those strapped for cash.
Candidates may also choose to selectively pick the markets where they run their ads rather than run them statewide, Madonna said.
“You can target markets because of what you’re trying to accomplish there, because of the message you have and how it plays with the subset of voters,” Madonna said. “My hunch is that we’re likely to see in the row office races more targeted messaging in particular TV markets in the state.”
Without much provocation, the Attorney General’s race will likely garner the most attention, he added.
“You have two much more high-profile people – a former House member and Montgomery County Chairman, and a current state senator – while these other offices don’t have the same profile,” Madonna said.
OAG has also frequently been in the news following former Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s August conviction on nine criminal charges, including perjury and criminal conspiracy.
Rafferty may use this as an opportunity to leverage the attention thrown at Kane to tie her to Shapiro and other Democrats, while Shapiro will look to distance himself from her scandal, Borick said.
Whichever avenue the candidates take won’t excuse them from the greatest challenge to both of their candidacies, getting voters to actually cast a ballot.
“The level of attention given to these candidates and the level that should be given is very much in contrast,” Borick said.
In light of Kane’s conviction and recent corruption scandals involving two former state treasurers, voters should make an effort to pay attention to who is running for these offices, he said.
“These offices matter to the state, the quality of life in the commonwealth, how money is spent and how the legal system is administered,” Borick said. “They aren’t trivial matters.”
Before the pre-General Election spike in campaign fundraising and spending takes off, Capitolwire broke down how much the candidates for state row offices spent during the last three reporting cycles and how much cash each had on hand leading up to the summer season. The analysis is below.
Candidates are required to report their financing for the summer months by Sept. 27. Capitolwire will have a breakdown of those numbers once the reports become available.
Attorney General: Josh Shapiro (D) v. John Rafferty (R)
Shapiro’s fundraising and spending surpassed Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, in their race to replace sitting Attorney General Bruce Beemer and to, as both say in the campaign paraphernalia, bring integrity back to the Office of Attorney General.
Beemer was appointed by Gov. Tom Wolf in September following Kane’s conviction and resignation.
Shapiro, the Democratic contender who has sat on Montgomery County Board of Commissioners since 2011 and served in state House from 2005 to 2011, outraised and outspent his opponent by large margins for the first half of the year.
Shapiro’s reports show he started the year with zero dollars and Rafferty $33,178 from last year’s fundraising efforts.
Over the first three reporting cycles Shapiro received $3,038,666 in contributions, which includes three contributions moved from his campaign committee for commissioner and his legislative seat totaling more than $1.2 million.
He received an assortment of large contributions from attorneys, developers and real estate owners over the course of the spring, including $50,000 from David Magerman, president of the Kohelet Foundation in New York; $50,000 from Michael Rubin, founder and CEO of Kynetic in Conshohocken; $36,000 from Joseph Neubauer, former chairman and CEO of Aramark in Philadelphia and $25,000 from Jamie Maguire, executive chairman of the Philadelphia Insurance Company.
A number of political action committees donated large contributions to his campaign, as well: Students First PAC gave him $100,000, SEIU PA COPE donated $30,000 (their healthcare PAC donated another $20,000) and Friends of Matt Bradford, the committee for Rep. Matt Bradford, D-Montgomery, donated $35,000.
Gov. Tom Wolf also pitched in $11,000 to Shapiro’s campaign.
Though Shapiro’s opponent may have more experience within the OAG, he seems to be lacking the financial edge.
Rafferty served as the Deputy Attorney General from 1988 to 1991 before serving on the Montgomery County Board of Assessment Appeals from 1996 to 2002. He’s been a member of the state Senate since being first elected to it in 2002.
He received just $399,170 in contributions during the first three cycles of the season, which include his landslide primary win over federal prosecutor Joe Peters.
Rafferty received far fewer and smaller contributions than Shapiro. Some of his larger, notable contributions include $10,000 from Andrew Muller Jr., president of the Reading Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad in Port Clinton; five contributions from employees at Audubon Land Development totaling $35,000 and $5,000 from his fellow legislator Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York.
His largest contributions came from political action committees, including $50,000 from Build PA PAC; $12,500 from PA Future Fund; $10,000 from Troopers Association PAC; $50,000 from Friends of Joe Scarnati, the campaign committee for the President Pro Temp of the state Senate and $5,000 from Citizens for Prosperity in America Today, the political action committee affiliated with Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, who is running his own campaign in a critical race against Democrat Katie McGinty.
Alongside his individual contributions, Rafferty received $93,794 in-kind contributions to Shapiro’s $51,436. In-kind contributions are services or materials donated to the campaign, like office space and travel accommodations.
But with more money came more spending for Shapiro. His reported expenditures totaled $3,031,290, almost all of what he brought in during the five-month period.
Most of Shapiro’s funds were spent just before his competitive primary contest against Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. and Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli on April 26.
Shapiro beat Zappala by 10 percentage points and Morganelli by more than 30 percentage points in the tight race focused on prosecutorial experience. Endorsements from President Barack Obama, Wolf and former Gov. Ed Rendell likely aided his efforts.
Rafferty, on the other hand, was more modest in his spending, dishing out $283,943 in expenses.
At the close of the spring season, Shapiro was sitting on $114,241 in unpaid debts and obligations and had $7,376 cash-on-hand, while Rafferty reported no unpaid debts or obligations and began the summer with $148,405 in cash-on-hand.
Money doesn’t appear to be a concern for the Rafferty campaign at this time. His team seems to be relying on the senator’s qualifications and experience to propel them to a win in November.
“Sen. Rafferty has been committed to raising the amount of money he needs to win this race. We are in it to have a victory in November,” Mike Barley, Rafferty’s campaign manager said.
He said the campaign opts to remain coy about how they plan to raise and spend money leading up to the election season, but said he believes Rafferty’s qualifications and experience will aid him in fundraising going forward.
“It’s certainly been helpful. I think a lot of people were concerned that the previous Attorney General Kathleen Kane didn’t have the experience necessary…,” he said. “I think that’s a big issue. Commissioner Shapiro has no experience for this position.”
Shapiro’s camp sees it differently.
Shapiro’s “record of integrity and pragmatic, bipartisan achievement” on the Montgomery County Commissioner’s board led to a large response in donations, wrote Joe Radosevich, Shapiro’s campaign manager, in an email.
“Thousands of Pennsylvanians responded to Josh’s broad experience and plan to be the people’s Attorney General with donations, which we’re grateful for,” he wrote.
Radosevich didn’t appear concerned about Shapiro’s large debt and little cash-on-hand reported at the end of the last cycle either. More than four more months of fundraising and campaigning have passed since the last reporting period.
“We’re extremely confident our message, of how Josh will be the people’s Attorney General and stand up to the powerful to protect Pennsylvanians, will be heard,” he wrote. “We have the resources because thousands of everyday Pennsylvanians trust Josh and believe he’s the best person for the job.”
Auditor General: Eugene DePasquale (D) v. John Brown (R)
In the only race that includes an incumbent, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale found much more success bringing in funds before and after the primary election compared to his Republican opponent John Brown.
He also started the year off on a better foot, with $149,386, compared to Brown, the Northampton County Executive, who brought forth just $810.
The disparity in their fundraising was evident from the start and continued into the third cycle of reporting. In total, DePasquale brought in $258,726 in contributions and Brown only received $32,477.
The two ran unopposed in the primary. Less competitive races typically mean less fundraising and spending, Madonna said.
DePasquale brought in a few large donations from notable individuals, including $5,000 from William and Michele Shipley, chief executive officer of the Shipley Group in York; $2,500 from Dan Hilferty, president and CEO of Independence Blue Cross and $2,500 from Ross Nese, executive of Grane Healthcare.
State Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding, also donated $500 to DePasquale’s campaign.
DePasquale’s larger donations came from political action committees, including $20,250 from IBEW Local 5 in Pittsburgh; $17,500 from PSEA PACE in Harrisburg; $10,000 from McNees PAC in Harrisburg; $10,000 from Laborers District Council in Philadelphia; and $5,000 from Comcast Corp. & NBC Universal PAC in Philadelphia, among others.
His opponent, Brown, received only three contributions over the five-month period, including $25,000 from Charles Chrin, executive of Charles Chrin Companies in Easton; $2,427 from David Ceraul, an attorney at Ceraul Law Offices in Bangor and $5,000 from Citizens for Prosperity in America Today.
DePasquale also received $2,234 in in-kind contributions, while Brown received $13,990.
The incumbent outspent his Republican opponent by more than double too. DePasquale’s expenses reached over $54,000 and Brown’s broke $26,000.
At the end of the last reporting period, DePasquale reported no outstanding dues, while his opponent reported more than $35,000 in unpaid debts and obligations.
Brown’s remaining cash balance of $6,777 didn’t come close to DePasquale balance of $353,519 going into the summer months.
Along with more contributions, DePasquale also has an incumbent’s advantage aiding him in his efforts, Madonna said.
“That’s one of the natural advantages of incumbents, he can talk about what he’s doing and it’s hard to criticize him for that because that’s his job,” Madonna said.
It’s worth mentioning a Democrat has claimed the Auditor General’s Office in all but one election over the last six decades.
Treasurer: Joseph Torsella (D) v. Otto Voit (R)
The Democratic challenger in the race for state Treasurer, the least acknowledged of the three row offices, also outraised his opponent by a landslide.
Joseph Torsella, a retired U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and former chairman of the Board of Education, outraised his opponent Otto Voit by nearly nine times during the five-month period.
Torsella was ahead by more than $1 million right out of the gate, when he brought $1,504,860 from last year’s fundraising into the 2016 cycle. He began campaigning for the office in December 2014.
Voit, a businessman and president of Keystone Dental Group, brought forth $504,566 from the previous year.
Torsella’s contributions surpassed Voit’s during the first three cycles too. The former ambassador brought in $235,404 in contributions compared to Voit’s $25,456.
Voit did receive more in-kind contributions over the period – $13,990 to $5,463.
Most of Torsella’s larger contributions were given by political action committees, including $10,000 from Students First PAC in Wynnewood; $25,000 from Local Union #98 I.B.E.W. Committee on Political Education in Philadelphia; $5,000 from FNB Corporation PAC in Pittsburgh and $2,500 from PNC PAC in Pittsburgh, among others.
He received many individual contributions from lawyers and company executives. The most notable of them was a $500 donation from David Montgomery, chairman and former president of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Voit’s contributions were slim throughout the spring. He received a single contribution during the first cycle, which ran Jan. 1 through March 7. In the second cycle, he picked up 10 individual contributions and two contributions from political action committees, including $5,000 from PA Banker’s PUB Affairs in Harrisburg and $2,500 from PSEA- PACE For State Elections in Harrisburg.
In the last reporting cycle, Voit received nine individual contributions and two more from political action committees, including $5,000 from Citizens for Prosperity in America Today.
Though he received fewer contributions, Voit spent much of his savings. He dished out $390,038 to Torsella’s $210,198, and at the end of the third cycle, reported $280,000 in unpaid debt and obligations to Torsella’s $55,000.
Torsella had more than $1.5 million to propel him through the summer season, while Voit closed out the spring with $139,984.