This story was originally published by PublicSource, a news partner of NEXTpittsburgh. PublicSource is a nonprofit media organization delivering local journalism at publicsource.org. You can sign up for their newsletters at publicsource.org/newsletters.
By Charlie Wolfson
Millions of dollars are flooding the campaign for Allegheny County executive, new disclosures showed Friday. As six Democrats spent the first four months of 2023 angling for the party nomination to replace Rich Fitzgerald in the region’s highest office, they took in donations from grassroots, small-dollar donors as well as labor unions, business people and allied politicians, while some poured personal funds into their electoral bids.
The executive candidate who raised the most campaign money last year, county Treasurer John Weinstein, did not meet the 5 p.m. deadline for disclosing contributions received and expenditures. He entered the year with $481,000 in his account, and in February announced that his campaign had raised more than $1 million to date. But voters will have to wait to find out who has paid into his campaign since Jan. 1.
Three other Democrats each raised well into six figures this year:
- State Rep. Sara Innamorato collected $843,000, built largely on contributions from service worker unions and the activist organization Pennsylvania United. Her campaign reported receiving nearly $69,000 from donors who gave $250 or less, but also contributions of $105,000 from the PAC of advocacy group PA United, $100,000 from the Service Employees International Union [SEIU] Local 668’s PAC, and $95,000 from SEIU Healthcare’s campaign arm.
- City Controller Michael Lamb raised $628,000, including $75,000 from Fitzgerald’s campaign war chest and $77,000 in loans from Lamb himself to his campaign.
- Attorney Dave Fawcett raised $630,000, including $350,000 in loans from himself. Going back to December, Fawcett has put half a million dollars of his own wealth into his run.
In a press release, Weinstein’s campaign blamed the delay on “a technological failure” and pledged disclosure to the county on Monday. State law calls for modest fines against campaigns that fail to meet disclosure deadlines, capping them at $250.
The only candidate on the Republican ballot, former PNC executive Joe Rockey, reported raising about $209,000 in 2023, almost half borrowed from the candidate’s personal wealth.
Former Pittsburgh Public Schools board member Theresa Colaizzi reported raising just $100, and businessman Will Parker reported no fundraising.
Campaigns are not always won by the highest bidder; recent high-profile primaries for Pittsburgh mayor and U.S. House were won by candidates who were outspent. But television ads and direct mail, and the name recognition they offer candidates, can be a critical boost in a crowded field.
The four candidates with the most funding — Weinstein, Fawcett, Lamb and Innamorato — have each invested big chunks of their cash in TV ads. Some candidates are seeing outside groups purchase ads on their behalf. The Working Families Party PAC has purchased airtime for ads supporting Innamorato, and Fitzgerald’s campaign has bought slots for pro-Lamb ads, according to FCC records.
The wave of money crashing over this year’s county elections, particularly the presence of six-figure checks from individual donors, has moved a county councilman to try to add regulations for future elections.
Councilman Tom Duerr is proposing a contribution limit that would mirror federal restrictions, which currently limit individuals to donating $3,300 to a candidate per election, and limit PACs to $5,000. The same restrictions are already in place in City of Pittsburgh elections.
Duerr’s legislation has garnered some support and it cleared a committee vote in April. It is likely to come up for a final vote in late May. It may need a supermajority to become law, though: Fitzgerald said he will likely veto the measure.
The bill also includes more frequent campaign finance disclosures for county candidates. Currently, candidates only need to disclose their primary election fundraising and spending once at the beginning of the year and once 11 days before the election.
Elsewhere on the ballot
The deluge of cash is not limited to the executive race. In the heated contest for district attorney, challenger Matt Dugan got a massive boost from a political action committee called PA Justice and Public Safety PAC — Dugan listed in-kind contributions from the group for more than $760,000 worth of television ads. The PAC has supported progressive-leaning district attorney candidates in numerous states. Dugan’s campaign itself raised just about a tenth of that — $76,764 through May 1.
Stephen Zappala, the longtime incumbent trying to fend off Dugan and win a seventh term as prosecutor, raised $226,800 this year, plus a $100,000 loan from Frank A. Zappala, dated May 4.
Significant money touched the campaign for an at-large seat on County Council, too. Joanna Doven raised almost $130,000 in her bid to unseat Bethany Hallam, fueled in large part by politicians and developers who have clashed with Hallam since her 2019 entrance to the political scene.
Hallam raised $42,437, 29% coming from donations under $250.
Campaign finance disclosures by candidates for office in Allegheny County can be viewed here. Choose “Campaign Finance Reports” in the drop-down menu for Search Type.