New Castle News

January 12, 2013

GOP tops Democrats in local campaign funding

John K. Manna
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Pennsylvania Republicans spared no expense when it came to state legislative races last year.

Although Democrats spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in targeted contests, the Republican party outspent them.

According to campaign expense reports filed in Harrisburg, the state Republican party and House and Senate campaign committees spent a total of $685,397 through in-kind contributions in three Lawrence County districts alone.

Their Democratic counterparts spent $136,274 on those races.

The in-kind contributions are funds the parties spent on behalf of the candidates. The candidates do not see any of the money, but they must report it on their campaign expense reports.

A great deal of the money was spent on fliers that flooded voters’ mailboxes in the fall campaign.



LARGEST SPENDING

The largest amount spent by both parties locally was on the 47th senatorial district race between Republican Sen. Elder Vogel and Kimberly Villella, his Democratic challenger.

New Sewickley Township resident Vogel won re-election to a second term, receiving 57 percent of the vote.

He received a total of $399,132 from the Pennsylvania Republican Party and the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, all in-kind contributions used for fliers and media buys.

Villella, a resident of Baden, received in-kind contributions of $111,145 from the Pennsylvania Democratic Party for fliers.

The money in both cases does not include funds raised and spent by the candidates themselves.



INCUMBENTS OUTSPENT

In the 9th District House race, Jason Murtha of Enon Valley received in-kind contributions of $151,728 from the state Republican party and House Republican Campaign Committee for mailers and media buys.

Murtha also received a $5,000 contribution from Friends of Mike Turzai. Turzai is House majority leader.

In sharp contrast, state Rep. Chris Sainato received in-kind contributions totaling $12,700 from the state Democratic party for mailers.

Sainato won re-election to his 10th term by receiving 58 percent of the vote.

Michael See, the GOP candidate in the 10th District House race, received in-kind contributions of $134,536 from the state party and the House campaign committee and used it for fliers and media buys.

His Democratic opponent, state Rep. Jaret Gibbons of Franklin Township, received in-kind contributions of $12,428 from the state party and it was used for fliers. Gibbons was re-elected to his fourth term, receiving 53 percent of the vote.



OTHER CONTRIBUTIONS

In addition to the in-kind money, Vogel received several large contributions from within his party, which included $50,000 from the Friends of Dominic Pileggi and $10,000 from the Friends of Ted Erickson committees. Pileggi is Senate majority leader and Erickson is a senator from Delaware County.

Villella also received $10,000 from the Citizens for Hughes committee and $6,500 from the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee. Hughes is a senator from Philadelphia.

Villella said her race was targeted by the Democratic State Committee.

“It’s always been a Democratic seat,” she said.

“Their resources were endless in this election cycle,” she said of the Republican party. “And I think that impacted the results.”

She noted she was the only Senate candidate in the state who ran against an incumbent.



DEMOCRATIC VIEW

Aren Platt, executive director of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, said Democrats were outspent by Republicans 3 to 1 in Senate races statewide. Despite the spending disparity, he noted, the Democrats picked up three Senate seats. Republicans now have an edge of 27-23 in the Senate.

He said the spending for Vogel was “on the high end, but not unusual.”

Calling Villella a good candidate, Platt said, “The money spent on Villella was very well spent.”

The in-kind contributions for Vogel pale in comparison to what he received in 2008 from the party: $874,127.

“It was a new race and a tossup between two people,” Vogel said of his first contest, which had no incumbents.

Of the party’s contributions, he said, “Campaigns are expensive.”

He added that he, like other GOP senators, contribute to the Senate campaign committee and the money is then spent throughout the state. He estimated he contributed approximately $250,000 from his campaign fund to the committee last year.

“They (the party) decide where it gets spent.”

Of his party, See said, “They’re going to put the money in the races they think are most winnable.”

The North Sewickley Township resident said he didn’t receive party support in his first bid for the 10th District seat in 2010.

However, the closeness of that race “is why I got support” this time, he said.

Gibbons won the first race against See by less than 900 votes. In the November election, Gibbons won by more than 1,400 votes.

Sainato said the Republican party targeted several House races in western Pennsylvania, including his.

“I’ve never seen this much money spent,” said Sainato, who has been in the House since 1995.

“I was happy with my vote numbers considering how much money was spent. Money is important, but it’s not everything.”

Attempts to reach the Republican state committees and Murtha were unsuccessful.

(Email: jmanna@ncnewsonline.com)