The 2023 election to set Allegheny County’s course
Update (2/1/22): A filing made public late Wednesday showed that attorney Dave Fawcett is the second-best-funded candidate for Allegheny County executive, with $308,000 in his campaign account at the end of 2022. That total makes him one of four candidates to amass more than $100,000. Almost all of his funds came from contributions of $250 or more, and half — $150,000 — came from a loan Fawcett made to his campaign.
A disclosure for another hopeful, county Councilwoman Olivia Bennett, showed about $4,000 in fundraising last year and $2,500 in the campaign account at the end of 2022.
Reported 1/31/23: Disclosures released Tuesday showed candidates gearing up for a high-profile and expensive race for Allegheny County executive this year. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have already been dealt out by labor unions, other PACs and individuals, with months left in the race.
County Treasurer John Weinstein, city Controller Michael Lamb and state Rep. Sara Innamorato each entered 2023 with six-figure sums in their campaign accounts, but reports detailing 2022 activity show they got there in very different ways. Four other candidates with less fundraising history, meanwhile, showed no immediate signs of making headway in a crowded race.
Weinstein, who entered 2023 with about $481,000 in campaign funds, more than any of his rivals, relied on large checks written by political action committees and individuals that have been active in local politics for years. Two weeks before his campaign announcement, the PAC for Steamfitters Local 449 wrote a double-take-inducing $102,000 check to Weinstein’s campaign, and the Western PA Laborers’ PAC gave him $50,000 around the same time.
The largest individual contribution was a $100,000 check from Charles Hammel of the Pitt Ohio trucking company. Tuesday’s filing reveals five-figure giving from eight individuals — $10,000 each from parking executive Merrill Stabile, insurance executive William Lieberman, development consultant John Verbanac, developer Ira Gumberg, real estate professional James Scalo and attorney Nicholas Varischetti; and $25,000 each from engineering firm executive R.J. Lewis and trucking executive Patrick Gallagher, whose employment was misreported on Weinstein’s disclosures.
Innamorato entered 2023 with $101,000 in her account and appears to be leaning into a strategy of pursuing small donations from individuals more than any other candidate. Last year, she raised 11% of her funds in contributions of $50 or less; 39% came in contributions of $250 or less. She did receive one five-figure check: $15,000 from the PAC associated with Service Employees International Union 32BJ.
Tuesday morning, Innamorato sent her supporters an email asking small-dollar supporters to “chip in $25.”
Weinstein received 42% of his 2022 fundraising from just two contributions and received almost no money from contributions of $250 or less. Lamb received less than 1% of his 2022 fundraising in contributions $50 or less and just 5% from contributions $250 or less.
Lamb managed to gather a considerable amount — $167,000 — despite some of his past supporters backing Weinstein this time around. He received some contributions from unions, including late-2022 checks from PACs associated with the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, Heat and Frost Insulators and Plumbers Local 27. He also rolled over about $29,000 he kept on hand from a past run for state office.
McClelland, a project manager for the county’s Department of Human Services, reported raising about $9,000 in 2022 and had $8,174 on hand at the start of 2023. Filings from Fawcett, Bennett and Parker were not available early Tuesday evening.
Elections aren’t decided by dollars alone — the region’s last two Democratic primaries saw mayoral and congressional candidates lose despite spending more than their opponents. But money is a key to getting a candidate’s name and ideas in voters’ minds. As Weinstein said at his Jan. 12 campaign launch, “You’re going to be seeing a lot of commercials.”
The public won’t get another clear look at candidates’ finances until May 5, the next disclosure deadline, 11 days before the May 16 primaries.
Charlie Wolfson is PublicSource’s local government reporter and a Report for America corps member. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @chwolfson.
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