Filings unveiled Friday showed a competitive financial race for Allegheny County executive between Republican Joe Rockey and Democrat Sara Innamorato. Rockey had a distinct edge, though, after raising $1.6 million in the last four months and reporting $367,195 on hand heading into the campaign’s final 10 days.
Innamorato reported raising $649,599 during that time and holds $194,904.
The candidates tapped different types of donors to fuel their campaigns for the region’s highest political office. Rockey leaned heavily on a few individual donors and a prominent labor union, while Innamorato drew most heavily from three unions and a political ally.
Rockey’s campaign got 43% of its funds from just four entities — the political action committee [PAC] of the Western PA Laborers union, trucking magnate Charles Hammell III, philanthropist and professional gambler William Benter and philanthropist and investment firm manager Kent McElhattan.
Innamorato’s four largest donors — the PACs of IBEW Local Union 5, IUOE Local 66 and the Greater PA Carpenters’ Union, plus Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey’s campaign — comprised about 18% of her total fundraising. Her small-dollar raising — donations of less than $250 — made up 9% of her intake, compared to 3% for Rockey.
Separate from funds raised by the two candidates’ campaigns, the race for Allegheny County executive has attracted major spending by outside entities.
A PAC that received a large donation from Philadelphia-area billionaire Jeffrey Yass spent about $230,000 on ads boosting Rockey from Sept. 19 through Oct. 23.
The Working Families Party, a New York-based progressive group, spent money on television ads and mailers to promote Innamorato during the primary campaign, but it remains unclear how much they will throw behind her ahead of the Nov. 7 election. A representative told WESA last week that it would get involved on Innamorato’s behalf, but a filing published Friday showed they had not done so as of Oct. 23.
Innamorato called a press conference Thursday to call attention to Yass’ support of Rockey, saying it showed Rockey is less moderate than he claims. Yass, who donates heavily in elections statewide, is a proponent of alternatives to public schools and a major backer of Carolyn Carluccio, the Republican candidate for Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Carluccio also received support from anti-abortion groups during the primary.
“[Yass] has spent millions of dollars supporting Republican election deniers and anti-abortion extremists,” Innamorato said Thursday. “It’s the same reason why he’s supporting Republican Joe Rockey.”
Rockey has repeatedly declined to talk about abortion, saying the executive has no role in the issue.
Rockey campaign spokesperson Dennis Roddy pointed out that the campaign is legally barred from coordinating with the outside group funded by Yass, and said that Rockey has never met or spoken with Yass. (Campaigns can coordinate with outside groups, but then have to disclose the groups’ support as in-kind donations.)
“[Innamorato] is somebody who doesn’t have an agenda for Allegheny County, so she’s just smearing Joe,” Roddy said.
Yass did not donate directly to Rockey or even directly buy ads on his behalf; his money passed through a series of four PACs, the last of which, called Save Allegheny County Action, purchased ads supporting Rockey and criticizing Innamorato.
Roddy criticized Innamorato for a page on her website that outlines talking points about Rockey and includes video and images of Innamorato. He said it is an example of redboxing, a method used by some campaigns to float messages for allies to use without formal coordination. Roddy accused the Innamorato campaign of using the page to skirt campaign finance law, which requires the disclosure of in-kind contributions from groups who purchase ads after coordinating messages with the campaign.
Innamorato campaign spokesperson Sam Wasserman said the page is merely information for voters, and that “Voters deserve to know the truth about Republican Rockey.”
District attorney showdown
In an echo of the spring primary campaign, a PAC bankrolled by billionaire George Soros put its weight behind Matt Dugan’s campaign for Allegheny County district attorney. The PAC, Pennsylvania Justice & Public Safety, gave about $1.1 million in in-kind donations to Dugan’s campaign, mostly in the form of TV ads, after giving more than $700,000 in ads in the spring.
The primary campaign support helped Dugan defeat incumbent Stephen Zappala, who received enough Republican write-in votes to claim that party’s nomination and take Dugan on in the General Election.
Since June, Zappala has raised more than $680,000 and he had about $110,000 on hand as of Oct. 23. His fundraising included $50,000 from the Western PA Laborers PAC, $25,000 from the Mid-Atlantic Laborers’ Political League and $35,000 from Hammell. The campaign also received loans for a combined $80,000 from Charles and Richard Zappala in October.
Charlie Wolfson is PublicSource’s local government reporter and a Report for America corps member. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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