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Senate Special Election Candidates Raised $1M Each In 2019

An-Li Herring
90.5 WESA (left) Courtesty of the Iovino campaign (right)

The special election in the 37th state Senate District is just over one week away, but when it comes to campaign finances, both Democrat Pam Iovino and Republican D. Raja have delivered on assurances made to their party’s base. 

The two are vying in a contest to replace Guy Reschenthaler, who was elected to Congress last year, in a district that ranges from the airport-area suburbs to the South Hills suburbs of Pittsburgh. Each filed the first, and last, complete campaign-finance reports of 2019 on Friday. And while those reports show the candidates raised almost identical sums, they built up their totals in very different ways. 

Raja garnered his party’s nomination in part because of his assurances he would be willing to spend his own money – and nearly 84 cents of every dollar his campaign raised came from his own pocket. Iovino, meanwhile, assured local Democrats that she would be able to draw support from party leaders and allies statewide. And her biggest backers include Gov. Tom Wolf and other officeholders, as well as unions and other Democratic allies.

Iovino raised $1,019,410.27 between January and March 18. Far and away her biggest support was Gov. Tom Wolf – or more precisely two political committees tied to him. Both Tom Wolf for Governor, Wolf’s main election committee, and the Wolf-affiliated Rebuild Pennsylvania, gave her $250,000 – making Wolf responsible for just under half of her total support. A number of other state Democrats also supported Iovino, including Pittsburgh-area Senator Wayne Fontana, who gave $7,500, and Philadelphia Senator Vince Hughes, who gave $20,000.

Unions, for which Iovino regularly pledges support, also were major donors. A statewide teachers union-backed Iovino with $35,000 in contributions, while committees tied to the Service Employees International Union contributed $80,000. Trial-lawyers organizations in Harrisburg and Philadelphia contributed $45,000 between them.

Iovino’s efforts were also boosted by over $358,000 in “in-kind” donations from the state Democratic Party and the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, which seeks to elect Democrats to the legislature. Those donations included money spent on digital ads, mailings, and staff expenses.

Iovino’s campaign spent $914,000 on its own account, including contributions to state Democratic groups. Much of that money was spent on TV buys made through Iowa-based consultants GPS Impact.

On the Republican side, Raja loaned $850,114 to his campaign between January and mid-March, his campaign filings show. That makes him the largest donor by far, out of $1,014,858.98 in total funding raised by mid-month. The day after the period covered by the reports, Raja lent himself another $170,000, a supplemental campaign-finance filing shows.  

Raja’s other key backers include prominent state-level Republicans. They were led by the campaign committee of state Senator Joe Scarnati, the president pro tempore of the body, who gave the Raja campaign $50,000. Murrysville state Rep. Robert Brooks contributed $15,000 to Raja, while Allentown Senator Pat Browne gave another $10,000.

Another $20,000 came from prominent GOP donor Lance Shaner, whose State College firm invests in businesses that range from hotel to wastewater treatment for the natural gas industry. Raja has made his support of natural gas a mainstay of his campaign.

Raja’s bid received additional support from the state Republican Party, which has provided almost $70,000 of “in-kind” support, mostly in the form of postage for mailings.

The campaign to date has spent nearly $911,000 on election activities, much of which has gone to out-of-state political consultants in Maryland, Texas, and Washington D.C.

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.