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Spending in Pennsylvania's high court race blows past $5M

Matt Rourke

Spending in the race for an open seat on Pennsylvania's state Supreme Court has blown past $5 million, according to new campaign finance reports, with less than two weeks left until Election Day.

Reports filed with the state Friday show that most of it, or roughly $3 million, has been spent to help Republican Kevin Brobson, including spending by third-party groups in the race. That compared with about $2 million to help Democrat Maria McLaughlin through last Monday.

The reports are out as attack ads are hitting the airwaves on both sides.

Brobson's largest donor, by far, is a group that receives millions from suburban Philadelphia billionaire Jeffrey Yass, whose favored issue is boosting public school alternatives, like charter schools, and has become perhaps the largest donor to Republicans in Pennsylvania. It has spent more than $1.7 million to help Brobson.

The state Republican Party also has spent more than $500,000 to help Brobson, while a number of business associations also have contributed money to Brobson.

For McLaughlin, labor unions have contributed more than $900,000, while the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association's political action committee has given almost that same amount. The state Democratic Party has kicked in about $300,000, according to the reports.

The amount spent goes well beyond the last race in Pennsylvania for an open high court seat, in 2017, but remains short of the top spenders in 2015′s contest for three open seats.

The election is Nov. 2. The amount spent on the contest before then could easily exceed $6 million, with the campaigns reporting more than $1 million combined in unspent money and new contributions.

Brobson and McLaughlin are running for a vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Thomas Saylor. The high court is currently in Democratic hands, 5-2, so the race will not change the partisan majority.

Brobson, 50, of suburban Harrisburg, has been a judge on the state Commonwealth Court for more than a decade. McLaughlin, 55, who spent almost two decades as a prosecutor in Philadelphia, was elected to the state Superior Court three years ago after serving as a city judge from 2012-17.

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