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David McCormick's PAC boosts Republicans ... and his brand

Dave McCormick talks in front of an American flag.
Keith Srakocic
Dave McCormick talks to supporters during the 2022 Republican primary election for U.S. Senate.

When Dave McCormick established his Pennsylvania Rising political committee this spring, his stated goal was “to provide resources to strong Republicans running at the state and local level and to support efforts to increase participation in upcoming elections.” But a review of its operations adds weight to suspicions that it also may be an effort to help position McCormick’s own widely anticipated run for U.S. Senate next year — and maybe move a book or two along the way.

Pennsylvania Rising has played a limited role in this year’s election cycle, having spent somewhat less than $38,000 since it got underway in mid-March. But that may change quickly: Jeff Yass, a financier from Bala Cynwyd who has become a crucial donor to conservative causes, gave $1 million to the group early last month.

Prior to that donation, the committee posted only modest receipts. McCormick himself was its biggest supporter, having given $27,500 in three payments that finance reports identify as loans. The committee has reported raising a little more than $78,000 from other donations, most of which were smaller-dollar contributions and many of which came from outside Pennsylvania.

Elizabeth Gregory, a spokeswoman for the committee, said its goals include “raising money for candidates in Pennsylvania” through digital ads, bundling donations to those candidates and then supporting Republican candidates and causes. She also cited a statement from McCormick himself asserting, "It's time for Pennsylvania Republicans to start winning again, and we do that by devoting resources to candidates who can bring home a victory this November.”

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So far, most of the committee’s reported expenditures — $32,500 — were indeed spent on donations to other candidates or causes, including $10,000 donated to Allegheny County Executive hopeful Joe Rockey received $10,000. Gregory said that when combined with activity after the report was filed, Pennsylvania Rising has backed GOP Supreme Court candidate Carolyn Carluccio with $15,000 to date. Other beneficiaries include state Sen. Devlin Robinson and state Treasurer Stacy Garrity, both of whom are up for re-election next year.

But the committee also appears to have invested slightly more than $1,100in Facebook ads to boost the profile of a book McCormick released earlier this year, "Superpower in Peril." This spring, Pennsylvania Rising launched a brief Facebook ad campaign for the book, urging those who saw the spot — most of whom apparently lived outside the state — to buy the book and learn “what made me the man I am today,” as one ad puts it. “I'm asking you to read it all the way through.”

Reports also show the committee spent $860.72 for “donor mementos” purchased from online book wholesaler Bulkbooks: The site lists McCormick’s book for sale, though the reports don’t identify what materials were purchased from the site, and Gregory did not respond to a query about it.

Those book-related expenditures raised the eyebrows of state Democrats.

“The real David McCormick is a Wall Street mega-millionaire who only cares about his own bottom line — that’s why he’s using his political PAC to boost his own book sales,” said Pennsylvania Democratic Party spokesperson Maddy McDaniel.

Citing McCormick’s career with global asset management firm Bridgewater Associates — whose investments in China and other countries have been criticized by McCormick foes — she added, “David McCormick has made it clear he’s out for himself, not Pennsylvanians.”

Gregory did not respond to queries about the committee’s literary activities, though it’s unlikely that three- or four-digit marketing expenditures will drive “Superpower in Peril” to the top of any bestseller lists.

Regulators have been loath to take up such cases. Pennsylvania Democrats raised similar questions about 2022 Senate candidate Sean Parnell, suggesting he would benefit from his campaign’s online advertisements for his book. But in May, the Federal Election Commission dismissed the complaint. Commission Vice Chair Sean J. Cooksey wrote that “the commission’s current standard for assessing permissible campaign book promotion is vague and unworkable,” with conflicting standards about when such advertising becomes a form of self-enrichment.

Such lines are often hard to draw in politics, where raising money for a like-minded candidate can be a way of buying goodwill for yourself. McCormick is widely believed to be laying the groundwork for a bid to challenge Democratic incumbent Sen. Bob Casey’s re-election, and little about Pennsylvania Rising’s launch dispels the notion that his ambitions extend farther than securing the state treasurer for Republicans.

The committee’s treasurer, Caitlyn Tortorici, holds the same position in Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign. Gregory herself has previously worked for Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn and the campaign of Florida’s Marco Rubio, among others.

Pennsylvania Rising does have some homegrown talent: Sam DeMarco, who chairs the Republican Party’s chapter in Allegheny County, serves as chair. DeMarco, who said he was “proud to be the chair,” said the committee would provide resources to offset the support from Democratic-aligned unions and other groups.

“This is just trying to assist where assistance is greatly needed,” he said.

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.