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Outside spending group airs ad in 12th Congressional District race, attacking Summer Lee

An outside spending group called "Moderate PAC," but bankrolled by a conservative Republican, is attacking incumbent Congresswoman Summer Lee
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An outside spending group called "Moderate PAC," but bankrolled by a conservative Republican, is attacking incumbent Congresswoman Summer Lee

The campaign for western Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District seat, already bitter, now has its first outside negative ad: a spot hitting incumbent Summer Lee and paid for by a committee bankrolled by one of Pennsylvania’s most prominent conservative financiers.

The 30-second spot is a “contrast” ad which begins by offering a brief biography of Lee’s Democratic challenger, Bhavini Patel. Patel, it says, was “raised by a single mom” and became the first in her family to go to college. “In Congress, she’s going to create jobs and lower costs for families like yours.”

“Summer Lee has a different agenda,” the spot then asserts — an “extreme socialist one” that includes becoming “a media star of the far left.” It describes Lee as a supporter of defunding the police and a foe of President Biden and the Democratic Party generally.

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The ad illustrates those claims with a four-year-old social-media post in which Lee criticizes Biden, and a vote she took against raising the debt ceiling last summer. Lee was one of nearly four dozen Democrats to vote no on the deal, though she made clear that she did so secure in the knowledge that the deal would pass — and because she couldn’t bring herself to “use the poorest people as a bargaining chip, and I can not reward Republican villainy and their extreme tactics with more votes than needed.”

The spot was aired by Moderate PAC, which purports “to strengthen Moderate House Democrats,” but whose only significant donor on record is Jeffrey Yass, an eastern Pennsylvania hedge-fund manager whose contributions to conservative candidates and causes like school vouchers has loomed increasingly larger in recent years. (Yass, an investor in the company that owns TikTok, had a meeting with Donald Trump shortly before Trump announced his opposition to a bill that would require the company’s sale to strip it of ties to China — a measure that had been popular with Republicans.)

Yass gave Moderate PAC $1 million in 2022: It raised only $35 in donations last year, though the new ad suggests there has been an influx of cash since then. The head of the organization told Politico, which first reported the buy earlier this week, that it would spend $270,000 on the spot, and that money came from “donations raised recently in Lee’s district.”

Lee’s campaign has been bracing for the emergence of outside spending groups, though it has largely focused its warnings on hardline pro-Israel groups. (The Moderate PAC ad makes no mention of the issue, though neither did spots that targeted her in 2022 by groups who support Israel's cause.)

In a Thursday press release, the campaign seized on the Yass ties, writing that “The Republican billionaire cavalry has finally arrived to flood our Democratic primary with attack ads funded by the very people jockeying to elect Donald Trump and keep Republicans in the majority in Congress.”

The ad is set to run on all three of Pittsburgh’s network affiliates, and political filings show the committee has paid for spots to air into next week. The spot is produced independent of the Patel’s bid, though it makes use of footage posted by her campaign for such purposes — a common election tactic.

The spot follows Patel’s own first campaign ad, which offers some of the same criticism of Lee as a Democrat who undermines Biden and the party, and who didn’t support Biden’s infrastructure bill. (The measure passed before Lee took office, but she has expressed reservations about it, saying it should have been more expansive.)

Lee’s campaign has yet to go up on the airwaves.

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.