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Pa. Rep. Cutler says Democrats charged taxpayers for two Biden campaign events at Capitol

House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster.
Matt Rourke
House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster.

Pennsylvania House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler on Wednesday accused the state Department of General Services of spending taxpayer dollars on two events hosted by President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign at the Capitol this month.

The events Cutler specifically questioned were a rally on the Capitol steps with two police officers who defended the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot — leading some Republican lawmakers to boo and exit the chamber while the officers were honored on the House floor — and the launch of the Black Pennsylvanians for Biden-Harris Coalition with members of the Legislative Black Caucus and Lt. Gov. Austin Davis on the South Lawn of the Irvis Office Building.

Booking receipts from DGS to the Biden campaign confirm that the department’s equipment was requested for both events. But the receipts don’t show that any equipment rental fees were charged to the campaign.

“While we respect the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech and expression, the use of official resources for campaign purposes is unethical and illegitimate,” Cutler wrote to McNeill. “It further erodes the faith and confidence taxpayers have in the use of their funded resources and the operation of their state government.”

Cutler, of Drumore Township, wrote in a letter to DGS Secretary Reggie McNeil that video of Tuesday’s news conference shows DGS employees operating state-owned equipment, meaning taxpayers were funding the events “in furtherance of clear campaign goals and political ends.”

Cutler also said the rally with the former U.S. Capitol Police officers provided an excuse for Democratic leaders to “politicize proceedings of the House Floor” – a reference to the fact that the two officers were brought into the House chamber, prompting a handful of Republicans to jeer them.

Video from the House that day shows Cutler applauding with other lawmakers and posing for a photo with the officers.

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Republican lawmakers, too, frequently participate in non-legislative events hosted on the Capitol’s front steps, such as the annual Second Amendment and March for Life rallies.

The first is often directly organized by lawmakers and attendees from the public can be seen carrying various pro-Donald Trump and anti-Democrat signs. Speakers at the latter regularly criticize the actions of Democrats while applauding Republican efforts to restrict abortion access. Cutler has participated as a speaker at both events.

“The difference with those events and the ones held by legislative Democrats over the last several weeks is that they do not use taxpayer resources advocating for the election or defeat of political candidates,” said Jason Gottesman, Cutler’s spokesman. “The events held by legislative Democrats had campaign signs, had Biden campaign surrogates, and were specifically designed to help the Biden reelection campaign.”

House Democratic spokespeople said President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign organized both events this month.

Provided a copy of Cutler’s letter and asked for comment, the Biden campaign provided a statement saying Tuesday’s rally “was a campaign event in a public place, attendees took part in their personal capacity, and we’re proud to have the support of Black leaders representing communities across Pennsylvania.”

The campaign’s statement did not address last week’s event with the U.S. Capitol Police officers and did not answer whether DGS should have borne the events’ cost.

A statement from DGS sent Wednesday night did not answer questions sent by LNP | LancasterOnline, including one seeking a total cost for the events.

Instead, its statement cites Pennsylvania Code Chapter 86 saying its scheduling of events will not “be influenced or affected by considerations of age, sex, race, national origin, handicap, religion, [or] partisan politics.”

State Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, was at Tuesday’s event; he later reiterated that he and the other lawmakers were at there in their personal capacities.

“President Biden and Vice President Harris have delivered for Black Pennsylvanians, and we will unapologetically spread the word and deliver for them,” said Hughes.

State Rep. Izzy Smith-Wade-El, a Lancaster city Democrat and secretary of the Legislative Black Caucus, declined to comment; as did a spokeswoman for caucus Chairman Napoleon Nelson, of Montgomery County.

A spokeswoman for Davis did not respond to a request for comment.

Booking technicalities

Cutler’s letter cited Commonwealth Media Services policy restricting political events from being held inside the Capitol Media Center. That policy doesn’t address hosting political events at outdoor facilities, like the Capitol steps and the Irvis South Lawn – something both parties and many outside groups do regularly.

Capitol Complex events, including any hosted at the Capitol’s surrounding outside areas, “may include rallies, exhibits, news conferences, protests and other expressions of First Amendment rights by Pennsylvania citizens,” according to DGS’s website.

The DGS application for holding an event at the Capitol does not list a campaign category when seeking details about an event.

The website also includes a disclaimer saying events “are not hosted nor planned” by DGS and “permission to hold events does not constitute endorsement of the persons or organizations conducting the events, or the views or content expressed during such events, by the Department of General Services or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

Read more from our partners, LNP | LancasterOnline.