Early Campaign Finance Reports Show Financial Advantage For Incumbents

Mar 5, 2019

Candidates running for office in the city of Pittsburgh were required to file their first campaign-finance reports of the 2019 primary season on Friday. And if there’s one lesson to be drawn, it’s that it still pays to be an incumbent. That may be especially true in District 9, where Leon Ford, who was one of the most visible challengers to an incumbent, appears to be keeping a far lower profile.

Under a city ordinance, candidates must file financial reports detailing their financial activity in the three months prior to the primary, which will be May 21. The first report covered financial activity in January and February, and was to be filed with the city’s Ethics Hearing Board, which has posted the reports online.

The city council candidate who attracted the most financial support, District 5’s Corey O’Connor, is also the lone incumbent on council not facing an obvious challenger. He raised over $46,000 to add to his year-end war chest of $117,666.70. He spent over $37,000 in the period, but still started March with $126,641.90.

Other races were only somewhat less lopsided. In city council District 3, incumbent Bruce Kraus began March with $39,732.33, after raising $29,000 in the first two months of the year. That’s more than 10 times the combined amount his three rivals – Chris Kumanchik, Amy Schrempf and Ken Wolfe – reported raising in the same period.

Similarly, District 7 City Council incumbent Deb Gross reported having $30,498.22 after raising $5,995 and spending $9,430.19 in the first two months of the year. Her rival, Deirdre Kane, put up $2,550 – almost all of which was a loan from Kane herself to cover a filing fee to seek the Allegheny County Democratic Committee endorsement this weekend.

Ricky Burgess, the incumbent in City Council District 9, raised over $16,000 in the early part of the year. He spent roughly half that, but still ended with $15,699.57. He raised nearly five times as much money as the total raised by the four rivals who filed reports: Cherylie Fuller, Judy Ginyard, Randall Taylor, and Kierran Young.   

Perhaps the largest surprise lay in a report that wasn’t filed: Leon Ford, who mounted a campaign last year in District 9, had not submitted a finance report by the close of business Monday. He is the most prominent candidate not to do so other than Darlene Harris, who has publicly defied the ordinance before and continues to maintain it is illegal now.

Ford did file an annual report with the county elections office, as all candidates must do under state law. The report, filed two weeks late, showed that he raised just under $25,000, most of which was financed by Ford himself.

Neither Ford nor his campaign responded to messages seeking comment Monday. And although his campaign launch generated considerable attention last fall, it is not clear how actively he has campaigned recently.

Ford did not seek the Allegheny County Democratic Committee endorsement – surprising some observers who thought he would be well positioned to win it. A spokesman who was active with the campaign early on told WESA last month that he was no longer associated with the effort. Ford’s public profile has also diminished in recent weeks: His campaign Twitter and Facebook account have not been active since January. A Feb. 18 Instagram post said he was “focused on self care and will not be using social media for several weeks.”

Candidates have until March 12 to file petitions if they want to appear on the May 21 primary ballot.