With two weeks until Pennsylvania voters elect their next state attorney general, the two candidates eyeing the post each had more than $1 million to spend in the final stretch.
At this point, the amounts raised are significantly less than the totals raised by the two candidates in 2004, the last time there was an open race for attorney general.
Former Lackawanna County prosecutor Kathleen Kane maintained an edge in the money race, reporting $1.2 million on hand at the middle of last month in campaign finance reports filed with the state.
Since then, however, the Democrat announced on her website that the campaign received a $300,000 boost in the wake of “outrage” over a pro-GOP group’s ad that she said made false statements about Kane’s involvement, as a prosecutor, in a rape case.
In total, according to Kane’s website, she had raised $1.77 million since the primary election and had more than $1.4 million on hand.
Kane’s opponent, Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed, ran unopposed in the primary and raised about $870,000 in the reporting period from May 15 to September 15. Freed had just more than $1 million in the bank for the final six weeks of campaigning.
Freed has said publicly he did not sponsor the ad. It was placed by the Washington, D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee. The ad alleges Kane let two men accused of rape off with a soft plea deal, which Kane has denied.
As for the candidates, though, at least as of press time, neither had gone on television since Kane secured a primary victory over former U.S. Representative Patrick Murphy in April.
That will likely change, as political watchers said Pennsylvania voters will likely see some form of TV advertising from both Freed and Kane before November 6.
Nonetheless, they added that the advertisements’ impact would likely be limited because neither candidates’ coffers appear to be robust enough to finance a big buy.
According to G. Terry Madonna, the director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College, it would take about $5 million in advertising to develop useful name recognition in the race, leaving both Freed and Kane millions short. In all likelihood, rather than a statewide surge of primetime advertising, the candidates will strategically target key, ticket-splitting audiences on affordable networks heading into the race.
In the spring, Kane used select TV spots to move past a formidable opponent in Murphy, but her campaign was supported by a loan of nearly $1.8 million from her husband.
For the general election, Kane appears to have broadened her donor base. Her campaign finance report shows she received large donations from prominent Philadelphia law firms and attorneys, as well as business executives from around the state. Law firms from New York to Houston also gave by the tens of thousands. On the political action committee side, Kane received most of her support from labor organizations and left-leaning organizations. Large personal donations from Kane’s family came in at $6,000.
However, Kane also led the race in debt. The sizeable loan from her husband remains unpaid, according to Kane’s report.
Freed, on the other hand, has received his share of support from lawyers and law firms, but the bulk of his financial backing came from business advocates and executives across the state. The 15-year prosecutor also recently boasted the support of more than 40 district attorneys across the state, including at least one Democrat. Political action committees associated with Pennsylvania businesses, GOP leaders and law firms also donated to Freed’s campaign.
While slightly behind in money, Freed has the benefit of history on his side.
Since the attorney general became an elected row office in 1981, Pennsylvanians have exclusively chosen Republicans as the state’s top prosecutor.
The last state attorney general race featuring two fresh faces was in 2004, pitting now-Governor Tom Corbett against Democrat Jim Eisenhower, who was then a partner at Ballard Spahr. Corbett had held the position before, however, after he was appointed in 1995 to complete the term of Ernest D. Preate Jr., forced to resign after being convicted of mail fraud charges.
In 2004, Corbett outraised and outlasted Eisenhower, generating more than $3.5 million in campaign contributions and claiming the election with about 50 percent of the votes. Eisenhower raised just shy of $2.5 million, according to campaign finance records. Corbett was re-elected in 2008.
In the current race, Kane leads in both money and diversity of sponsorship. Among her biggest donors were the Committee for a Better Tomorrow and the Democratic Attorneys General Association of Denver, each of which contributed $100,000. Political organizations for a host of labor unions gave, often by the tens of thousands.
As far as local law firms, here were Kane’s biggest donors:
• King of Prussia, Pa., securities class action firm Kessler Topaz Meltzer & Check gave $30,000.
• Attorneys from Philadelphia and New Jersey plaintiffs firm Cohen, Placitella & Roth gave more than $30,000.
• Ballard Spahr wrote two checks for $10,000 apiece.
• The Haviland Firm gave $20,000.
Outside of Philadelphia, Kane’s biggest legal contributors were Jay W. Eisenhofer, of Grant & Eisenhofer, who cut Kane two checks totaling $20,000. His partner, Stuart Grant, gave $7,500.
A total of $30,000 came from Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann, while the Houston-based firm of Heard, Robins, Cloud & Black contributed $20,000.
Jacob Wentland, who said he was a special agent for the U.S. government on his campaign contribution form, laced Kane with an additional $30,000, as did Charles Hammell, CEO of trucking company Pitt Ohio Express.
Freed made financial headway with help from the Friends of Dominic Pileggi — Pileggi, the Pennsylvania Senate majority leader, is a Delaware County Republican — to the tune of $30,000. A similar political group for Senate Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, contributed $25,000.
The Pennsylvania Future Fund wrote three $25,000 checks and the Pennsylvania Automotive Association PAC gave $15,000.
There was some overlap among Freed and Kane’s support from large law firms in Pennsylvania, but Kane collected significantly more from the legal community. Ballard Spahr and Kessler Topaz each gave Freed $10,000.
H. Laddie Montague Jr. of Berger & Montague contributed $10,000 to Freed, while his partner Daniel Berger donated the same amount to Kane.
Philanthropist and Pennsylvania Republican heavyweight John M. Templeton Jr. gave more than $100,000 to Freed.
But the current race is subject to a host of variables that extend beyond money. First, and perhaps most significant, is the presidential race.
“These candidates for AG are somewhat at the mercy of what happens at the top of their tickets,” political strategist Larry Ceisler said.
Having said that, Ceisler said Pennsylvania does not appear to be a “battleground” state this year, clearing the airways of “political clutter” and allowing row office candidates some room to maneuver.
Ceisler said he expects both candidates to pick up television advertising, perhaps starting in smaller markets before the more expensive, yet highly coveted, Philadelphia suburban voters.
There’s also the issue of gender, and whether female voters will turn out for Kane in a manner that would swing the election.
According to a poll released by the Allentown Morning Call and Muhlenberg College last week, Kane was leading Freed 33 percent to 28 percent. About 37 percent of respondents were undecided.