Pennsylvania is one of 10 states that do not restrict donations from individuals and political action committees. This is evident in the fundraising reports of the new legislature.
The class of 2023 new lawmakers raised more than $10 million that year. Among first-time winners, the median amount raised was $127,972 for State House races and $495,692 for Senate races.
With the majority of the lower chamber at stake, candidates raised well over half a million dollars in some high-profile State House contests.
cost among the highest
Pete Quist — the deputy director of research at OpenSecrets, a bipartisan group that tracks money in US politics — said 2022 fundraising totals for state nominees in Pennsylvania were among the highest in the US, behind only California, Illinois and Texas.
Not all successful Pennsylvania candidates have raised a ton of money — totals range from as little as $20,000 to over $1 million.
The highest fundraising totals were recorded in contested districts, such as For example, in the thriving, populous collarbones of Philadelphia, or in other growing suburban areas experiencing political change.
Many of the newly elected lawmakers lamented that races cost so much money to win – even those who have received some of the heftiest donations. Missy Cerrato, whose victory in the embattled 151st district guaranteed the Democrats their majority, raised nearly $700,000 in 2022 and also received more than $500,000 in in-kind donations such as advertising.
“The reality is those millions of dollars could have gone to so many other people and things to help people. It was very difficult to accept going into this race,” said Cerrato. “Having previously worked with charities and been part of the real desperation some people face economically, the amount of money going into these races, while required for decent legislation, need not be as extreme as it is. “
With your own money
Many lawmakers who spoke to Spotlight PA quit their jobs to campaign, citing time and money as the two most important considerations in their candidacy decisions. At least 14 first-time lawmakers have donated over $10,000 to their own campaigns.
State elect Joanne Stehr (R., Schuylkill) teased the least of any member of the freshman class. She raised just over $20,000 over the course of her candidacy, of which she donated $3,500 to herself. She said she needed to take money out of her 401(k).
Stehr, a member of the newly formed Freedom Caucus, was a home health nurse for 30 years before working in health administration. Prior to her election, she had joined her local zoning and planning committee but had no other political experience.
Her main opponent, Ronald Tanney, raised more than double that sum, receiving donations from PACs and incumbent Republican lawmakers.
“I wasn’t the establishment’s pick, I can tell you that,” Stehr said. “Most of their money had already gone into my opponent.”
All four legislative assemblies have campaign committees that collect funds and donate to candidates. The House Democratic Campaign Committee raised more than $16 million in 2022 and its Republican counterpart just over $7 million. Typically, campaign committees support incumbents over newcomers and focus on races they believe will prove politically important.
“Committed to Money”
For example, this year’s redistribution made the 30th District in suburban Pittsburgh competitive for Democrats and became a priority for the HDCC. The committee donated $100,000 to ER doctor Arvind Venkat, who was one of the top freshman fundraisers. His campaign raised more than $1.3 million over the course of his campaign, but despite that haul, Venkat said he supports limiting the influence of money in elections.
“I think it’s gotten outrageous and we end up with a system that’s really too committed to money,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily create the incentives that we want in public office and in public politics.”
Some new lawmakers see fundraising as an inevitable part of the campaign. State Rep. Marla Brown (R., Lawrence) said the fundraising helps assess which candidates are appropriately qualified and able to get their message across.
“Unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil of the process,” Brown said. “But I think if you have the skills to meet people and build trust, it’s really the same skills and working with voters. Both should therefore be able to go hand in hand.”
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