Spending passes $17M in Pennsylvania high court campaign as billionaires, unions and lawyers dig in

Oct 30, 2023, 2:23 PM

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Millions more dollars are flowing into Pennsylvania’s race for an open state Supreme Court seat, as labor unions, trial lawyers and billionaires are spending heavily in the campaign to influence a court that has been pivotal in major election-related cases.

Total spending zipped past $17 million, according to the latest campaign finance reports due Friday, as Democrat Dan McCaffery, Republican Carolyn Carluccio and their allies claw for an advantage in the presidential battleground state.

The election is Nov. 7.

More than half of that spending — at least $12 million — came after Sept. 18, as cash from labor unions, lawyers’ groups, trade associations and wealthy donors underwrites ads on TV, the internet and fliers showing up in the mail across Pennsylvania.

More than $5 million has come from groups that are conduits for two billionaires who are among the GOP’s top national donors.

The contest will not change the fact that Democrats hold a majority on the seven-member court, but it could narrow the Democratic majority to a one-vote margin, 4-3, should Carluccio win.

Democrats have sought to turn the contest into a de facto referendum on abortion rights in the wake of last year’s U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year to overturn Roe v. Wade and end nearly a half-century of federal abortion protections.

The election is expected to be a low-turnout contest, with both candidates decrying special interests plunging cash into the race.

“Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen billionaires and corporate interests spending millions of dollars in negative attack ads because they know what we stand for,” McCaffery said in a video posted online over the weekend. “We stand for middle-class values, we stand for working men and women all across Pennsylvania. We will not let this seat be bought.”

One particular line of attack by McCaffery’s allies is that Carluccio can’t be trusted to protect abortion rights in Pennsylvania.

Carluccio has repeatedly sought to tamp down any such fears. In some instances, she portrays herself as both apolitical and bipartisan. In others, she says she will uphold the Pennsylvania state law that makes abortion legal through 24 weeks.

“My opponent is backed by special interests who are spending millions of dollars on lies about me,” she says in a new TV ad. “Here’s the truth: I will always stand for the law and your rights as Pennsylvanians. And I will fight every day for you.”

Carluccio is endorsed by a pair of anti-abortion groups, the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation and Pro-Life Coalition of Pennsylvania.

Carluccio is a Montgomery County judge. McCaffery, of Philadelphia, sits on the statewide appellate Superior Court.

As the campaign finance reports have rolled in to the state, McCaffery’s side has gained a slight spending edge.

During the five-week period ending Oct. 23, McCaffery’s campaign reported spending $2.3 million. Carluccio’s reported spending almost $3 million, including $2.2 million from a group that is a conduit for campaign cash from Jeffrey Yass, a securities trading billionaire who spends millions to support school choice efforts in Pennsylvania.

In total, that Yass-funded group, Commonwealth Leaders Fund, has spent more than $4 million on the race to help Carluccio, according to campaign finance reports.

Another group that is largely funded by Illinois billionaire Richard Uihlein reported spending $735,000 on a TV ad attacking McCaffery. The group, Fair Courts America, spent millions to help the losing GOP candidate in Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court race earlier this year.

Prominent business-sector groups — including the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry and a large hospital and health system trade association — are also spending money to help Carluccio.

McCaffery, meanwhile, is backed by trial lawyer groups, labor unions and other traditional allies of Democrats, including Planned Parenthood.

One umbrella group, Pennsylvanians for Judicial Fairness, has reported spending more than $4 million, while the American Civil Liberties Union reported spending more than $1 million.


Follow Marc Levy: http://twitter.com/timelywriter

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Spending passes $17M in Pennsylvania high court campaign as billionaires, unions and lawyers dig in