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Friday, May 10, 2013

Brave New World of campaign finance taking shape

Posted By on Fri, May 10, 2013 at 11:30 AM

Today is the second Friday before the mayoral election -- a critical day for those tracking election spending in this year's mayoral race. I'll have updates throughout the day as reports come in, but a couple trends are already apparent.

The effect of lifting campaign-finance limits in the mayoral race is already becoming apparent. While a full campaign-finance report is still pending, Jack Wagner has filed a supplemental report just covering that past few days of activity. And some of those contributions would have exceeded the campaign-finance limits which a judge tossed out last month. In just the past four days, Wagner has pulled in more than $58,000, thanks to a handful of big-dollar contributions led by the law firm of Reed Smith (which gave him $10,000) and a PAC linked to Operating Engineers Local #66 (which gave $15,000). Those would have been big sums in any election cycle, but are especially notable given that they would have been barred under the rules previously in effect.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is using a multipronged strategy to take out his nemesis, City Councilor Bill Peduto. As our friends at Early Returns were the first to report, Ravenstahl's own campaign committee has not been idle since the mayor decided to drop out of his re-election bid. He has directed $151,000 to the "Committee for a Better Pittsburgh" -- which as we all know has been airing anti-Peduto ads on TV. He has also given $10,000 to Jake Wheatley, the black candidate in the race. In mayoral debates, Wheatley has often been more likely to attack Peduto than Wagner -- the dynamic was in play at yesterday's KDKA Radio debate. In a recent interview with City Paper Wheatley acknowledged that he'd been more critical of Peduto, but chalked that up to the fact that he had more first-hand knowledge of Peduto's record and claims, whereas Wagner had been working as auditor general for nearly a decade.

Ravenstahl has not contributed to Wagner directly ... but arguably, maybe he doesn't need to. And his activity might take other forms as well. In mid-April -- more than a month after he dropped out -- his campaign reported spending $19,000 on polling, though this may have been a final payment for polling done pre-dropout (Ravenstahl had paid the same firm prior to his withdrawal).

One final wrinkle: If you're checking the county website to see reports from the Committee for a Better Pittsburgh itself, you may be disappointed. That committee is registered with the state, which means that while a committee CAN file a "courtesy" report locally, it's only REQUIRED to file in Harrisburg. Since the state is notoriously slow about putting that stuff online, hopefully one of our larger media brethren -- one with a presence in Harrisburg -- will dig up the report if need be. UPDATE: I've now heard conflicting information about this requirement, so we'll see.

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