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Saturday, October 24, 2009

For wonks only: a look at campaign finance reports

Posted by on Sat, Oct 24, 2009 at 11:05 AM

Campaign finance reports were due from political candidates yesterday. Over at the P-G, the headline noted that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's "pile of campaign chest [is] much larger than rivals."

Which is true, of course. Partly that's because Ravenstahl started out with so much more money. When this reporting period began in June, he had $328,000 cash on hand -- about twice what rivals Dok Harris and Kevin Acklin had.

In fact, during the reporting period itself -- which ended Oct. 19 -- Acklin raised the most money. Acklin raised nearly $94,000 from well-heeled individuals who gave amounts of $250 or more. But before anyone denounces Acklin as a white-shoe candidate, I should also point out that he also led the field in small-dollar contributions of under $50. He raised nearly $10,000 from such small givers ... nearly seven times what Harris and Ravenstahl combined raised.

Oh, and beleive it or not ... Acklin was the only candidate to raise money from a hall-of-fame football player in this period. You'll have to read further down to find out who it was. 

When you put it all together, Acklin raised over $135,000 overall -- more than either Harris ($113,600) or Ravenstahl ($127,500).

But then reality reasserted itself. Ravenstahl filed a supplemental report showing that, in the two days after the reporting period closed, he raised another 70 grand. In other words, in two short days, Ravenstahl raked in more than half the sum it took Ravenstahl and Acklin four months to assemble.

What follows here is a candidate-by-candidate look at notable trends and contributions.

Kevin Acklin:

Acklin's biggest backers included: his mom, Candace ($9,785); Frank Fuhrer ($6,000), the beer distributor king; Butler County investment guru Ron Muhlenkamp  ($5,000); former US Steel CEO Tom Usher ($5,000) and William Benter ($5,000), who runs a medical transcription service. (Benter, it appears, is the Daddy Warbucks of the Anyone But Luke crowd -- he's contributed mightily to the mayoral campaigns of Patrick Dowd and Bill Peduto in the past.) 

It's worth noting that some of Acklin's biggest backers -- like Milton Fine and the aforementioned Ron Muhlenkamp and  Frank Fuhrer -- are big GOP givers. But on the other hand, Acklin also has the backing of Georgia Berner -- a New Castle business owner who ran for Congress to the left of Jason Altmire (who ended up winning the seat). 

Oh, and how's this for hometown football credentials? Acklin got $1,000 from Dan freakin' Marino ... who, like Acklin, was a South Oakland kid who went to Central Catholic. 

Dok Harris

Harris' biggest single gift ($5,000) came from Citizens for Political Responsibility, a Sewickley-based PAC. I'm not familiar with the group, but it appears to have been involved in boosting Barack Obama. Its current mailing address is a condo owned by a couple that supported Obama last year. 

Harris has placed a voluntary limit on individual campaign contributions at $2,400. I did not find any contributions larger than that, and the cap makes it hard to single out the "largest" contributors. But as I've noted here before, Harris has made use of an extensive fundraising network that stretches far beyond the city limits. That trend has continued. Let's look, for example, at contributors who gave more than $250: For every dollar that Harris raised from such folks, nearly 80 cents came from outside city limits. 

Still, there are some familiar hometown names: Legendary sports physician Freddie Fu gave Haris $500. (Curiously, Fu's wife Hilda gave the same amount to Acklin.) Eat'n Park exec James Broadhurst -- a frequent name on campaign reports -- gave Harris $1,000. Jack Piatt, the Millcraft Industries developer who has rebuilt the defunct Lazarus Downtown, gave him $500. So did Al Ratner, an executive with Forest City Enterprises. Forest City, of course, has been much in the news lately, because of its connections to politilcal insider John Verbanac. 

Luke Ravenstahl

Ravenstahl's big advantage was in contributions from Political Action Committees. He raised $57,400 from such sources -- nearly 10 times as much as Acklin and Harris combined. Much of that PAC support came from unions, including a whopping $11,000 from the Operating Engineers, whose members run heavy equipment on road and other construction projects.

Like Harris, Ravenstahl was getting a lot of big-dollar support from non-city residents: About 71 cents of every dollar raised from individuals giving more than $250 came from beyond the city. Though Ravenstahl's donors were much more likely to have businesses -- and thus business interests -- inside the city.

Ravenstahl's backers, in fact, drew heavily from developers and other usual suspects. The Pennoni Association, a Philadelphia-based developer, gave $3,500, and a PAC affilated with the business gave him an extra $1,500. Executives at Chester Engineers gave Ravenstahl $10,100. As the P-G noted earlier this year, Chester has long held -- and would like to keep -- a big contract with the city's water authority.

Some of the most interesting contributions, however, came after the Oct. 19 reporting period ended.  On Tuesday and Wednesday, Ravenstahl received $71,500. Among the big gifts:

-- $10,000 total from two executives from the developer Burns & Scalo

-- $5,000 from the construction management firm Parsons Brinckerhoff

-- $5,000 from Merrill and John Stabile, who own Alco Parking.

-- $5,000 from the CEO of Duquesne Light

-- and $5,000 from the law firm of Thorp Reed & Armonstrong

Oh, and -- need I say it? There wasn't a single dollar from John Verbananc.

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