Monday, November 2, 2009
A curious wrinkle has developed in the last few days of the mayoral campaign. The Citizens for Political Reponsibility -- who I've previously noted as Dok Harris' biggest PAC contributor -- suddenly seems to be taking a more active role in the race.
A pro-Harris Web site, MiraculousElection.com, went live just a few days ago, and now features numerous videos about Harris and his supporters. One post offers an introductory note from a Stephanie Dangel, of the Citizens for Political Responsibility. (This weekend, Dangel also wrote a letter to the Post-Gazette espousing Harris and touting the site. A Web URL attached to the group, www.cpr4gpr.com, redirects you back to Miraculous Election.)
The thing is, I can't really tell you a bastard thing about who Citizens for Political Responsibility really is. Judging from state records, CPR has never contributed to a state campaign, or filed any sort of report documenting its expenditures, or the contributions made to it. Which means that there is no way for voters to tell who is backing this group, or where this money is really coming from.
By contrast, Harris' fellow independent candidate, Kevin Acklin filed a campaign-finance report logging $1,000 from Family PAC, a PAC run by the Donahue family (of Federated Investors fame). That donation shows up on the appropriate Family PAC report. And you can see the PAC's previous record of giving here. If you're willing to sift through the reports, you can also figure out who is giving to the PAC -- and, by extension, to Acklin's campaign. (Though you have to go back aways -- the most recent contributions to the campaign I could find were made two years ago.)
I've put in a call to Dangel, a local film producer who worked on My Tale of Two Cities. PR materials issued for the film late last year boast that in the film, "Franco Harris ... has a crowd-pleasing scene in the film with his son F. Dok Harris (one of a new generation of Pittsburgh repatriates dedicated to improving their hometown)." I'll post her response here.
Harris has made voluntary limits on campaign contributions a fixture of his campaign ... and it's worth noting that the CPR gift falls within the limit he established for PACs. Moreover, the Harris campaign properly documented the gift on its own financial reports. The mystery here stems from a lack of disclosure on behalf of the donor -- NOT the Harris campaign. And my guess is CPR's backers won't turn out to be George Soros or anyone like that. Most likely, it's a handful of folks in Sewickley or thereabouts -- and a filmmaker or two -- who know and like Dok.
Moreover, this doesn't exactly look like a nefarious plot. I mean, none of the Web site's content seems to predate last Friday. Leaving that stuff up until the last minute seems kind of counterproductive -- especially when the candidate you back has been struggling for months to get people to notice that an election is taken place.
Still, it's odd. Acklin has been taken to task for the Donahue's family support, because they are noted pro-life givers who tend to back highly conservative candiates. But here's a mysterious PAC giving a large sum of money just a couple weeks before the election. And just a couple days before the election, they set up a Web site with lots of campaign video. I can't tell you who they are, where they get their money from, or who else they support. Meanwhile, they're in favor of "political responsibility" ... and they're backing a guy who has made transparency and good government the linchpin of their campaign.
UPDATE: I receieved an e-mail from Stephanie Dangel, which addresses some of my questions, at least.
Dangel says that CPR is actually supporting three candidates with "Get Out the Vote" efforts: Harris, Supreme Court candidate Jack Panella and Common Pleas Court judge Joe Williams. Dangel says the group's Web site has been revised to clarify that fact.
"In addition to a contribution to Harris for Pittsburgh and expeditures for the website," Dangel says, "CPR has supported GOTV efforts this past weekend for all three candidates, including the distribution of t-shirts clearly listing all of their names."
Although CPR has been active in Western Pennsylvania since the 2004 Kerry for President campaign," Dangel adds, "we recently incorporated so that we could accept contributions to support the GOTV efforts of all three of these candidates." She also says "We have in fact made all necessary filings concerning our contributors and expenditures." I've asked her for more information about that, since as I told Dangel, I've been unable to find that information. Again, further updates as events warrant ... on the off chance anyone is still reading this.
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