By David Loomis and Nathan Zisk
INDIANA – As he celebrated on election night last week, Republican state Sen.-elect Joe Pittman responded to his Democratic opponent’s pointed campaign assertion that she refused to take corporate political-action-committee donations.
“Corporate contributions are prohibited by law, period,” Mr. Pittman said.
He’s right. Direct campaign contributions by corporations are barred in Pennsylvania. But his remark was beside the point.
Ms. Boser’s point was about PACs – political action committees, which are legal funnels of corporate money to political campaigns in Pennsylvania. And the state imposes no limits on how much money corporate PACs can contribute to campaigns.
SUCH AVOIDANCE of the issue represents more cherry-picking from Mr. Pittman. For example, during the campaign he ritually embraced coal mining as the region’s economic salvation, ignoring overwhelming evidence to the contrary and ignoring coal’s environmental and existential threats – including increasing mortality rates among miners.
Perhaps that explains Ms. Boser’s emphasis on a small-donor, anti-corporate strategy – to differentiate her campaign from Mr. Pittman’s and to underscore his big-donor advantage. Sure enough, Mr. Pittman did accept money from coal industry interests, according to a report filed by his campaign two weeks before the May 21 special election.
On May 6, Mr. Pittman’s campaign reported receiving a $3,000 contribution from Pennsylvania Coal PAC, an arm of the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance, an industry lobby group.
But when it comes to corporate interests, the coal lobby contribution to Mr. Pittman’s campaign is small beans. Other interests include:
- fracking ($5,000 from CNX Resources Political Action Committee, aka Consol Energy)
- insurance ($5,000 from Pennsylvania State Farm Agents PAC), for example)
- banking ($10,000 from Pennsylvania Bankers PAC; $2,500 from S&T Bank PAC, and others)
- health care ($5,000 from the Pennsylvania Healthcare Association PAC, among others)
- auto dealers ($5,000 from the Pennsylvania Automotive Association PAC)
- harness racing ($5,000, from Meadows Standardbred Owners Association PAC)
- lobbyists (numerous)
In total, the Pittman campaign reported campaign contributions of $269,696, ten times the equivalent figure reported for the Boser campaign — $25,143.85.
The figures cover 2019 up to May 6. Final figures are due next month.
How do Mr. Pittman’s campaign finances compare to other Pennsylvania candidates’? Consider the only other May 21 special state Senate election — for a vacant seat in the mid-state 33rd District. Republican Doug Mastriano, a retired Army colonel, won with contributions of $73,480, according to the campaign’s preliminary report – about a quarter of Mr. Pittman’s figure.
MR. PITTMAN’S FINANCIAL support drew varying reactions among his borough constituents during a May 26 walking tour.
Lisa Sherry, 72, a Democrat and an Indiana resident since 1990, said Pittman’s experience as chief of staff to former Sen. Don White probably helped him as much as his fundraising advantage.
“Unfortunately, you have to have money,” Sherry said during a sidewalk interview outside her borough home.
She said she hoped Pittman would not favor corporate interests over public interests.
“I hope not,” she said. “He needs to take the interests of everybody.”
Erika Broadbent, 78, a Republican and an Indiana resident for 41 years, said Pittman will work for all his constituents.
“I don’t think he’s going to give in to corporate interests,” she said.
Claire Hogan, 66, a nurse, has lived in Indiana for 40 years. She assisted the local Pittman campaign, she said.
She said Mr. Pittman’s fundraising was an advantage.
“Of course, funding always helps,” Hogan said.
Experience helped Pittman and hampered Boser, she said.
“She really didn’t get her platform out,” Hogan said. “That could be partly due to money.”
ON ELECTION NIGHT, Pittman said he received campaign contributions as small as $5.
“That’s probably the one I’m most proud of,” the senator-elect said.
“Contributions are quite transparent, for anyone to view.”
Nathan Zisk graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania on May 11 with a degree in economics and journalism. He is from Brownsville, Pa.
David Loomis, Ph.D., emeritus professor of journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is editor of The HawkEye.
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