State election officials say they will go into Commonwealth Court today in an effort to stop a non-profit corporation in Virginia from running ads to influence Pennsylvania's state Supreme Court races.
The Center for Individual Freedom, based in Alexandria, Va., has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on television spots supporting Maureen Lally-Green, a Superior Court judge running for the Supreme Court as a Republican.
But the organization has not registered with the state as a political-action committee, has not filed any reports on its contributions and expenditures, and has failed to return calls from reporters trying to find out where its money comes from.
The group had filed a federal lawsuit in July, challenging Pennsylvania's ban on corporate campaign contributions. In the suit, the group said it wanted to use corporate funds for "independent issue ads" before the November elections.
State Attorney General Thomas Corbett signed off on a stipulated verdict that said the group could use corporate money for ads as long as they did not "expressly advocate" the election or defeat of candidates.
Last weekend, nine days before the election, the group began running 30-second spots that urge Pennsylvanians to "Thank Judge Maureen Lally-Green" for protecting families, cracking down on violent criminals and protecting children who are victims of child abuse.
Secretary of the Commonwealth Pedro A. Cortez said yesterday that this was not an issue ad, but a campaign ad, and that Pennsylvania law does not permit corporations to pay for it.
"Due to the fact that this ad is being aired in the week immediately preceding the municipal election, the advertisement leaves the listener or viewer with the clear request to thank Judge Lally-Green by voting for her," Cortez said.
Cortez said that state law forbids any expenditure by a corporate entity with the intent of influencing the outcome of a campaign. He said that the state's legal action is aimed solely at the Center for Individual Freedom, and does not implicate Lally-Green or her campaign.
For the fourth straight day, the executive director of the Center for Individual Freedom failed to return calls from the Daily News. But a new press release says it had "launched a public education effort in Pennsylvania designed to inform the public about important judicial issues in the state."
The release did not mention Lally-Green's name. The group's advertising spot used her name six times in the space of 30 seconds.
John Morganelli, Northampton County district attorney, said yesterday that Corbett should seek an injunction to ban the ads.
"Their obvious purpose is to influence the election," Morganelli said.
"They didn't run these ads six months ago when there was no campaign going on." *