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In the money race, independent groups outpace mayoral campaigns

If dollars were votes, state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams would be a sure bet to win the Democratic primary for mayor.

If dollars were votes, state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams would be a sure bet to win the Democratic primary for mayor.

Williams and former City Councilman Jim Kenney each raised more than $1.3 million from Jan. 1 to Monday to run for mayor, according to campaign-finance reports filed Friday.

But this is the season of the independent expenditure group, political action committees operating as financial free radicals, raising and spending funds unhindered by the city's campaign-finance limits.

Consider the three founders of Susquehanna International Group, a Main Line stock trading firm, who support Williams for mayor.

Last year, they started American Cities, an IE Group that on Friday reported raising $6.8 million in 2015. The SIG founders - Joel Greenberg, Jeff Yass and Arthur Dantchik - put up $6,651,000, more than 97 percent of the cash.

American Cities raised more money in 2015 than all of the six Democrats running for mayor combined.

By comparison, the IE group Building a Better PA Fund raised just under $1.5 million in 2015 to support Kenney for mayor.

But money isn't everything in politics. The SIG founders know that.

Recent polls from Kenney's campaign and Forward Philadelphia, another IE group supporting him for mayor, show Kenney pulling ahead of the others.

The SIG founders spent $5 million to fund Williams' 2010 campaign for governor. He finished third in a four-way Democratic primary.

American Cities spent $5.4 million in 2015 and had just under $1.5 million in the bank as of Monday. The PAC has committed to spending $900,000 for television ads in the final week before the May 19 primary election.

Those ads have so far been positive, laying out Williams' biography and his record in office.

The SIG founders share Williams' views on improving public school funding, expanding charter schools and using tax dollars to pay for private school tuition vouchers.

Kenney's campaign on Friday sent a fundraising email to supporters, asking for donations to counter "Anthony Williams' billionaires."

The two IE groups supporting Kenney have not come close to the support Williams has seen.

Forward Philadelphia's chairman, Kevin Vaughan, said his group filed a report on Friday but a copy was not available at the Board of Elections. A filing receipt provided by the group showed that it had $84,653 in the bank as of Monday.

Friday's filing by Building a Better PA Fund included a bit of campaign intrigue. Of the nearly $1.5 million raised, reports show, half the money came from union carpenters with an office in Edison, N.J.

Williams has been endorsed by Metropolitan Regional Council of Carpenters, based in the city.

A spokesman for that Philadelphia union did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Kenney reported receiving $11,500 - the maximum allowed under the city's campaign-finance law - from a PAC run by the carpenters union in the city.

Building a Better PA Fund was expected to be well-funded by building trades unions.

Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers kicked in $450,000 in 2015, 30 percent of the PAC's cash.

The New Jersey money from the Carpenters Fund for Growth and Progress traveled a more circuitous route. That PAC donated $250,000 on April 21 and $500,000 on May 1 to The Turnout Project, a Washington, D.C.-based PAC that registered with the IRS on the day of the first contribution.

The Turnout Project, in turn, sent $225,000 on April 23 and $500,000 on May 1 to Building a Better PA Fund. A contact person listed in The Turnout Project's federal filing did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Frank Keel, a spokesman for Local 98 leader John Dougherty, had this to say about the support of union carpenters: "The International Carpenters Union clearly understands that John Dougherty is consistently on the right side of the issues and they want to work with him."

Dougherty has clashed repeatedly with the carpenters union in the city.

Former District Attorney Lynne Abraham has decried the rise of "dark money" IE groups. Her campaign raised just over $1 million in 2015.

She lent her campaign $122,700 in December and January.

Former Common Pleas Judge Nelson Diaz reported raising $394,093 since Jan. 1. Diaz lent his campaign $125,000 and had $135,376 in the bank as of Monday.

Former PGW executive Doug Oliver trailed badly in the money race, raising just $32,691 in 2015. His campaign had just $8,154 in the bank on Monday.

Former state Sen. T. Milton Street Sr. did not file a report, according to the city's Board of Ethics.Melissa Murray Bailey, the only Republican running for mayor, reported raising $4,900 and spending just $843.