To win a competitive congressional race in the Philadelphia suburbs, one of the most expensive media markets in the country, it helps to have a lot of money.
Not only does that help Bucks County Democrat Scott Wallace introduce himself to voters in television ads in his First District campaign against Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, it also could free resources for the national party as Democrats try to flip some two dozen seats to win the House in November.
But Republicans are trying to turn Wallace's wealth into a political liability, seizing on donations made by his family foundation to portray Wallace as a radical liberal who sympathizes with anti-Israel groups, a notorious Philadelphia cop-killer, and a controversial community-organizing group that Republicans tied to Barack Obama when he was a presidential candidate a decade ago.
Wallace rejects that portrayal, and in some cases the GOP is relying on tenuous connections. Nevertheless, Republicans are giving a preview of attack ads to come this fall in what is expected to be one of the most expensive races in the country. If the newly drawn district — which includes Bucks and parts of Montgomery County — had the same boundaries in 2016, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton would have won it by 2 percentage points.
The Republican Jewish Coalition last week began running a $530,000 ad campaign on broadcast, cable, and digital that associated Wallace with images of violent Palestinians and Iranians burning the American flag.
The ad, citing a news report in the Forward, notes that Wallace's family foundation donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups that support the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel.
It also showed photos of Wallace's mansion-like homes in Maryland and South Africa, where he lived for years running the foundation. "Scott Wallace: at home in South Africa, too radical for us," the narrator says.
(It's worth noting that Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent, lived in California before moving back to his native Bucks County to run for Congress in 2016. Like Fitzpatrick, Wallace also grew up in the county.)
Wallace says the grants to groups protesting Israel were made by another board member of the Wallace Global Fund. He says he disavows the grants and is "unequivocally pro-Israel, pro-peace, and pro-democracy."
Even so, the controversy cost Wallace the endorsement of a prominent Democratic Jewish group in Pennsylvania that supports other Democrats, including Gov. Wolf and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey.
The Wallace Global Fund had $144 million in assets as of 2017, according to its most recent tax filing. It made $12 million in grants and contributions in 2016; recipients included Greenpeace, an environmental group, and a group called Safe Hands for Girls, which works to end female genital mutilation.
The fund's stated mission is "to promote an informed and engaged citizenry, to fight injustice, and to protect the diversity of nature and the natural systems upon which all life depends."
Wallace "has spent his life fighting for America's veterans and working families, and has been leading the fight for clean energy jobs and battling climate change," said campaign spokesperson Zoe Wilson-Meyer.
Wallace has tried to portray Fitzpatrick as one of President Trump's enablers, decrying the congressman's "inaction" over the president's family-separation policy at the southern border, for example.
Forty-seven percent of potential voters in the district approve of Trump's job performance, while 49 percent disapprove, according to Monmouth University poll released this month. But in a sign of anti-Trump enthusiasm, those who strongly disapprove of Trump (43 percent) outnumber those who strongly approve (31 percent) by 12 percentage points, the survey found.
"Wallace will want to nationalize the election, and Fitzpatrick will want to keep it as local as possible," said Larry Ceisler, a Democrat who runs a Philadelphia-based public relations firm.
To that end, the House Republicans' campaign arm has blasted Wallace for his foundation's grants to Democracy Now!, a nonprofit news organization that has given favorable coverage to Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther serving a life sentence for killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. He has argued racism led to his conviction.
In the grant description in its 2016 tax filing, the Wallace Global Fund says its contribution to Democracy Now! was made to "promote independent voices in the media."
Of course, Wallace doesn't control the news organization's content, and it's a bit of a stretch to conclude that his donations implied support for a cop killer. Wilson-Meyer said it showed Republicans are "terrified of losing this seat" and will use "any baseless, connect-the-dots smears they can think of to help" Fitzpatrick.
But Republicans think the issue could play well. They used a similar tactic in the 2012 Bucks County congressional race, paying for automated phone calls to voters that pointed to legal work the Democratic nominee's husband had done for a witness in Abu-Jamal's case and for Abu Jamal's literary agent. The incumbent — Michael G. Fitzpatrick, Brian Fitzpatrick's brother — won that election.
Abu-Jamal is so politically toxic that Casey, the senator, opposed one of President Barack Obama's nominees to the Justice Department in 2014 because the lawyer had supervised an NAACP Legal Defense Fund team that represented Abu-Jamal during an appeal of the inmate's death sentence.
Fitzpatrick's campaign said Wallace was the "most far-left extremist candidate to ever run for Congress in the history of this district."
Most recently, the House GOP campaign arm circulated an article published by the conservative Townhall.com that pointed to the Wallace Global Fund's past support for the antipoverty group Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now, or ACORN.
Some of the now-defunct group's canvassers were found guilty of voter registration fraud. Late in the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican John McCain ran ads tying Obama to the group and accusing it of perpetrating "massive voter fraud." FactCheck.org found that the claims were exaggerated.