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Conservative supporters spend twice what Bill McSwain raised in campaign for governor

Political action committees run by a conservative group in Harrisburg are far outspending Bill McSwain in support of his Republican primary bid for governor.

Bill McSwain, the former U.S. Attorney for the Philadelphia region and a Republican candidate for Pennsylvania governor, campaigns in February in Philadelphia.
Bill McSwain, the former U.S. Attorney for the Philadelphia region and a Republican candidate for Pennsylvania governor, campaigns in February in Philadelphia.Read moreJose F. Moreno/ Staff Photographer

Voters watching the nine-candidate Republican primary for governor in Pennsylvania can expect to see a broad range of resources — from self-funding candidates to aggressive fund-raisers to barebones bank accounts.

And then there is Bill McSwain, the former U.S. attorney from West Chester who filed an eye-popping campaign finance report Tuesday listing nearly $6 million in advertising and other help in the first three months of this year from a conservative group in Harrisburg that started 2022 with $20 million in the bank.

McSwain raised just over $1.4 million since January, bringing his fund-raising since he entered the primary in September to just under $3 million.

That means political action committees run by the Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs spent twice as much to help McSwain in the first three months of 2022 than he raised in nearly seven months.

McSwain can thank Pennsylvania’s richest man, Jeff Yass, a Main Line billionaire investor known for sinking millions into helping mostly conservative candidates. Forbes estimates his fortune, built by cofounding the stock-market trading firm Susquehanna International, at $12 billion.

McSwain reported “in-kind” contributions of $5.9 million, mostly from the political action committee Commonwealth Leaders Fund, which paid for television commercials, digital ads, and mailers.

Commonwealth Leaders Fund has paid for $10.3 million in cable television commercials backing McSwain in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Wilkes-Barre, according to the advertising tracking firm Ad Impact.

Those ads, which McSwain’s campaign has touted as a “collaboration” with the Commonwealth crew, focus on his law-and-order pitch to be the Republican nominee.

McSwain’s campaign sunk its own money into a new television ad this week, attacking some of his primary competitors as “career politicians.”

That prompted a rival campaign to mock McSwain for relying on a “billionaire sugar daddy’s money” since Yass is by far the most generous donor to the Commonwealth PACs.

His money travels a curiously circuitous route to McSwain’s aid.

He gave $13.5 million last year to Students First PAC, which advocates for using public tax dollars to pay for private school tuition. That PAC then gave $12 million last year to Commonwealth Children’s Choice Fund, which then passed along $7.4 million to Commonwealth Leaders Fund.

Matt Brouillette, who runs both Commonwealth PACs, and Yass did not respond to Clout’s hails.

Clout has followed these tracks before. Yass’ money flowed the same way in 2020 when the Commonwealth PACs tried and failed to help a Republican defeat state Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s bid for a second term.

Shapiro, now the lone Democrat running for governor, reported raising $4.5 million so far this year, with $16 million in the bank as of March 28.

About that shotgun chatter...

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta this week said criticism he and U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb have lobbed at Lt. Gov. John Fetterman in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate was necessary because Republicans will certainly home in on a controversial 2013 incident if Fetterman becomes the nominee.

Fetterman, while mayor of Braddock in Allegheny County, pulled a shotgun while confronting a Black jogger after hearing what he thought was gunfire. Fetterman detained the jogger, who was unarmed, until police arrived. Nobody was charged with a crime.

“We can talk about this now in April or we can talk about it in November. But we’re gonna have to talk about,” Kenyatta told the Liberty City LGBTQ Democratic Club in Philadelphia on Tuesday. “I don’t know how we can, as the Democratic Party, in good conscience, ignore something that we would never ignore if it was a Republican nominee.”

Kenyatta predicted Republicans will weaponize 2013 television news clips, especially one where Fetterman acknowledged he “may have broken the law” while confronting the jogger. That, he said, will depress Democratic turnout for “low-propensity midterm voters.”

“You don’t have to do any special effects,” Kenyatta said. “You just play that over and over and over again.”

Lamb did not attend the Liberty City event. Fetterman appeared via Zoom, making a pitch for an endorsement. Asked about the 2013 incident, Fetterman noted that Braddock’s population is “70% Black” and that, after his initial run for mayor he was reelected three times “with overwhelming margins.”

Fetterman’s signal then faded, with technical issues garbling the rest of his answer. Clout heard him say that he never pointed the shotgun at the jogger and that the incident “was over quickly.”

The jogger, Christopher Miyares, in letters to The Inquirer last year, said Fetterman “lied about everything” and did point the shotgun at him. But Miyares also said that Fetterman should not be defined by “one mistake” and that he hoped Fetterman will become a senator.

The perils of political placement

Clout took one look at a White House photo and thought: That’s got to be nice for U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, a Lehigh Valley Democrat fighting for a third term in a competitive district.

Wild’s office circulated the photo of her standing between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former President Barack Obama, looking over President Joe Biden’s shoulder at the White House on Tuesday as he signed an executive order to expand the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

That’s a nice power picture to hang on the wall and maybe drop into a campaign commercial.

Two days later, Pelosi tested positive for COVID.

Wild, an advocate for Obamacare expansion, tested negative for COVID after her White House visit and has no symptoms, a spokesperson said Thursday.

Clout provides often irreverent news and analysis about people, power, and politics.