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Outside money and the FOP factor into Philly’s Democratic primary for district attorney

Philadelphia D.A. Larry Krasner campaigns as if the Fraternal Order of Police is on the May 18 primary ballot, while a political action committee that backs him goes after a pro-police PAC.

Larry Krasner speaks during a news conference near the Octavius V. Catto Memorial on the south side of City Hall on Thursday.
Larry Krasner speaks during a news conference near the Octavius V. Catto Memorial on the south side of City Hall on Thursday.Read moreMONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer

The latest tussle in Philadelphia’s Democratic primary for district attorney is not between incumbent Larry Krasner and challenger Carlos Vega.

Instead, Real Justice PAC (which backs Krasner and funds some of his campaign staffing) is taking on Protect Our Police PAC (founded by retired Philadelphia police officers last year to defeat him).

That fight shows how outside money can be as significant a factor in the race as the two campaigns.

Real Justice PAC, a San Francisco-based group founded by progressive activists to elect reform-minded prosecutors, filed a complaint Monday with the Philadelphia Board of Ethics, accusing Protect Our Police PAC of failing to file a campaign finance report due April 20.

Protect Our Police PAC filed that report Wednesday, eight days late. We don’t know if the complaint prompted the late filing because Nick Gerace, president of Protect Our Police PAC, did not respond to Clout’s hails.

It’s not the first time Protect Our Police PAC has missed a deadline to be transparent about raising and spending money. It missed the Pennsylvania deadline to file an annual report in February by two weeks.

Krasner seized on those missteps in a fund-raising letter this week, pointing to a Protect Our Police PAC’s own fund-raising effort earlier this month that blamed George Floyd for his own murder by a Minneapolis police officer. The group retracted that claim and blamed a national marketing firm that it refused to identify.

“We don’t know how much they’re spending — because they’ve missed their campaign finance deadline, again,” Krasner’s letter said. “But we know it is enough to be up on television, and that they’ve now had a forum to spread their lies.”

Krasner is campaigning as if the Fraternal Order of Police, the union representing officers and retirees in the city, is on the ballot in the primary. The FOP has given $25,200 to Vega’s campaign and $80,000 for Protect Our Police PAC’s efforts.

Vega renounced Protect Our Police PAC after the fund-raising controversy. The group said it had no plans to endorse him.

Protect Our Police PAC reported spending $50,000 on April 12 to air anti-Krasner commercials on cable television for a month. That spending triggered the need for a report.

Clout spotted something interesting in Protect Our Police PAC’s recent finances. The group, which reported ending 2020 with nearly $148,000 in the bank, this week reported having nearly $71,000 as of March 30. That means the PAC spent about $77,000 from Jan. 1 to March 29.

Protect Our Police PAC spent money in other states last year to support or oppose candidates. It could have done that again this year. If it spent more than $5,000 in the first three months of 2020 to influence a race in the city it would have had to file another report that was due three weeks ago.

The FOP hits back … with ice cream

This is not the first fight the FOP has had with a district attorney in Philadelphia. It’s something of a tradition.

But Clout has never seen Mister Softee deployed as a political weapon. Until now.

The union plans to give free soft ice cream from a truck parked outside the District Attorney’s Office on Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and every Friday until the May 18 primary.

Union president John McNesby describes it as a get-out-the-vote effort to cast Krasner as “soft on crime.”

This is not the union’s first try at unconventional messaging. It posted a “Help Wanted: New District Attorney” billboard near I-95 in 2017 when District Attorney Seth Williams was planning to seek another term and promised more. Williams later dropped out of the race on his way to federal prison for a bribery convection.

It posted a similar billboard knocking Krasner in 2019. And the union paid a banner-plane company last summer to fly a “dump Krasner” message along Jersey Shore beaches.

Kenney wants to ‘take it easy’ after office

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney drew attention Sunday when, during an interview for 6ABC’s Inside Story, he thrice declined to take a position on Krasner’s bid for a second term.

Two of the city’s most notoriously prickly political personalities don’t get along? Shocking.

Clout was also surprised by how Kenney spoke of his own political future, having floated thoughts of running for governor or the U.S. Senate next year.

“I think I’d just like to take it easy for a little bit and try to find a way to not publicly be so public in nature but kind of find a niche where I can continue to contribute and, as the Jesuits taught me, be a person for others,” Kenney said when asked what he’ll do when his second term ends.

Kenney’s desire to “not publicly be so public” is driven by what he described as an occasional hesitation to go out in public because some people yell mean things at him about his job performance. He allowed that some people also say nice things.

Does this sound like a guy thinking about seeking higher office?

Kenney spokesperson Marty O’Rourke said Kenney is focused on getting Philadelphians vaccinated to prevent the spread of COVID-19, reviving the city’s economy, and addressing gun violence and homicides.

“On the issue of any future political candidacy for either the U.S. Senate or governor, the mayor remains open to either possibility,” O’Rourke said.