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A dark money group set up to support Lou Barletta for Pennsylvania governor just turned on him

A political action committee set up to help Lou Barletta by attacking Republican primary rival Bill McSwain shifted tactics this week — by attacking Barletta.

Former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, left, and former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, right, both Republican candidates for Pennsylvania governor.
Former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, left, and former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, right, both Republican candidates for Pennsylvania governor.Read moreAP File Photos

File this under Puzzling Political Flip-Flops: A dark money group launched in February to support former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta in the Republican primary for Pennsylvania governor is now … attacking him on social media.

The 1776 Project Committee registered in Pennsylvania as a political action committee in February and, a day later, created a state-based nonprofit, too. The PAC listed Barletta under “supported candidates.”

That support came in a bunch of attacks on primary rival Bill McSwain, the former U.S. attorney in Philadelphia. The group derided McSwain as a “puppet” for Sen. Pat Toomey, who fell out of favor with some Republicans for voting to convict former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial.

It also went after McSwain in his law-and-order wheelhouse, casting him as soft on crime. And it reveled in Trump’s anti-endorsement of McSwain this month, when the former president called him a “coward” for not pursing criminal cases based on Trump’s lies about the 2020 election being stolen.

Now they’re coming for Barletta, knocking him this week as “Lobbyist Lou” and accusing him of looking out for corporations and not Pennsylvanians.

Where is this coming from? Not Pennsylvania.

Rick Thompson and Jason Boles run the group from their political firm in Georgia. Boles is listed as treasurer on 36 different federal political action committees. That includes a joint fund-raising PAC for Trump and former football star Herschel Walker, who is running for Senate in Georgia, and a joint PAC for controversial U.S. House members Marjorie Taylor Greene (R., Ga.) and Matt Gaetz (R., Fla.).

They didn’t respond to Clout’s hails asking about the flip-flop, and haven’t amended their original filing that stated support for Barletta.

A Barletta spokesperson declined to comment. McSwain’s camp stayed silent, too.

Conor Lamb touts endorsement he didn’t get

U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb has spent much of the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate trying to avoid being painted as too politically moderate for the job.

So an endorsement from Philadelphia’s 5th Ward, a pillar of Center City progressivism, was a big deal when he tweeted about it Sunday evening.

One problem: Lamb wasn’t endorsed by the 5th Ward.

Another problem: Some Democrats who serve as committee members in that ward’s divisions quickly pushed back on Twitter.

Those committee members could not reach a consensus last month in the four-candidate primary, ward leader Mike Boyle said Monday.

Lamb won the most support, Boyle said, with a little more than 50% of the divisions. State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta come in second. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman was a distant third. A few divisions split among Lamb, Kenyatta, or Fetterman. Alex Khalil won no support.

Lamb, advised about his support in the ward, tweeted: “Just got endorsed by Philadelphia’s 5th Ward Dem Committee, one of the most progressive & high turnout wards in Philly.”

The 5th Ward responded with an early morning Monday tweet that its members “DID NOT” vote to endorse any candidate.”

“We were told that Conor was endorsed by a majority of the divisions in the 5th Ward, and we understood that to mean it was an endorsement,” Lamb campaign manager Abby Nassif-Murphy told Clout.

Boyle said he understood the tension between progressive politics and the notion of moderate electability.

“He’s not as progressive as they are,” he said, comparing Lamb with Fetterman and Kenyatta. “But what you have to weigh is ‘Who is the candidate most likely to win in the fall?’ And for a lot of committee people, that was Lamb.”

Lamb was endorsed last month by the Democratic Party in Philadelphia.

Josh Shapiro is spending with no primary foe

Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s de facto Democratic nominee for governor, could wait on the sidelines for now with his $16 million war chest.

There are nine Republicans vying for the nomination in the May 17 primary. Many are underfunded. And they’re taking plenty of shots at one another.

But Shapiro, now in his second term as state attorney general, didn’t wait another three weeks. Instead, he plowed almost $1 million into a pair of television ads starting Tuesday.

The first is a 60-second ad about Shapiro’s record in office and family life, building off his name recognition from winning statewide races in 2016 and 2020. He’s also got a 30-second ad about his office’s wrangling with a “predatory loan company” that resulted in $1.8 million in canceled student loans.

The two ads represent $950,000 in airtime, part of $2.7 million Shapiro has booked so far. That ranks him third in spending for all candidates for governor, according to AdImpact, which tracks political advertising.

A group of political action committees run by the Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, supporting Republican Bill McSwain of West Chester, has booked almost $14 million in broadcast and cable television, with about $6 million of that for the primary. Former Delaware County Council member Dave White has booked almost $5.2 million for the Republican primary.

Shapiro, who lives in Abington, also has backing from Pennsylvania Works LLC, a political nonprofit with ties to the Democratic Governors Association that has booked $1.1 million in ad time.

Shapiro also appears in a new $1.2 million ad buy from his selected running mate, State Rep. Austin Davis of Allegheny County, who is running against State Rep. Brian Sims of Philadelphia and Ray Sosa of Montgomery County.

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