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U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain spent more than $75,000 to slap his name and face on billboards

McSwain is using more than $75,000 in Department of Justice funds to get a message — along with his name and face — out to the public in Pennsylvania. That could boost name and face recognition for a prosecutor with political ambitions.

A billboard seen from I-76 along New Hope Street in Philadelphia's Southbrook Park neighborhood, next to a used car lot. U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain is using Department of Justice funds to run an ad campaign about his office's prosecution of gun crimes.
A billboard seen from I-76 along New Hope Street in Philadelphia's Southbrook Park neighborhood, next to a used car lot. U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain is using Department of Justice funds to run an ad campaign about his office's prosecution of gun crimes.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, President Donald Trump’s top federal prosecutor in eastern Pennsylvania, is considered a man with political ambitions.

The Republican appointee has attacked his arch-nemesis, liberal Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, bashing him on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, not to mention in pointed letters and news releases. In February, he even compared the DA and Mayor Jim Kenney to slaveholders.

But McSwain is not exactly a household name. He could use a recognition boost.

His office launched an advertising campaign last week to tout federal prosecution of gun crimes. The message: “Gun crime = fed time, no parole, every time.”

To that end, six billboards went up, featuring portraits of McSwain that take up a third of the space in each ad — four in Philly, one each for Allentown and Lancaster. They’re along major highways — I-95, I-76, and I-476.

McSwain initially resisted telling Clout how much his office shelled out to rent the billboards. We kept at it until he coughed up the cost: $75,138.

McSwain also recorded a television commercial that he narrates and appears in, offering it this week as a public-service announcement to all broadcast stations in the nine-county Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

There are also smaller ads in bus shelters, without McSwain’s face, and social media postings.

Jen Crandall, a spokesperson for McSwain, said the campaign “is in response to the recent sharp rise in serious violent crime” in eastern Pennsylvania, “especially Philadelphia.”

Krasner, a Democrat seeking a second term next year, accused McSwain last month of always acting with politics in mind, suggesting the potential end of Trump’s political career in November’s election is a factor for him.

Krasner this week accused McSwain of wasting tax dollars on the billboards.

“I’m choosing to keep doing the work taxes pay for — solving and prosecuting serious crime in Philadelphia while supporting victims and survivors of harm,” he said.

Pause here for a moment to imagine if McSwain is out of a job next year and interested in elected office in 2022. Let’s also say U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey decides to ditch D.C. and runs for the Republican nomination for governor that year.

That would make for an open Republican primary for Senate. A little name and face recognition would come in handy, right? But that costs money.

Crandall said the advertising campaign’s cost was paid from the office’s community-engagement budget, $973,000 for the current fiscal year.

FOP gives Krasner the banner-plane treatment

McSwain isn’t the only foe of Krasner. John McNesby, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, the Philadelphia police union, used billboards last year to call for Krasner’s ouster.

But it’s summer. People are downashore. How can the FOP get its message across?

A banner plane, obviously.

McNesby said the union’s banner-plane will fly the message — “Support Philly Police — Dump Krasner” — with the FOP logo up and down the Jersey Shore until Labor Day.

The union leader said the FOP will support “anybody but Krasner” in next year’s race for district attorney, and promised more efforts to come in that endeavor.

Krasner called the FOP effort a waste of time and union dues.

Wolf gets the billboard treatment at home

Speaking of punchy political ads, Clout’s friends at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star website aroused our curiosity this week, writing about a billboard of mysterious origin that has appeared along I-83 in York County, home to Gov. Tom Wolf.

The message, expressing frustration with the governor’s policies on the coronavirus pandemic, shows a woman shrugging in front of a picture of Wolf and state Health Secretary Rachel Levine with the words, “Don’t blame me. I voted for Wagner.”

That’s a reference to former State Sen. Scott Wagner of York County, a Republican who lost to Wolf in the 2018 general election by 17 points.

Did Wagner put up the billboard? He responded to Clout’s query with a picture of Sgt. Schultz, a character in the 1960s television show Hogan’s Heroes notorious for declaring, when asked about anything controversial, “I know nothing!

So mysterious. So Clout-y.

The Capital-Star also wondered if Charlie Burnside, owner of the Maple Donuts chain in the county, was behind the billboard. Turns out someone beat Burnside, who has a history of conservative political activism, to the punch. It wasn’t him. But he has his own plans.

Burnside said his own digital billboard, with the same message — “Don’t blame me. I voted for Wagner.” — is going up along I-83 in York County on Friday morning. His version shows a man shrugging and includes the attribution, “Paid for by Charlie Burnside.”

Wolf’s press secretary, Lyndsay Kensinger, declined to comment.


Critically, it remains unclear what legal authorities the federal government has invoked for its militarized interventions in American cities. All of this is part of an alarming pattern by the Trump administration in taking an aggressive and excessive response to protests catalyzed by the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others.”

— U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D.,-Pa.) and 27 of his colleagues, writing to U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr and Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, about the threat to deploy federal forces to cities including Philadelphia.