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GOP mega-donor Jeff Yass is largely behind a super PAC funding negative ads about Helen Gym

The Coalition for Safety and Equitable Growth’s campaign-finance report shows a handful of other notable contributions from developers, a labor union, and a former mayor.

Jeffrey Yass addresses a class of interns at the Bala Cynwyd-based investment trading company in 2022. He is a major GOP donor and is funding a super PAC that's running negative ads against Helen Gym.
Jeffrey Yass addresses a class of interns at the Bala Cynwyd-based investment trading company in 2022. He is a major GOP donor and is funding a super PAC that's running negative ads against Helen Gym.Read moreSIG

A new political group running last-minute negative advertising about Philadelphia mayoral candidate Helen Gym is largely funded by conservative Main Line billionaire Jeffrey Yass, who has donated millions to political candidates and causes.

Yass, principal at Susquehanna International Group, poured $750,000 into the super PAC, called the Coalition for Safety and Equitable Growth, which has raised nearly $1 million, according to campaign-finance reports filed Friday.

Last week, the group began airing negative television advertising and circulating mailers about Gym — a progressive former City Council member — ahead of the May 16 Democratic primary election.

Brendan McPhillips, Gym’s campaign manager, said in a statement that Yass, an advocate for charter schools, is “bankrolling a false smear campaign against the only candidate in the race with a real vision to invest in Philly’s public schools.”

Yass could not be reached for comment. Mo Rushdy, treasurer of the super PAC, said the group’s contributors “believe our next mayor needs to have a commonsense approach to solving the problems facing Philadelphia.”

“All of our donors believe that Helen Gym is the wrong person to confront these challenges,” he said.

» READ MORE: Five Philly mayoral candidates are in a TV ad war that’s getting nastier by the day

The campaign-finance report shows other notable contributions. A political-action committee controlled by the General Building Contractors Association, which advocates and lobbies for contractors, contributed $50,000 to the super PAC last month. GBCA officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Another $50,000 came from Josh Kopelman, a venture capitalist and managing partner of First Round Capital. Kopelman is also the chairman of The Inquirer board. He did not respond to a request for comment, but he tweeted Friday that he has contributed to a handful of political candidates and PACs this year, including the Coalition for Safety and Equitable Growth.

“Our city is at a major crossroads — and on the cusp of a transformative election for Philadelphia’s mayor and City Council that could transform Philadelphia’s approach to fight poverty, improve education, increase public safety and create more family-sustaining jobs,” he wrote.

Another contributor was the PAC run by the Laborers District Council, which gave $25,000 last month. The council, which represents more than 5,000 union members, is backing Cherelle Parker for mayor and is run by Ryan Boyer, who is also the head of the city’s politically powerful Building Trades & Construction Council. Boyer did not respond to a request for comment.

Several other contributions came from individuals, including a $3,100 donation from former Mayor Michael A. Nutter. In March, Nutter endorsed Rebecca Rhynhart for mayor, and earlier this year he got into a high-profile spat with Gym while interviewing her in front of a live audience. Nutter did not respond to a request for comment.

The chair of the Coalition for Safety and Equitable Growth is Jabari Jones, a small-business advocate who launched a run for City Council this year but did not garner enough petition signatures to get on the ballot.

Rushdy, the treasurer, is a real-estate developer who also lobbies the city on behalf of real-estate interests. He personally contributed $25,000 to the super PAC, the report shows.

McPhillips on Friday called on Rhynhart and Parker to “denounce these lies about Helen’s record and apologize,” saying that some of their “strongest supporters” are part of the effort.

Rhynhart’s campaign declined to comment. Aren Platt, a spokesperson for Parker’s campaign, said they are “focused on our own campaign and haven’t given a single thought to the funding of this or any super PAC.”

» READ MORE: Mayoral candidate Helen Gym and ex-Mayor Michael Nutter clashed during a live event

The television ads and mailers — a campaign that has cost the super PAC more than $600,000 — criticize Gym for voting in 2019 against a bill that would have added new restrictions to pharmaceutical sales representatives. At the time, her husband worked for the Conshohocken-based drug distributor AmerisourceBergen. He left the company in February.

Before voting on the legislation, Gym sought advice from the city’s Board of Ethics, which told her office in an email that she did not have a conflict of interest that would require her to recuse herself from the vote. The legislation failed, 9-5.

One other super PAC is running negative advertising ahead of the primary. Philadelphians For Our Future, which is supporting Parker for mayor and largely funded by building-trades unions, is funding attack ads targeting Jeff Brown, Allan Domb, and Rhynhart. Domb has also funded attack ads against Brown for weeks.

According to a recent independent poll and private polls that have been made public, any of those top five candidates could win the Democratic nomination.

Yass, a registered libertarian and Pennsylvania’s richest man, has primarily backed Republicans. He has also donated millions to political-action committees that have boosted some Democrats in favor of expanding the charter-school footprint in the state.

In the 2015 mayor’s race, Yass and his business partners Joel Greenberg and Arthur Dantchik spent $7 million to boost state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, who came in second to Mayor Jim Kenney in the Democratic primary.

A political-action committee funded by Yass has also poured $400,000 into an independent-expenditure group that is attempting to sway City Council races this year.