The TV ad is effusive in its praise of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “Standing up to the goliaths” and “bullies” to “keep health-care costs down,” it says of his record. And he’s “just getting started,” the ad proclaims.
Left unsaid is that Shapiro, a Montgomery County Democrat, is running for governor in the May 17 primary election. He’s the only Democrat on the ballot. But the ad simply encourages viewers to file consumer complaints with the Attorney General’s Office and “tell Josh Shapiro to keep holding them accountable and lowering our costs.”
It’s paid for by Pennsylvania Works LLC, a newly formed group with ties to national Democrats that has booked more than $1 million worth of airtime through March, according to AdImpact, which tracks political advertising.
This tactic isn’t new: Both parties have invested heavily over the past decade in “dark money” nonprofits that are allowed to conceal their donors and spend big on elections, as well as “issue ads” that technically don’t count as election expenditures.
The upshot: While the crowded Republican primary for governor will likely bruise the party’s eventual nominee, Shapiro is getting positive airtime even as he saves most of the $13 million he raised last year for the general election.
The GOP field includes former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, State Sen. Doug Mastriano, former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, former Delaware County councilman Dave White, and Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman.
Pennsylvania Works formed in February, according to records filed in Washington. A spokesperson said it’s affiliated with America Works USA, an arm of the Democratic Governors Association. As a so-called social welfare organization under the tax code, America Works isn’t required to disclose its donors. In its most recent tax filing, it reported raising and spending about $6.6 million, giving about $2.3 million to the DGA and millions more to nonprofits supporting Democratic causes and candidates.
Pennsylvania Works says it isn’t required to file paperwork with Pennsylvania’s campaign finance regulator because its ad doesn’t explicitly advocate for Shapiro’s election. The Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversees election and campaign finances, said the group hadn’t filed paperwork.
“Generally speaking, any entity that makes independent expenditures expressly advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate and exceeding $100 in the aggregate during a calendar year must report the expenditure on an independent expenditure report which would be filed with the department,” Department of State spokesperson Grace Griffaton said.