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The first fund-raising reports in the Pa. governor’s race show it’s up for grabs

At least five candidates raised more than $1 million last year, including two who cut seven-figure checks to their own campaigns. Here's what we learned.

Republican candidates for Pennsylvania governor, clockwise from top-left: Former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, State Sen. Doug Mastriano, former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, and State Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman.
Republican candidates for Pennsylvania governor, clockwise from top-left: Former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, State Sen. Doug Mastriano, former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, and State Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman.Read moreTYGER WILLIAMS; Associated Press

So many Republicans are running for Pennsylvania governor, it took two rows to fit everyone on stage at a recent debate. And some candidates didn’t even show up.

Republican leaders say the sprawling primary field reflects the party’s strong prospects for retaking the governor’s mansion. And as the state party gathers to consider an endorsement this weekend, new fund-raising disclosures offer the first glimpse yet into the candidates’ finances — and suggest the race is very much up for grabs.

At least five candidates raised more than $1 million last year, including two — Dave White and Jason Richey — who cut seven-figure checks to their own campaigns. Limited polling of the race so far suggests that former U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta and State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin) have the strongest name recognition among GOP voters, meaning their rivals may have to spend big to close that gap. Both are staunch supporters of former President Donald Trump, whose shadow looms large in the campaign.

» READ MORE: Trump is front and center in Pennsylvania’s race for governor. Will it stay that way?

State Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the only established Democrat in the race, raised a whopping $13.4 million last year, which may exceed the entire GOP field.

Here’s what we learned from the state campaign finance reports, which were filed this week and reflect last year’s fund-raising through Dec. 31.

A strong start for two Southeastern Pa. Republicans

White, a former Delaware County councilman who owns an HVAC contracting firm, hasn’t held office since he lost reelection in 2017. But he’s emerged as a gubernatorial contender in the last few months, performing well in regional straw polls of party activists and spending about $1 million on TV ads.

He lent his campaign $3 million last year, the vast majority of his $3.2 million haul. He finished 2021 with almost $2.5 million in the bank.

Former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, of West Chester, raised less. But while White relied on self-funding, McSwain got his mostly from sources besides his own wallet. He raised just over $1 million last year, including $100,000 he lent his campaign. He had about $813,000 in the bank.

But McSwain has had — and will continue to have — other financial backing. He chaired a political action committee that raised $543,000 last year and spent almost all of it on staffing, research, and contributions to McSwain’s campaign.

» READ MORE: A Republican group with $20 million is backing Bill McSwain

McSwain’s most generous contributor was Walter Buckley Jr., a retired Bethlehem money manager now living in Florida. McSwain’s next biggest donor – besides himself – was Jon Lubert of Bryn Mawr, who runs the investment firm JL Squared Group.

Perhaps most important for McSwain: He won the endorsement last month of Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs. A PAC affiliated with the group had $20 million as of November, though it remains to be seen how much it will spend to boost McSwain.

Parity at the top

At least three other candidates reported raising more than $1 million.

Barletta raised just over $1 million through his campaign and another group. But he spent roughly $3 out of every $4 he raised — burning through cash at a faster pace than his rivals. That left him with just $245,000.

State Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Centre) has pointed to his experience raising money for Senate Republicans as an asset in a statewide campaign. Corman, who entered the race in November, raised $3 million and ended the year with $2.7 million on hand, according to his campaign. That combines the money from three different political groups — his Senate campaign, his gubernatorial campaign, and a separate political action committee.

» READ MORE: We're tracking the candidates running for Pennsylvania governor

Corman’s largest donation, $500,000, came in December from University City Housing Co., owned by Michael Karp. And Corman’s mother, a retired consultant he has called “the political brains” of his family, lent him $90,000.

Republican insiders say one dark horse in the race is Jason Richey, a Pittsburgh-based attorney who lent his campaign $1.5 million.

A Doug Mastriano question mark

It wasn’t clear Tuesday how much money Mastriano has raised. After he set up an exploratory committee in the fall, he said he’d reached a fund-raising goal to enter the race. The Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversees elections, said Mastriano’s Senate campaign typically files disclosures electronically, but the agency had no report available for his gubernatorial campaign.

If Mastriano filed the report on paper and mailed it to Harrisburg, that could account for the delay. Mastriano didn’t respond to emails seeking comment.

Josh Shapiro’s strength

In a midterm election year when Democrats are expected to face fierce political headwinds, Shapiro has two advantages: He won’t face a serious primary challenge, and he’s raising a ton of money.

Shapiro ended the year with $13.5 million in the bank. His fund-raising prowess even came up during a GOP debate last week. “Josh Shapiro will have a ton of money, and we’re going to need to be able to raise it,” Corman said then.

» READ MORE: How Josh Shapiro locked down the Democratic nomination for governor without even announcing he would run

Shapiro’s annual report runs more than 3,000 pages, demonstrating support from small-dollar donors, contributors with deeper pockets, and several special interests, especially labor unions.

The Carpenters Union in Philadelphia gave him $500,000 in February; the Western Pennsylvania Laborers PAC in Pittsburgh gave him $185,000 in three contributions last year; the Laborers District PAC in Philadelphia and Local 5 of the electricians union in Pittsburgh each gave him $125,000; and Local 19 of the Sheet Metal Workers Union in Philadelphia gave him $200,000.

Everyone else

Also seeking the GOP nomination is political consultant Charlie Gerow, who raised $422,000 and ended the year with $250,000 in the bank.

Guy Ciarrocchi, who headed Chester County’s Chamber of Commerce and worked in Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration, raised almost $304,000 and had $241,000 in the bank at the end of the year. State Sen. Scott Martin (R., Lancaster) raised more than $300,000 and had $270,000 in the bank.

Nche Zama, a cardiothoracic surgeon from Monroe County, raised $200,000 and had $146,000. Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale raised about $40,000 and spent most of it. A fund-raising report for former U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart wasn’t available online as of Tuesday evening.