By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — Money will play a big role in determining who will be Pennsylvania’s next attorney general, though it won’t all come from the two candidates seeking the office.
Finance reports filed with the Department of State show Democratic candidate Kathleen Kane with a slight fundraising edge over Republican candidate Dave Freed, but direct contributions to their campaigns tell only part of the story in what appears to be the most bitter campaign among the three statewide row office races this year.
A Republican-supporting group has already spent more than $500,000 on a controversial campaign ad that has turned up the heat in the race, and Kane’s personal fortune is sure to come into play as well.
“Whether it’s being raised and spent by the campaigns directly or by outside groups, money is important,” said Thomas Baldino, a professor of political science at Wilkes University.
Kane is an assistant district attorney from Lackawanna County. Freed is district attorney for Cumberland County.
Finance reports filed Tuesday show Kane raised $1.47 million since May and has more than $1.2 million on-hand heading into the final six weeks of the campaign.But she also has more than $1.8 million in campaign debt, the result of a primary season loan from her husband, Chris Kane, an executive with the national Kane Is Able trucking company.
“Pennsylvanians are excited about electing an experienced, tough and independent prosecutor like Kathleen to be our next attorney general,” Kane campaign spokesman Josh Morrow said in a statement announcing the campaign’s recent fundraising haul.
Freed raised nearly $870,000 since May and has $1.02 million in his war chest, along with about $100,000 of in-kind contributions and campaign debt, according to the newest reports.
“Certainly it takes a good amount of money to run a statewide campaign in Pennsylvania,” campaign spokesman Tim Kelly told PA Independent on Wednesday. “We’re not thinking about getting outspent. We’re confident we have the message to win.”
Though Kane has a slight edge in fundraising, Baldino said both campaigns will probably rely on outside resources to make a splash in the campaign.
Neither campaign has yet to run a television ad, but an advertisement sponsored by the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national campaign group that drops ads into state-level races to benefit GOP candidates, made waves this week.
The 30-second spot began airing in the Philadelphia market Thursday as part of a $500,000 advertising buy made by the RSLC. It portrays Kane as a novice prosecutor who let a convicted rapist off with an easy sentence, only to have him strike again after being released from prison. (View the ad here)
It was the kind of thing that could change the course of a campaign, if only it had been true.
The Lackawanna County District Attorney’s Office said the ad misrepresented Kane’s experience there, and the father of the victim in one of the cases said it was inaccurate.
After initially saying they would take down the ad, an edited version was still on the air this week, though it focused more generally on Kane’s record as a prosecutor rather than on a specific case.
“They lied, and then they lied about lying and then they said they were going to take it down and they lied again,” Kane said this week during a campaign stop in Harrisburg.
Freed’s campaign is not allowed to specifically coordinate with outside groups like the RSLC, and has distanced itself from the attack.
In a statement earlier this week, Kelly said it was his “sincere hope” that any outside groups supporting either campaign would “conduct themselves in an honest and ethical manner.”
While the ad could certainly damage voters’ opinion of Kane, the sword could cut both ways. Freed’s campaign may be indirectly hurt by the erroneous claims made in the ad and its dark tone.
Kane’s campaign is already claiming to have raised more than $300,000 due to “outrage” over the advertisement.
Because the state does not have the same limits on campaign spending as exist at the federal level, groups like the RSLC can pour as much money as they want into statewide races as long as they disclose the source of the ads, Baldino said.
The top contributor to the RSLC is health insurance giant Blue Cross/Blue Shield, according to The Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks spending by outside groups. Other large contributors include Philadelphia-basedComcast Corporation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and several large energy and pharmaceutical companies.
But Kane has the ability to counter groups like the RSLC by tapping into her own personal wealth, as she did during the primary election in the spring.
During that campaign, Kane raised and spent more than $2 million, though that total includes the $1.8 million loan from her husband. She used those funds to dispatch former congressman Patrick Murphy, who was more well-known and had the advantage of hailing from the crucial Philadelphia suburbs.
She also benefited from the support of former President Bill Clinton, who made several campaign stops in the state and filmed a television ad endorsing Kane. Clinton will return to the state Oct. 4 for a rally with Kane at the Warwick Hotel in Philadelphia.
Kane has so far not tapped into her family’s vast financial resources during the general election campaign, but with six weeks to go there is plenty of time for that to happen.
Freed did not have a primary opponent, which can be both a blessing and a curse.
He did not have to spend valuable resources on a spring campaign, but he started the general election cycle behind Kane in terms of name recognition as a result.
Polls over the summer and early fall consistently gave the edge to Kane, but that gap figures to close in the final weeks as voters begin to pay more attention to the race. Historically, attorney general races are among the closest of all statewide offices in Pennsylvania.
Current Attorney General Linda Kelly was appointed in 2011 by Gov. Tom Corbett to finish his second term, which ends in January. As part of the appointment, Kelly agreed to not seek re-election.