A critical question about Philadelphia’s mayor race has been answered. The three pro-school choice businessmen who put an eye-popping $5 million into state Sen. Anthony Williams 2010 campaign for governor are back for more, investing in an independent effort to help put Williams into the mayor’s office.
Three principals of the Bala Cynwyd-based Susquehanna International Group have contributed $250,000 to a relatively new political committee that will support Williams’ mayoral campaign. The effort could give Williams an edge over candidates struggling to raise money under the city’s contribution limits.
While city law places limits on the contributions candidates can accept, Citizens United and other court decisions permit independent groups to accept and spend unlimited funds on their media campaigns, as long as they don’t coordinate with the candidate they favor.
Campaign finance reports released Monday show none of the mayoral hopefuls had as much as $500,000 on hand, well short of what it would take to mount an effective media campaign in the expensive Philadelphia market.
The new vehicle for the Susquehanna partners is American Cities, a political committee registered last year. Chairman Dwayne Andrews said in a statement that the committee is “a bipartisan, nationwide organization empowering citizens to have a stronger voice in municipal elections.”
The group’s address is listed as a Philadelphia post office box. Andrews said the group will look first at the Philadelphia municipal election, but that “there are pivotal races in cities across the country both this year and in 2016.”
The three Susquehanna investors — Joel Greenberg, Jeff Yass and Arthur Dantchik — gave nearly all of the $252,749 the committee raised, according to its campaign filing Monday. A source familiar with the group said others made substantial contributions in January that are not included in the report.
The group reported spending $192,862 last year, mostly on consulting services. A call to the Susquehanna partners was returned by a spokesman who referred me to the American Cities committee.
Other candidates could find friends of their own to mount independent campaigns, particularly unions opposing Williams’ past advocacy of school vouchers and charter schools. He’s said little about those causes so far in his mayoral campaign.
I’ve been interested to see whether Williams would embrace those issues in the mayor’s race. He was noncommittal when I asked him in a recent interview on our evening news magazine, NewsWorks Tonight.
I checked, and in 2013 the Pew Trusts’ Philadelphia Research Initiative did a poll and asked Philadelphia voters whether they thought charter schools (1) improve education options and help keep middleclass families in the city, or (2) whether they take too much money away from the public schools and lack sufficient oversight.
By a margin of 64 to 26 percent, voters favored the pro-charter statement. African-American voters, a key Williams constituency, agreed in exactly the same proportions.