Super PAC opens fire in Delco congressional race, two candidates quit

John Dougherty is business manager of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which donated $200,000 to a Super PAC supporting Congressional candidate Rich Lazer. (Katie Colaneri/WHYY, file)

John Dougherty is business manager of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which donated $200,000 to a Super PAC supporting Congressional candidate Rich Lazer. (Katie Colaneri/WHYY, file)

A super PAC funded by the Philadelphia area electricians union has spent $200,000 to run a TV ad supporting South Philadelphia congressional candidate Rich Lazer.

Super PACs are allowed to accept unlimited contributions and spend as much as they want, as long as they don’t coordinate efforts with the candidate they’re supporting.

But the high-definition video in the ad — of Lazer walking with Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and chatting with voters on sidewalks — was shot not by the super PAC, called the Middle Class PAC, but by Lazer’s own campaign.

It’s now a common practice in federal elections for campaign committees to post high-quality video of their candidates on You Tube without a voice-over, so that independent groups that support them can use it in ads.

The practice has been banned in Philadelphia elections by the city Board of Ethics, which regards it as coordination between the campaign and the supposedly independent groups that operate outside of campaign contribution limits.

The Federal Election Commission, which enforces federal election law, has been paralyzed by partisan deadlock for years and doesn’t interfere with the practice.

Asked if the campaign posted the video so the labor-funded super PAC could use it, Lazer spokesman Gabe Roberts didn’t answer the question directly.

“We’re posting videos that we think are good videos,” Roberts said.

Wayne Miller, business manager of Sprinkler Fitters Union Local 692, who’s listed on the statement organization for the Middle Class PAC, didn’t return a call for comment.

Lazer is in a crowded field of Democrats seeking the party’s nomination for the 5th Congressional District, which consists mostly of Delaware County and smaller portions of South Philadelphia and Lower Merion in Montgomery County.

The district, like all 18 in Pennsylvania, were redrawn by the state Supreme Court after it ruled the previous congressional boundaries were unconstitutionally gerrymandered

Other candidates on TV

Two other candidates in the primary, Mary Gay Scanlon and Ashley Lunkenheimer, are advertising on television.

Both had raised over $400,000 as of March 26, campaign finance reports show.

Scanlon, who for years managed pro-bono work for the law firm Ballard Spahr, promises to pursue a progressive agenda in Congress in her ads, which also feature an on-camera endorsement from former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.

Lunkenheimer, a former federal prosecutor, says in her ad that she took assault weapons from criminals, and promises to fight the NRA in Congress. She also says she and her wife are raising three kids and that she knows “how Donald Trump’s hatred affects families.”

The Lunkenheimer campaign has posted a video on You Tube titled “Lunkenheimer B Roll Digital,” which consists of flattering images of the candidate without a voice-over, exactly the kind of material often harvested by super PACs that want to support the candidate in question.

A spokesman for Lunkenheimer’s campaign didn’t immediately return requests for comment about the posting.

A new super PAC was registered three weeks ago called Progress in PA-05, and one local Democrat told me he believes it will be supporting Lunkenheimer.

UPDATE: It’s now clear Progress in PA-05 is supporting Lunkenheimer. A filing Tuesday with the Federal Election Commission shows it spent $18,283 on a mailing for Lunkenhemier. So far there’s been no required disclosure of donors to the PAC.

An email sent to the address on the PAC’s statement of organization has not been answered. No phone number was listed.

The field thins

The field of 14 candidates who filed to compete in the May 15 Democratic primary is now down to 10, with two departures over the past week.

Attorney Dan Muroff, one of the first to enter the race, suspended his campaign last week after raising more than $546,000 for the effort.

Former journalist David Wertime withdrew from the contest Monday, saying in a statement that he “will be proud to support the primary winner.”

Former congressional nominee George Badey and first-time candidate Shelly Chauncey left the contest earlier this month. Chauncey endorsed Lunkenheimer in the race.

Still in the contest are Scanlon, Lunkenheimer, Lazer, state Reps. Margo Davidson and Greg Vitali, Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland, Molly Sheehan, Lindy Li, Larry Arata, and Theresa Wright.

Disclosure: Ashley Lunkenheimer’s mother, Molly Shepard, served as chair of WHYY’s board of directors for six years, from 2001 to 2007, and served on the board until last September. She’s no longer a board member.

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