Super PAC spending topped $10 million in Philly mayoral primary

 Clockwise from top left, Philadelphia Democratic mayoral candidates state Sen. Anthony Williams, Milton Street, Nelson Diaz, Jim Kenney, Doug Oliver, and Lynne Abraham. Kenney won the nomination.(NewsWorks file photos)

Clockwise from top left, Philadelphia Democratic mayoral candidates state Sen. Anthony Williams, Milton Street, Nelson Diaz, Jim Kenney, Doug Oliver, and Lynne Abraham. Kenney won the nomination.(NewsWorks file photos)

Super PACs raised and spent big money on this year’s mayoral primary in Philadelphia. Campaign finance reports released Thursday revealed just how much: more than $10 million.

The year of the super PAC

While candidates raised more than $5.1 million, three super PACs, unfettered by contribution limits, raked in about $10.3 million. 

One super PAC raised and spent more than all six Democratic candidates combined. American Cities, the independent expenditure group funded by three wealthy financial executives from the Philadelphia suburbs, spent $7.1 million backing state Sen. Anthony Williams and promoting a pro-charter, pro-voucher agenda. 

That’s more than twice the amount spent by two other super PACs backing Jim Kenney, the winner of the May 19 Democratic primary. Forward Philadelphia and Building A Better Pa. spent just under $3 million in funds that came mostly from labor unions, including the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and electricians’ Local 98. 

How the candidates fared 

In the end, Kenney raised the most cash — more than $1.8 million in 2015 — and spent nearly all of it. He had little more than $100,000 left as of June 8 as he’s expected to cruise to a win in the November general election.

Williams was a close second, raising more than $1.5 million. Former District Attorney Lynne Abraham raised about $1.1 million. 

Former city solicitor Nelson Diaz and former state Sen. Milton Street amassed $529,478 and $17,000 respectively. Former PGW executive Doug Oliver did not file his report by the time the board of election offices closed Thursday, but reported about $21,000 in fundraising as of May 4.

Williams and Kenney had been neck-and-neck, but in the less than two weeks leading up to the primary, the pace of Williams’ fundraising slowed as polls showed Kenney leading by wider-than-expected margins. Kenney reported raising $500,000, while Williams raised about $220,000.

Council president says change may be needed

This year marked the first time super PACs played such a role in a Philadelphia mayoral election and even political insiders are wary of their power.

Many campaign operatives and some candidates complained over the course of the race that city contribution limits unfairly restricted candidate fundraising and drove money into outside groups regarded as less accountable than the candidates themselves.

Asked Thursday if change is needed, City Council President Darrell Clarke said the current system seemed to give super PACs too much of an advantage in fundraising and spending.

“I think the contribution limit is artificially low,” Clarke said. “I think there should be some limitations on contributions, but I think at this point they’re clearly too low.”

Clarke declined to say how much they should be raised, saying he wants to have further discussion on that in the coming months.

Candidate or Committee

Cash raised (2015)

Cash spent (2015)

American Cities

$7,196,000

$7,194,377

Building A Better PA

$1,756,555

$1,621,462

Forward Philadelphia

$1,374,460

$1,360,091

 

 

 

Lynne Abraham

$1,168,026

$1,261,736

Nelson Diaz

$529,478

$593,929

Jim Kenney

$1,816,030

$1,779,251

Doug Oliver

$21,940

$24,537

Anthony Williams

$1,563,359

$1,870,195

Milton Street

$17,000

$18,796

*Note: Fundraising numbers for Doug Oliver are as of May 4, 2015.

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