A super PAC associated with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan has put nearly half a million dollars into TV ads attacking Bucks County Democratic congressional candidate Scott Wallace.
Republicans are committed to keeping control of Congress in a tough midterm election this year, and Pennsylvania’s 1st Congressional District is one of the most hotly-contested in the country.
The ad from the Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC dedicated to holding the GOP majority, doesn’t even mention the Republican incumbent, U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick. It simply goes after Wallace.
“What’s rich? Scott Wallace,” an announcer says in the ad. “He inherited a hundred million bucks, but Wallace repeatedly failed to pay his own taxes. Wallace was hit with a $70,000 lien for unpaid taxes.”
As with most political ads, the facts are a little less stark than the presentation.
The super PAC found one occasion when Wallace was two weeks late paying county and township taxes six years ago, and a more substantial lien the state of Maryland filed in 2007 for late taxes of $49,276, which with interest and penalties came to $68,844.
Wallace has spent much of the last 20 years running his family foundation, spending a lot of time in Africa. Campaign spokeswoman Zoe Wilson-Mayer says the Republican ad is distorting what amounts to an oversight.
“Scott received the notice when he was out of the country doing the work of his charity, and when he returned and found out he owed more in taxes, he paid them in full, and the state waived all penalties,” Wilson-Mayer said. “Scott Wallace has paid all his taxes in full, period.”
As a super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund can accept unlimited contributions under U.S. Supreme Court decisions, including Citizens United.
The CLF raised $51 million in the second quarter of this year, more than half of that from Las Vegas Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
Will it make a difference in the race?
I spoke to Bucks County Courier Times and Intelligencer newspapers columnist J.D. Mullane.
He said outside money is nothing new for this congressional seat, and it’s not clear if it will change many minds.
“It’s a 50-50 district. People are dug in,” Mullane said. “It’s not going to be the outside campaign ads that are going to make a difference here. It’s going to be which candidate gets out, knocks on doors and meets the most people.”
The Congressional Leadership Fund has targeted up to $4.1 million just for advertising this fall in the Bucks County race, and communications director Courtney Alexander said the committee has also opened a field office in the district to focus on grassroots campaigning.
“We talk about local issues.” She said. “We’re out knocking on doors, we’re making phone calls, and our interns and volunteers are out every single day, talking to folks in the first district.”
While the Republican leadership PAC can bring in big money from national sources to help Fitzpatrick, so far Wallace has tapped his personal wealth for more than $5 million to fund his own campaign. He has a new ad, in which he appears on camera to make his own case against Fitzpatrick.
“Brian Fitzpatrick voted for the new tax law that gives most of the money to big corporations and the top one percent,” Wallace says, while a message on the screen flashes that 83 percent of the tax breaks go to the top 1 percent.
The figure comes from a Tax Policy Center analysis, and the number refers to the year 2027, after many middle-class tax breaks expire.
Fitzpatrick has defended his vote on the tax overhaul, saying the national economy is stronger now because of the changes.
So far, outside groups have spent about $1.1 million dollars on the Bucks County race, with more than 90 percent of that going to attack Wallace.
Prof. Robin Kolodny, who chairs the political science department at Temple University, isn’t sure how much it will matter when many voters see the mid-terms as a referendum on President Trump.
“To be blunt about it, it could be a lot of effort for nothing,” she said, “trying to focus on the Democratic candidate, if people are just interested in sending a message to the White House.”
The Fitzpatrick/Wallace race isn’t the only one getting national attention. Three other congressional contests in the Philadelphia region are attracting outside spending.