The Lead

Dem group files campaign finance complaint against Barletta-linked PAC

By: - February 14, 2022 6:09 pm

Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Lou Barletta (WikiMedia Commons).

A Democratic group has filed a federal campaign finance complaint against Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial hopeful Lou Barletta over political spending directed to a rental property formerly owned by him and his wife.

The spending was from Leaders Only Unite Political Action Committee, or LOU PAC, a so-called leadership PAC that elected officials often use to skirt federal limits on spending while supporting allies and electing like-minded new colleagues.

Barletta, who was elected to Congress in 2010 and served until 2018, set up LOU PAC in 2014. 

Despite not running during the 2020 cycle, the PAC spent $33,000 from Feb. 2019 to Oct. 2020 to rent an unspecified property owned by Bartletta’s wife Mary Grace, according to the Huffington Post.

Those rental payments varied month by month, according to the Federal Election Commission complaint filed by the Democratic Governors Association, which seeks to help elect Democrats to governor’s mansions across the country.

The 2022 candidates for Pa. governor are raising big money for a big race

If the payments exceeded fair market value, then the payments were an illegal personal use of campaign funds, the DGA argued. And if the payments were below the rent’s fair market value, then the contributions are an illegal contribution by Barletta to the PAC over federal limits.

The complaint called this “a troubling sign indicating the Representative may have been either enriching himself by overpaying or illegally undercharging his committee.”

“Either way, Representative Barletta’s funneling campaign funds to his own property likely violated federal election law,” the DGA concluded.

LOU PAC is unrelated to Barletta’s gubernatorial campaign, which is funded by a separate campaign account governed by Pennsylvania state law, not federal law. Unlike federal campaigns, there are no limits on how much one can contribute to state-level races.

But in an email, DGA Deputy Communications Director Sam Newton said that Barletta is “a corrupt politician who said one thing to Pennsylvanians … then used their money to line his own pockets with tens of thousands of dollars.”

“That type of shady self-dealing shows he can’t be trusted to be anywhere near the governorship,” he added.

Pennsylvania’s governor mansion is open in 2022 because Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat is term limited. Current Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro is functionally unopposed within his party for the nod.

Barletta, who was an early supporter of former President Donald Trump, has performed well in early polling of the GOP governor’s primary, though he faces a wide field of competition and a large number of voters are still undecided.

In a statement, a Barletta campaign spokesperson said that the spending had been done “in accordance with the law.”

“But, by pulling this stunt, it is clear that Democrats fear Lou Barletta’s candidacy,” the spokesperson added. “The DGA is trying to rehash old recycled political smear talking points because they see the same numbers we see: Lou Barletta is a strong candidate to challenge Josh Shapiro, who won’t be able to defend his own failed record as attorney general.”

The complaint now goes before the six-member Federal Election Commission, which is largely toothless. It is made up of two Democrats, one independent, and three Republicans, and all official actions require a bipartisan, four-vote majority.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.