The Lead

Democratic spending approaches $1M in special election to decide control of the Pa. House

By: - May 10, 2023 2:24 pm

The Delaware County Courthouse (Administrative Office of Pa. Courts image)

Pennsylvania Democrats have spent nearly $1 million in a suburban Philadelphia state House special election that will determine control of the chamber and the trajectory of the commonwealth’s legislative agenda.

Heather Boyd, the Democratic nominee for the Delaware County-based 163rd House District, reported $979,343 in in-kind contributions from the Pennsylvania House Democratic Campaign Committee and the Pennsylvania Democratic Party since April, according to a campaign finance report filed with the Department of State.

In-kind contributions are goods and services provided by a third party.

Boyd’s Republican opponent, Katie Ford, reported spending $26,438 raised by her campaign committee, and receiving $16,112 in in-kind support from the Pennsylvania House Republican Campaign Committee during the same reporting period that ended May 1.

The House Republican Campaign Committee separately reported spending $260,820 on special election campaign activities through May 1. The House Democratic Campaign Committee’s report was not available from the Department of State on Wednesday.

The unusually heated open-seat race is one of two special elections for state House seats that will coincide with the primary election on Tuesday. 

In north-central Pennsylvania, Democratic County Commissioner Trevor Finn and Republican career firefighter Michael Stender are vying for the 108th District seat that was left vacant when former Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver, R-Northumberland, was elected to the state Senate.

The House Democrats’ 102-101 majority is at stake in the 163rd District election after state Rep. Mike Zabel, D-Delaware, resigned from office in March after three women accused him of sexual harassment.

The scandal has been the subject of campaign ads and materials that say Boyd and other Democratic leaders allowed Zabel to run for reelection twice despite having knowledge of an accusation of improper conduct by the lawmaker.

Boyd said one of Zabel’s accusers confided in her about Zabel’s harassment in 2019,  and tried to find a candidate to run against him but was powerless to stop him from seeking reelection.

Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro endorsed Boyd in a commercial that aired on Philadelphia-area television stations calling on voters to elect her and warning that a Republican victory would open the door for a constitutional referendum on abortion rights.

Boyd’s report lists more than $528,000 in media buys by the HDCC through May 1, more than two weeks before the election.

Several GOP House lawmakers made substantial contributions from their election funds to the HRCC, including Rep. Josh Kail, of Beaver County, who gave $70,260; Rep. Tim O’Neal, of Washington County, who gave $30,000; and House Minority Leader Bryan Cutler, of Lancaster County, who gave $20,000, according to the committee’s report.

The HRCC’s largest single contributor was Montgomery County property developer Michael Karp, who donated $136,000, the report says.

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Peter Hall
Peter Hall

Peter Hall has been a journalist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for more than 20 years, most recently covering criminal justice and legal affairs for The Morning Call in Allentown. His career at local newspapers and legal business publications has taken him from school board meetings to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and many points of interest between. He earned a degree in journalism from Susquehanna University.