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A political action committee funded by a Bucks County venture capitalist and Lehigh Valley business leaders gave $16,800 worth of in-kind contributions to six Republican candidates running for Parkland School Board in the May 16 primary.
Common Sense Solutions, founded by Republican Dean Browning, a former Lehigh County commissioner, was the biggest contributor among four PACs helping 11 candidates in the race, according to campaign finance reports filed in Lehigh County and the state for the reporting periods that ran Jan. 1 to June 5.
The other PACs were Concerned Parents of Parkland, which is supporting the Democratic slate, the Pennsylvania State Education Association’s PACE, which gave to members of both political parties, and Education First for Parkland, which was created for Republican candidates Michael Deering and Bobby Lanyon, who are also supported by Common Sense Solutions.
Donors to Common Sense Solutions included venture capitalist Paul Martino of Doylestown, the founder of what is now Back to School PAC who gave $3,000; David M. Jaindl, president of Jaindl Farms who gave $2,500; and William Bachenberg, a co-owner of Lehigh Valley Sporting Clays in North Whitehall Township who gave $2,500.
His wife Laura Bachenberg, who co-owns the sporting clay business, also contributed in-kind services for banners for members of the Republican slate.
The in-kind services from Common Sense Solutions were split evenly among the six GOP candidates running as a slate who include Deering, Lanyon, Beth Finch, Natalie Janotka and George Rivera, all of whom won Republican nominations for four-year terms, and Mike Millo, who won the Republican nomination for the two-year term.
There are six seats up for grabs on Nov. 7 in Parkland, which covers South Whitehall, North Whitehall and Upper Macungie Townships. Five are for four-year terms and one is a two-year term created by the resignation of Republican Jarrett Coleman, who was elected to the state Senate’s 16th District in November 2022.
The Democratic slate includes incumbent Republicans Carol Facchiano and Lisa Roth and Democrats Jay Rohatgi and Marisa Ziegler, and newcomer Democrat Christopher Pirrotta. Rohatgi is also the Democratic candidate for the two-year seat. School board candidates can cross-file in elections.
The emergence of PACs in the Parkland race demonstrates the high stakes at play in the race, where getting candidates’ names out through mailers, text messages and other means is key.
Like many school board races across the Lehigh Valley and Pennsylvania, the Parkland contest is pitting incumbents who had to make hard decisions about school closings and masks mandates during the covid pandemic against parents-turned candidates who weren’t happy with the results.
If either slate emerges as full victors in Parkland in November, it will give slate members the majority vote on a board that largely agrees on decisions.
The four PACs also show that the funding source – influential in federal and state races – has become a convenient vehicle for local-level candidates to raise money and pool resources.
It’s not unusual for candidates to receive more through in-kind services than from individual donors.
Here’s a look at funding in Parkland from Jan. 1 to June 5, which covers three reporting periods.
COMMON SENSE SOLUTIONS
Common Sense Solutions far outraised the other three PACS or individual candidates themselves.
It raised $15,850 between Jan. 1 and May 1, then another $1,000 between May 2 and June 5, according to campaign finance reports. The PAC spent $12,920.56 between Jan. 1 and May 1 and $3,939.25 between May 2 and June 5.
The money was spent on in-kind services such as fliers, text messages, signs and banners for a slate of Republican candidates that had used the slogan Elevating Excellence in Parkland but now has a website under the name Education First for Parkland.
The slate said it stands for parent choice, exemplary education, accountability, reasonable spending, improved communication and transparency in curriculum. Some members are familiar faces at school board meetings, where they have spoken against mandated masking, called for transparency in appointments to school board vacancies and questioned the need for tax hikes.
Browning is chair of the PAC he founded in August 2020. He said he agreed to use it as a way donors could give one donation for the six candidates instead of giving to each individually. The slate is endorsed by the Lehigh County Republican Committee.
Common Sense’s biggest donor was Martino ($3,000), a parent who grew frustrated with covid-related policies in his children’s school and who began what is now a conservative PAC called Back to School USA. His Back to School PA PAC has given $875,029 to candidates and other PACs, according to Transparency USA.
Martino of Doylestown also gave $5,000 to the Your Voice on the Board PAC for the eponymously named slate of Republicans running in the East Penn School Board race. Both donations came from Martino, not his PAC.
Besides Jaindl and Bachenberg, other donors include: Andrew Wright, managing partner of Vinart Enterprises ($2,500); Robert J. Johnson of Johnson Land Development ($1,000); Anthony Salvaggio of Computer Aid Inc. in Allentown ($1,000); Citizens for Ryan Mackenzie, the campaign finance committee for GOP state Rep. Ryan Mackenzie ($1,000); Ernie Stiegler of SWBR Marketing and Media ($1,000); Catherine Jaindl-Leuthe ($1,000); Catherine Wright ($1,000); and physician Daniel Torres ($350).
Common Sense Solutions spent the bulk of its money paying Pathfinder Communications in Berwyn, Pa., and Communications Concepts in Easton for direct mailers, palm cards, text messages and poll cards.
It had $60.51 left as of June 5, nearly the same amount that it started with in January.
CONCERNED PARENTS OF PARKLAND
Concerned Parents of Parkland is a PAC that was started in February by a group of parents who came together after attending school board meetings to show support for the district’s pandemic-related policies, which included school closings and mandated masks.
Amy Ensinger, one of those parents, is listed as the person submitting the campaign finance reports for Jan. 1 to May 1 and May 2 to June 5.
The group, called CPOP for short, views Facchiano, who is the board’s president, Roth, Rohatgi, Ziegler and Pirotta moderate and competent candidates who will put children first.
“We believe these candidates represent the best path to success for our children,” the PAC’s website says.
Concerned Parents of Parkland raised $3,028.67 for the Jan. 1 to May 1 reporting period, according to its campaign finance report.
Donors included Alyssa Ellowitch ($250); Audrey Ettinger ($200); U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, D-7th District, who lives in the district ($200); Jeff Fleischaker ($500); Friends of Mike Schlossberg, the campaign finance committee for state Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, who lives in Parkland ($500); and Pirrotta, one of the Democratic candidates ($625.30).
Concerned Parents of Parkland spent $2,145 on in-kind services such as email services, a web domain, credit card processing fees, postage for mailers and yard signs. It had an ending cash balance of $1017.72 as of June 5.
The Pennsylvania State Education Association represents about 178,000 teachers and other education professionals in the state, including those in Parkland.
PACE gave to Republican and Democratic candidates in Parkland, including incumbent Republican Patrick Foose ($229), who was not part of a slate and lost in the primary, campaign finance reports show.
It gave the following to candidates supported by CPOP: Pirrotta ($249); Friends of Marissa Ziegler ($500) and Friends of Jay Rohatgi ($500).
Education First for Parkland, Deering and Lanyon’s PAC, received $500.
EDUCATION FIRST FOR PARKLAND
Education First for Parkland was created to raise contributions for Deering and Lanyon though it can help other candidates as well.
Deering and Lanyon both signed separate reports for Jan. 1 to May 1 and May 2 to June 5 reporting periods under the PAC’s name.
Both of their reports for Jan. 1 to May 1 show $1,500 in monetary contributions and $4,593 from in-kind contributions.
Donations include $500 from the PSEA and $1,000 from Richard Dean, who is the founder of WFMZ-TV and Lanyon’s father-in-law.
Their report lists in-kind contributions for banners, signs, installation of signs, direct mailing from Laura Bachenberg ($646.55); Natalie for Parkland, Janotka’s campaign finance committee, ($593.55); Alexander Maggitti Jr. ($1,200); and Common Sense Solutions ($2,153.43). The only expenditure was $550 for banners.
Their PAC reports for May 2 to June 5 show no new monetary donations and $604.57 from Common Sense for in-kind services.
Facchiano and Roth signed waivers saying they would not spend or raise more than $250 per reporting period, meaning they did not have to fill out campaign finance reports.
Beth Finch – Republican slate
Finch’s report for the Jan. 1 to May 1 reporting period shows no monetary donations and $5,168.54 from in-kind services from the following:
Natlie for Parkland ($593.55); Laura Bachenberg ($646.55); Alexander Maggitti Jr. ($1,200); Education First for Parkland ($575); and Common Sense Solutions ($2,153.43).
Finch’s report for May 2 to June 5 showed $329.57 for in-kind services from Common Sense Solutions. She also received another $275 from Common Sense Solutions on May 11, which was mistakenly marked as cash, not as an in-kind contribution, according to Browning.
Natalie Janotka – Republican slate
Janotka filed reports for herself and for Natalie for Parkland, her campaign finance committee.
Natalie for Parkland raised $600 for the Jan. 1 to May 1 reporting period, including $500 from Patricia Maggitti of Coopersburg. The committee listed $593.55 in unpaid debt for signs.
Her in-kind contributions were valued at $4,574.98, and included the following:
Common Sense Solutions ($2,153.43); Laura Bachenberg ($646.55); Alexander Maggitti ($1,200); and Education First for Parkland ($575).
The Natalie for Parkland committee showed $604.57 from Common Sense Solutions for in-kind services for the May 2 to June 5 period. The PAC had $6.45 left.
Janotka’s own campaign finance report for May 1 to June 5 lists $604.57 from Common Sense Solutions for in-kind services..
Mike Millo – Republican slate (Two-year term)
Millo’s two reports for Jan. 1 to June 5 listed no monetary contributions, no expenditures and $2,758 from Common Solutions for in-kind services.
Chris Pirrotta – Democratic slate
Pirrotta raised $769 and spent $1,216.17 in the Jan. 1 to May 1 period, leaving a $447.17 deficit. He listed a $249 donation from the PSEA and $500 from John Deak of Los Angeles. Expenses included web design and hosting fees, yard signs, fliers, picnic supplies and business cards.
His May 2 to June 5 report lists the same contributions from PSEA and Deak. Pirrotta told Armchair Lehigh Valley that he didn’t receive additional contributions from the two sources, calling the double listing an error he made as someone new to campaign finance reports.
His expenses were $1,229.16, leaving a cash balance of $460.16.
George Rivera – Republican slate
Rivera’s reports for Jan. 1 to June 5 list $200 in monetary contributions and $3,629.55 in in-kind contributions, which include $2,153 from Common Sense, $225 from Rosie Galluzzo for food and $646.55 from Laura Bachenberg for banners. He got $604.57 in the May 2 to June 5 period from Common Sense Solutions.
Jay Rohatgi – Democratic slate Two- and four-year term
Rohatgi, an incumbent, filed reports under Friends of Rohatgi and for himself.
Friends of Rohatgi showed $2,088.41 brought over from prior campaigns. It shows a $500 donation from PSEA and no expenditures for the Jan. 1 to May 1 period.
His personal campaign finance report shows no donations and $304 in expenditures for Jan. 1 to June 5.
Marisa Ziegler – Democratic slate
Ziegler, an incumbent, filed under Friends of Marissa Ziegler. The report for Jan. 1 to May 1 shows $616.34 brought over from a prior campaign, $845.87 raised, including $500 from the PSEA, and $107 in expenditures. There were $349.80 in in-kind contributions from her campaign for palm cards.
The committee reported no additional contributions between May 2 and June 5, $168.25 in expenses and an ending cash balance of $1,186.25.
This story was first published by Armchair Lehigh Valley, a political newsletter, and a publishing partner of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.
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