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Yass, he can: Pro-charters billionaire jumps into key Pa. House, Senate races | Thursday Coffee

A PAC connected to Jeffrey Yass, of Montgomery County, recently dumped $65K into Democratic contests, records show

May 5, 2022 7:14 am

State Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, discusses a safe-injection site proposed for the city’s Kensington neighborhood (Philadelphia Tribune photo, reproduced by permission)

(*This story was updated at 10:24 a.m. on Thursday 5/5/22 to reflect that state Rep. Isabella Fitzgerald’s, D-Philadelphia, says it returned the donation it received from Excellent Schools Pa. PAC)

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Jeffrey Yass, the pro-school choice billionaire from suburban Philadelphia who’s best known for essentially bankrolling GOP gubernatorial hopeful Bill McSwain’s campaign, is doing some spending further down the May 17 primary ballot, newly filed records show.

Philadelphia-based Excellent Schools Pa. PAC, one of several pro-school choice PACs bankrolled by Yass, pumped $65,000 into the campaigns of five, Philadelphia House and Senate candidates who share his perspective on matters of school choice, campaign finance records recently filed with the Pennsylvania Department of State show.

“Winning elections cost money,” Dan Fee, a veteran Democratic consultant from Philadelphia told the Capital-Star, when he was asked about Yass’ pre-primary spending spree on the legislative contests.

Incumbent lawmakers who benefited from the Yass-funded largess include state Sen. Anthony Williams, and Rep. Amen Brown, both of Philadelphia. They respectively received $10,000 and $20,000 from Excellent Schools PA, campaign records show.

An excerpt of the report is pictured below.

(Source: Pennsylvania Dept. of State)

At a total of $105,000 in donations, Yass-funded committees are among the largest donors to Williams’ 2022 re-election effort, according to an analysis by the left-leaning website Pennsylvania SpotlightWilliams told the Capital-Star that his biggest source of support comes from organized labor.

Williamswhose support for charter schools is well-documented, faces a primary challenge from his left mounted by Paul Prescod, a Philadelphia school teacher and union activist.

Prescod has picked up endorsements from, among others, AFSCME District Council 47 and the Pennsylvania Working Families Party, our partners at City & State Pa. recently reported.

Brown, a first-term lawmaker who had a bumpy two years, is running in a three-way primary, according to City & State Pa.

Brown faces gun violence-reduction advocate Sajda Blackwell, a relative of former Philadelphia City Councilmember Jannie Blackwell, and Cassandra Green, a co-founder of the Mill Creek Community Partnership, according to City & State Pa.

State Rep. Isabella FitzgeraldD-Philadelphia, who was drawn into a new district with progressive Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Philadelphia, received a $15,000 contribution, records show. Fitzgerald, a former state House aide to now-U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-3rd Districtalso has a record of supporting charters.

Janay Hawthorne, a union activist and adjunct faculty member at Arcadia University, also is seeking the Democratic nod for the new 200th House District seat, according to City & State Pa.

*A spokesperson for Fitzgerald told the Capital-Star on Thursday morning that the Philadelphia lawmaker returned the donation on Wednesday.

“The funds that the campaign received were unsolicited and Yass’s involvement was unknown to us,” Fitzgerald’s campaign manager, Donna Powell, told the Capital-Star in an email. “Upon discovering his connection to our contributor — the funds were returned because Jeffrey Yass does not represent what Rep Fitzgerald stands for.”

(Getty Images)

It’s long been standard practice for big-money donors to spread the love, backing both Democrats and Republicans who might share some or all of their views. Soon-to-be Twitter Overlord Elon Musk, for instance, has been notably ecumenical in his spending.

Yass, however, stands out in Pennsylvania for the sheer size of his giving. In 2021, the Yass-funded Students First PAC poured $12 million into to Commonwealth Partners PACcontrolled by veteran conservative activist Matthew Brouillettethe Associated Press and the Capital-Star previously reported.

Yass’ ticket-splitting contributions also stand out because Pennsylvania Democrats have put all of their eggs into state Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s basket. He’s running without opposition in the primary, but is likely to face a vigorous Republican opponent in the general election race. That lends some symbolic importance to Yass’ Democratic giving as well.

State Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Philadelphia (Image viaStateline.org)

Speaking to the Capital-Star on Wednesday, Williams shrugged off the suggestion that there was any dissonance with taking money from Yass, who’s supporting a candidate working to defeat Shapiro.

“You mean the same as George BushBill Clinton, and Ed Rendell?” who also benefited from GOP support, Williams asked.

“There have been so many elected officials who have taken money. As long as it doesn’t interfere with their votes,” it’s inbounds, Williams argued. “Mine have always been in support of public education.”.

“I am an avid supporter of Josh Shapiro and Austin Davis, and I will be for the [Democratic] U.S. Senate nominee,” Williams told the Capital-Star.

That kind of Reaganesque triangulation — ‘They’re supporting my agenda, I’m not supporting theirs’ — isn’t a particularly original or surprising one, Fee, the Democratic consultant said.

But in a competitive contest, where a few extra bucks can shift the momentum, it is an effective one, he said.

“People lose campaigns because they run bad campaigns,” he said. “The support to run a functional campaign can make a difference.”

Demonstrators stand outside the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg to protest the possibility of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. (Capital-Star photo by Marley Parish)

Our Stuff.
U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a nearly 50-year-old right to abortion would lead to strict restrictions or bans by states across nearly half the country almost immediately, Capital-Star Washington Reporters Jacob Fischler and Ariana Figueroa report.

Democrats and abortion rights advocates in Pennsylvania have been energized by very real possibility the U.S. Supreme Court will strike down Roe v. WadeMarley Parish reports.

U.S. Senate Democrats have pledged a new vote codifying the right to an abortion after publication of a draft court ruling that showed the Supreme Court on track to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision, Capital-Star Washington Reporter Jennifer Shutt reports.

University of Pittsburgh professor, and anti-violence expert, Richard Garlandsays he’s the man to fill a key vacancy on Allegheny County’s Jail Oversight Board, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.

Ex-offenders who complete a reentry program are now eligible for Philly Housing Authority housing, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning: Justice Samuel Alito just threw the Dems a midterm lifeline. Will they use it? Opinion regular Fletcher McClellan takes up the question. And banning abortion will cause more pregnancy-related fatalities, a University of Colorado/Boulder scholar writes.

Five Republican candidates for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania faced off in a debate hosted by Spotlight PA on Tuesday, April 26, 2022. (Screenshot)

Elsewhere.
The Inquirer has four takeaways from Wednesday night’s Republican U.S. Senate debate, roughly the 1,347th televised confrontation between the candidates in the last two weeks.

new Franklin & Marshall College poll shows Democrat John Fetterman with a big lead in the Democratic race for U.S. Senate, PennLive reports.

Turkish-born Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Mehmet Oz is taking heat for his 2018 vote in Turkey’s presidential election, PoliticsPA reports.

Republican governor candidate Doug Mastriano, a former Army officer, is facing questions over a 2002 academic paper he wrote suggesting that U.S. forces should “not hesitate” to strike at locals if a military regime is nearby, describing the U.S. military’s “hypersensitivity” to civilian deaths as an “enormous weakness.” City & State Pa. has the story.

With Roe in danger, will U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.shift his stance on abortion? The Post-Gazette considers the question.

The draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion has renewed the urgency over the availability of over the counter contraceptionPolitico reports.

State House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, tells LancasterOnline that he’d ‘personally support’ a bill banning all abortions.

GoErie explains why Erie’s last legal abortion clinic closed in 2007.

York County’s police departments are ‘scrambling’ to address a staffing shortage, the York Daily Record reports.

A Lehigh Valley school district is weighing a later starting time for high school students, the Morning Call reports.

In Delaware County, healthcare workers rallied against planned cuts at Crozer Health SystemWHYY-FM reports.

Eviction filings have risen as pandemic aid runs out, NPR reports (via WITF-FM).

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

 

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What Goes On
12 p.m., East Wing Rotunda: National Day of Prayer Vigil

WolfWatch
As of this writing, Gov. Tom Wolf has no public schedule today.

Heavy Rotation
Here’s some new music from Madness frontman Suggs and the ModfatherPaul Weller. It’s the absolutely delightful — and very English — ‘Oo do U Fink U R?’


Thursday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
In a brutal 60 minutes of very physical hockey, the Carolina Hurricanes beat the Boston Bruins 5-2 on Thursday night to take game two of their Eastern Conference playoff series.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.

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