Auditioning for LG, Sims raises $285k in first six weeks of statewide campaign

State Rep. Brian Sims, D-Philadelphia (Courtesy of Sims' campaign)

A fiery progressive Democratic lawmaker from Philadelphia is already raising big bucks in his run to be the No. 2 executive in Pennsylvania.

State Rep. Brian Sims has already raised $285,000 in six weeks since announcing his 2022 run for lieutenant governor, according to fundraising numbers shared with the Capital-Star by a campaign spokesperson.

But that money could end up sitting in his bank account if the General Assembly moves forward with a proposed change to how Pennsylvania voters pick the lieutenant governor. 

Spokesperson Anne Wakabayashi said the money proves that Sims is a “serious candidate” who can “communicate effectively no matter who else jumps in.”

“His fundraising numbers show that he will be an excellent partner on the ticket to whoever the nominee for governor is,” she added.

The lieutenant governor has a minimal role under the Pennsylvania constitution. They chair the state’s Board of Pardons, which votes on leniency for prisoners, and presides over the state Senate. They may only cast a tie breaking vote on procedural motions. 

They also replace the governor atop the commonwealth if the governor resigns, passes away, or is otherwise incapacitated. Otherwise, the position provides a statewide bully pulpit for aspiring politicians, as shown by the current deputy, John Fetterman.

Sims, a six-term openly gay state representative and attorney, has built a viral following for his sharp social media posts and speeches on video and the House floor assailing his Republican colleagues on redistricting, LGBTQ rights, and COVID-19 guidelines. 

He’s also courted controversy, including when he offered money to anyone who could identify a group of teenage anti-abortion protesters outside a Philadelphia Planned Parenthood.

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As of right now, the lieutenant governor is picked in a separate primary than the gubernatorial candidate. The two then run as a ticket in the general election.

This can create political mismatches, such as Gov. Tom Wolf and his first lieutenant, Philadelphia state Sen. Mike Stack.

Stack was eventually found to have misused state resources while serving as Wolf’s second-in-command, and lost in the 2018 primary to Fetterman.

At least one other Democratic candidate has announced a run for the position: Lehigh County Controller Mark Pinsley. Sim’s legislative colleague, state Rep. Austin Davis, D-Allegheny, is also mulling a run. 

For Republicans, Cambria County perennial candidate Jerry Carnicella has announced a run for lieutenant governor. 

At the top of the ticket, Democrats will likely have Attorney General Josh Shapiro as an option. For Republicans, just one man, Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale, has announced, but more names are rumored to be considering a run.

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The eventual gubernatorial candidates may get to make their own choice if a proposed constitutional amendment passes.

The amendment, from state Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill, would allow the eventual gubernatorial candidate to pick their own running mate. Supporters argue it’ll create a more comprehensive leadership team atop the commonwealth.

Sims voted against the proposal when it passed the House in December 2019. The bill must pass the Senate and House with a simple majority, before it is put to voters for final approval in a referendum. Such a vote could happen as soon as November if the General Assembly approves the amendment again this session.

The war chest Sims built dwarfs what Fetterman raised at this point in his 2018 run for the office. Fetterman, who is running for U.S. Senate in 2022 rather than reelection, raised a little less than $185,000 after announcing his lieutenant governor campaign in November 2017. 

Wakabayashi also pointed out that Sims fundraising beat Fetterman’s fundraising during the first quarter of 2018, which is typically a more active time for fundraising.

The 5,000-plus donors giving to Sims cover all but five of the state’s 67 counties, Wakabayashi added. 

The race for the position has occasionally attracted big spending. Republicans 2018 lieutenant governor nominee Jeff Bartos raised $1.5 million. But of that, about half came from his own pocket and a federal campaign committee he set up to explore a U.S. Senate run.

Former lieutenant governor Stack also raised about $1.5 million in his 2014 run for the position, and brought in roughly $900,000 in the two years leading up to his contested — and unsuccessful — 2018 reelection.

That’s more than Fetterman’s haul, who raised $780,000 in total for his run to be Wolf’s deputy, according to state campaign finance records.