Retiring senators spend big to help chosen successors’ campaigns

By: - June 2, 2020 7:57 pm

Though two long-time members of Pennsylvania’s state Senate declined to seek reelection this year, the outgoing lawmakers still made sizable campaign contributions to their hand-picked successors ahead of Tuesday’s primary election.

Campaign finance records show that a political action committee linked to Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, spent $325,000 on advertising, direct-mail ads, and yard signs for Herm Suplizio, the city manager of DuBois, Jefferson County, who got Scarnati’s endorsement in the three-way Republican race in northwestern Pennsylvania’s 25th Senate District. 

Scarnati’s contributions constituted the bulk of the spending on Suplizio’s campaign, which also collected $129,00 in contributions from individual donors during the most recent fundraising period, which ran from March 10 to May 18, according to filings with the Department of State. 

Across the state in suburban Philadelphia’s  19th Senate District, state Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-Chester, transferred just under $50,000 from his own committee to that of Don Vymazal, a Democrat who hopes to take the seat Dinniman held for 14 years.

Dinniman endorsed Vymazal, his longtime aide, at the same time that he announced his retirement in February. Vymazal collected roughly $20,000 in campaign contributions in the run-up to the June 2 election, records show.

Some of the campaign finance reports for Vymazal’s Democratic challengers have not yet been uploaded to the state’s campaign finance database, making a complete analysis of the three-way race impossible. 

But records for the 25th Senatorial District show that the spending on Suplizio’s campaign is rivaled only by that of Republican challenger Rep. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, who also declined this year to seek re-election to the state House.

Dush, who announced this spring that he would suspend a campaign for Auditor General to run for Scarnati’s seat, collected $110,000 in contributions and $295,000 in in-kind donations during the most recent fundraising cycle. 

The in-kind gifts included more than $240,000 worth of Facebook ads and campaign mailers from Commonwealth Leaders Fund, a Harrisburg-based political action committee that supports conservative candidates.

James Brown, who is running against Dush and Suplizio in the Republican primary, and Margie Brown, who is running unopposed as a Democrat in the 25th district, each disclosed less than $10,000 in contributions in their most recent reports.

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Elizabeth Hardison
Elizabeth Hardison

Elizabeth Hardison covered education policy, election administration, criminal justice and legislative news for the Capital-Star from Jan. 2019-April 2021. You can find her on Twitter @ElizHardison.