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Spending on Pa. Supreme Court race topped $22M

Plus, Pa. House advances bill to boost public sector pensions.

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Thursday, November 16, 2023
In today's edition: High court cash, latest on the legislature, AIPAC targets, severance pay, the Dougherty brothers, and bad company.

At least $22 million was spent to influence the outcome of last week's state Supreme Court race in Pennsylvania, much of it focused on one issue.

Abortion access in a post-Roe, state-centric legal landscape was a key driver of spending on the contest won by Democrat Daniel McCaffery. 

While the total is likely to rise as final campaign finance reports are filed later this month, the $22 million has already shattered previous records.

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Spending on Pa. Supreme Court race broke records, set precedent for outside influence.

THE CONTEXT: Spending on high court races has ballooned in other states too as the courts have increasingly become the arbiters of issues ranging from abortion access to redistricting to election law. 

In the past, Pennsylvania court races have seen low spending compared to the tens of millions of dollars pumped into gubernatorial races. But that changed in 2015 when Democrats flipped Pennsylvania's high court by winning three open seats in a race that cost at least $15.8 million total.

Another new factor in the race this year was the heavy use of independent expenditures, the category of spending by groups that want to influence an election but aren't allowed to coordinate with a campaign.

Unlike PACs that give to candidates directly, groups that spend independently are permitted to take cash from “dark money” organizations.

"This looks like a very clear cut and straightforward conflict of interest."

—Philip Hensley-Robin of the good government group Common Cause Pennsylvania on Gov. Josh Shapiro choosing a lobbyist for investment contractors to head up the state pension board that hires them
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» RESULTS REVIEW: Join Spotlight PA, the New Pennsylvania Project, and Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts from 6-7 p.m. TODAY for a Q&A on the election results. Register here. Send questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
The hare sculpture, decorated for Thanksgiving, at Stoneleigh in Delaware County, via Don N. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
A wooden carving of rabbits decorated with Thanksgiving banners and symbols.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.CAPITOL BRIEFS: This week a group of female GOP state lawmakers unveiled a legislative package to make "significant reforms" to sexual harassment policies in Harrisburg; state House Democrats advanced an estimated $1.8 billion boost to public sector pensions; and a lower chamber panel weighed a bill upping child labor law penalties that experts say could have unintended consequences for minors and migrants.
  • RELATED: Pennsylvania Senate approves millions for universities and schools but rejects House Dem priorities, via the AP.
  • Pa. House passes bill that would extend unemployment benefits to striking workers, via @StephenJ_Caruso.
Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.POLITICAL FORTUNES: Pro-Israel AIPAC is now expected to spend $100 million to primary Democrats seen as not pro-Israel enough: first-term Pittsburgh U.S. Rep. Summer Lee among them, Slate reports. AIPAC, or The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is set to back Lee's challenger, Edgewood Borough Councilor Bhavini Patel

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.BIG PAYOUT: In one of its last acts before Democrats take over, the Republican-led Central Bucks School Board this week approved a policy banning trans athletes from playing on teams that match their gender identity and approved a $700,000 severance payment to resigned Superintendent Abram Lucabaugh, Bucks County Courier Times reports. Critics say the payment is "corrupt" and possibly illegal. 

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.FAMILY TIE: The embezzlement trial of Philly union boss John Dougherty includes claims that his brother, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty, benefitted from the alleged grift. The Inquirer (paywall) reports a government witness said Justice Dougherty received free home repairs paid for with funds from the union his brother is charged with defrauding. The justice denied the claim and isn't charged.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.INSURANCE 'CESSPOOL': Earlier this year Business Insider published a piece on Arias Agencies, a top-selling insurance firm the outlet describes as "a cesspool of sexual harassment, violence, and drug abuse — particularly at the headquarters in Pennsylvania." Official inquiries into the allegations continue. A male manager who worked in the Wexford, Allegheny County office said sexual misconduct was the norm.
CRASH QUESTIONS: Philadelphia police say there's no evidence of the reported hit-and-run crash that left 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr. with a broken rib over the weekend, as the team reported. Investigators say surveillance footage recovered from the area does not show a crash.

STEPPING DOWN: Philadelphia Magazine reports longtime Billy Penn Editor/Director Danya Henninger is stepping down and "not ready" to discuss the reason. In other news: The magazine reports KYW anchor Carol MacKenzie is suing the station for gender and age discrimination.

GROUNDHOG DAY: Everyone is getting ready for the holidays, but real ones are getting ready for Pennsylvania's greatest holiday: Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, aka "That weird chipmunk cult town." The festivities have exited their virtual era, documented by the New Yorker here.

SHOW SCAM: Pennsylvania officials are warning of scammers they say are soliciting reservations and payments for a fake farm show, per KDKA-TV. The real Farm Show, Pennsylvania's secret state fair, is in January. 

CITY SHOUTOUT: See why London's the Telegraph newspaper calls Philadelphia "the only American city that feels sane."
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