One does not often find big money thrown around in political races in some of the reddest counties of Pennsylvania.
More times than not, SuperPAC money is directed at the major TV markets in the Keystone State – Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and Harrisburg/Lancaster/York.
Even then, that money is targeted towards president or U.S. Senate, governor or general assembly seats.
So why was a superPAC from Washington, D.C. targeting county commissioner primaries in redder-than-red Franklin and Fulton Counties along the state’s southern border?
The superPAC’s website describes it as “dedicated to protecting free, fair, and inclusive elections and the American exceptionalism they make possible by uniting the cross-partisan pro-democracy majority in a common cause to protect our economy, national security, and way of life.”
The kicker comes from another paragraph, though, and sheds light on the real reason for the expenditures.”
“democracyFIRST PAC works to defeat the dangerous election deniers, insurrectionists, and anti-democracy candidates running for critical public offices that oversee the administration, funding, counting, and certification of our elections.”
You might recall that after the 2020 presidential election, Fulton County commissioners allowed a software firm to inspect the county’s voting machines as part of an “audit.” And that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled against Fulton County Commissioners Stuart Ulsh and Randy Bunch — and their lawyers — for their behavior late last fall during pending litigation.
And Franklin County? It is the home of Republican state senator Doug Mastriano who ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2022. Mastriano is well-known for his election denials and recently voted against the nomination of Al Schmidt as Secretary of the Commonwealth, noting that “Philadelphia is not a golden gem of voting integrity,” slighting the former Philadelphia City Commissioner.
The group paid for a mailer for Republican Fulton County commissioner candidate Steven Wible, touting his conservative values. It also mailed a flyer for fellow Republican Dave Keller for Franklin County commissioner.
The group has made it a stated goal to identify, isolate, and defeat the dangerous, extreme anti-democracy movement in America. To that end, it has introduced the “democracyFIRST Promise” to build a coalition of leaders who agree on the fundamental principles safeguarding our democracy.
The pledge asks candidates to:
- Support every eligible American citizen’s freedom to exercise their right to register and vote in free, fair, accessible, safe, and secure elections.
- Denounce any attempt to intimidate, harass, threaten, or incite violence against opponents, their supporters, and election workers.
- Restore trust and faith in our democracy, not undermining our electoral process by knowingly propagating falsehoods and misinformation.
- Accept the final election result and concede the contest if I lose after all ballots are counted. I will support the peaceful transfer of power and certification of the election. Any claims of election irregularities, or requests for recounts of election contests, will be submitted in good faith for judgment by election officials and/or the judicial system under the law without intimidation, violence, undermining faith in elections through disinformation or other unlawful means.
The group hopes to “restore the political consensus for the standards, expectations, and democratic norms for elected officials and candidates seeking elected office in our democracy.”
Pennsylvania candidates who have signed the pledge include:
- Adams County
- Marty Qually (D-County Commissioner)
- Allegheny County
- Sara Innamorato (D-County Executive)
- Berks County
- Jess Royer (D-Commissioner)
- Blair County
- Laura Burke (D-Commissioner); Carol Taylor (D-Commissioner)
- Bucks County
- Bob Harvie (D-Commissioner); Diane Ellis-Marseglia (D-Commissioner)
- Centre County
- Amber Concepcion (D-Commissioner); Mark Higgins (D-Commissioner)
- Chester County
- Josh Maxwell (D-Commissioner); Marian Moskowitz (D-Commissioner); Eric Roe (R-Commissioner)
- Clarion County
- Braxton White (D-Commissioner)
- Clearfield County
- Dennis Biancuzzo (D-Commissioner); David Glass (D-Commissioner)
- Columbia County
- Patricia Lawton (D-Commissioner)
- Cumberland County
- Jean Foschi (D-Commissioner)
- Dauphin County
- Justin Douglas (D-Commissioner)
- Delaware County
- Christine Reuther (D-County Council); Elaine Paul Schaefer (D-County Council); Monica Taylor (D-County Council)
- Erie County
- Chris Drexel (D-Council)
- Franklin County
- Cameron Schroy (D-Commissioner)
- Lancaster County
- Alice Yoder, (D-Commissioner)
- Lebanon County
- Bob Phillips (R-Commissioner); Michael Schroeder (D-Commissioner)
- Luzerne County
- Patricia Krushnowski (D-Council); Michelle Rothenbecker (D-Council); Joanna Bryn Smith (D-Council); Jimmy Sabatino (D-Council); Brittany Stephenson (D-Council); Maryann Velez (D-Council)
- Lycoming County
- Denitra Moffett (D-Commissioner)
- Montgomery County
- Neil Makhija (D-Commissioner); Jamila Winder (D-Commissioner)
- Northampton County
- Jeff Warren (D-Council)
- Philadelphia County
- Seth Bluestein (R-City Commissioner)
- Sullivan County
- Scott Myers (D-Commissioner)
- York County
- Keena Minifield (D-Commissioner)
Of the 39 signatures to date, only three are Republican candidates.
Did the funds do their intended job in those southern PA counties?
Wible finished second behind Bunch but ahead of Ulsh in Fulton County, ousting the incumbent.
Keller was unable to get across the finish line, placing third behind Dean Horst and John Flannery in Franklin County.