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UPDATED: Inquirer: Some Montco GOP Donors Have Opened Their Pockets – to Democrats

In bellwether Montgomery County, whose topsy-turvy recent politics belie its once resolute Republican leanings, a few more traditional political fault lines have already been crossed, Jeremy Roebuck reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Memorial Day edition.

Political observers and candidates alike have long been predicting a hotly contested, expensive, visible race for the county’s three high-profile county commissioner seats.

Already, GOP candidate Jenny Brown, the Lower Merion commissioner running alongside incumbent county commissioner Bruce Castor, has received at least $90,000 from local GOP power broker Vahan Gureghian.  The three founders of Bala Cynwyd-based Susquehanna International Group, who essentially bankrolled state Senator Anthony Hardy Williams’ burst of a gubernatorial campaign last year, have added more than $33,000.

Meanwhile, their Democratic opponents – state Rep. Josh Shapiro and Whitemarsh Supervisor Leslie Richards – have around $1.2 million at their disposal.

And according to Roebuck’s report, approximately 12 percent of the $300,000 that the Democratic ticket has raised since last October has come from traditionally Republican sources.

“We’re really proud of the fact that not only Democrats think we’re going to win but also a lot of Republicans and independents do, too,” Shapiro told Roebuck.  “It’s going to be critical to have the resources to communicate our message in a positive way to voters throughout Montgomery County.”

UPDATE: Incumbent Republican County Commissioner Bruce Castor surmised that some traditionally GOP donors’ decision to contribute to the Democratic ticket could be a result of their desire to more evenly weigh their political wagers.  “A lot of people hedged their bets in 2007 and gave money to both parties in the Commissioners race.  I am not surprised the same will happen this time,” Castor said in an email message sent late Tuesday morning.  “The oddity of the County Commissioner system is at least one person on each ticket is going to win.  So people who traditionally like to back ‘a winner’ end up donating to both sides.”

He also pointed to Shapiro’s relatively unimpeded run for reelection to the state legislature in 2008, which Castor believes allowed Shapiro to build a more solid rapport with some GOP donors than he would have otherwise.  “No matter how daunting the odds are, you need to give your partisans a place to cast their vote.  We didn’t do that in Abington in 2008 and [Rep. Shapiro] took advantage of it to make inroads with traditionally Republican donors,” Castor said.

He also addressed the notion – discussed briefly in Roebuck’s piece – that cogs in the local GOP machinery with whom Castor has clashed, longtime force Bob Asher among them, were somehow involved in the fundraising flip-flops.  “As for old animosities being a motivating factor, that may be true, but I hope for the sake of the Republican Party it’s not.  Jenny Brown and I will provide honest government for Montgomery County.  I’d love to do it with all of our traditional support base, but if we have to do it without some of them we will.”

Roebuck singled out a few donors, including:

“Nan Sweeney, who, with her husband, Edward, donated $10,000 to the Shapiro-Richards campaign in March. The Blue Bell couple have supported campaigns by Gov. Corbett, to whom they gave $40,000 in the governor’s race, and former presidential nominee John McCain, who received more than $10,000 of their money. Since 2008, they have also contributed more than $18,000 directly to Montgomery County’s Republican committee.”

“William R. Sasso, who gave $5,000 to the Democrats earlier this month through his Philadelphia law firm, Stradley, Ronan, Stevens & Young. Sasso, the firm’s chairman, also serves as treasurer of one of the state’s largest right-leaning political action committees, the Pennsylvania Future Fund. He has donated generously from his own wallet to GOP candidates for state office. (Shapiro works for Sasso’s firm.)”

“Gregg Melinson, who served as deputy general counsel to Republican Gov. Tom Ridge and as a member of the Future Fund’s board. He and his law firm, Drinker, Biddle & Reath, where Melinson is a partner, have given more than $60,000 to Republican candidates over the last three years, including $20,000 to the Future Fund PAC. In April, they donated $500 to the Shapiro-Richards campaign.”

Roebuck briefly explored some possible explanations for the fundraising side-jumping – and personal connections emerges as a theme.  Sasso cited his firm’s professional relationship with Shapiro.  Another traditionally Republican donor, Tom Caramanico, attributed his family’s $20,000 donation to the Democratic ticket to his wife’s professional relationship with Richards (though he added that he had personally been impressed by both Shapiro and Richards).

Click here to read the full story.

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