In a legal action that will test Pittsburgh’s City campaign finance rules and could dramatically affect the landscape of the Democratic race for Mayor, Bill Peduto asked a judge to block opponents Michael Lamb and Jack Wagner from using cash they collected while running for other offices.
Peduto is a City Councilman, Wagner is the former Pa. Auditor General and Lamb is the City Controller. They are joined in the mayoral primary by City Council President Darlene Harris, State Rep. Jake Wheatley and political neophyte school bus monitor AJ Richardson.
“It is our intent to follow the spirit and the letter of the law, and to insure that others do the same,” Peduto said in announcing the move. “This is ultimately about being fair to the residents of Pittsburgh, who overwhelmingly support campaign finance reform, and ensuring the integrity of the upcoming Primary Election for Mayor.”
He cited a city law which limits individual supporters to contributions of $2,000 and PACs to $4,000 during a primary. Peduto sponsored the rule to limit donations when it passed City Council in 2009. It took effect in 2010.
Wagner has roughly $300,000 in his current account for Auditor General but has said he intends to use in the mayoral race. Rules for political contributions to statewide campaign committees are extremely lax; there are no limits to the amount donors may give.
Lamb reported $212,000 cash on hand at the end of January, but about $200,000 was raised under the auspices of his Controller committee and before he declared his bid for Mayor. Lamb never created a separate campaign committee; he simply repurposed the one he had used for his Controller bids.
Peduto says a city ordinance requiring candidates to form separate committees for separate offices means Lamb can’t use any Controller funds beyond the $4,000 limit. He withdrew a similar, earlier complaint against Lamb when he filed this one.
Peduto had $261,000 on hand at the end of January and on March 6 boasted having raised a total of $500,000.
Lamb dismissed the allegations as a political maneuver.
“Instead of focusing on the issues and challenges facing Pittsburgh, Mr. Peduto has shown a pattern of filing nuisance lawsuits to gain political advantage,” he said. “That’s the approach of a gadfly, not a leader – and certainly not a mayor. As we said the last time Councilman Peduto tried this stunt, our campaign is following the law. Period.”
Wagner’s campaign spokesman JJ Abbott similarly brushed off the complaint.
“This stunt by Bill Peduto is a desperate attempt to distract from the real issues in this campaign, including education, jobs, and public safety, which our campaign will continue to focus on,” he said. “Pittsburghers know Jack Wagner and know that he has the impeccable record of service and leadership that is needed in City Hall.”
Peduto’s campaign expects an Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas judge to rule on a preliminary injunction by the end of next week.
The case against Wagner is Peduto’s primary interest. Wagner and Peduto are seen as the top two contenders for the office, and Wagner could erase Peduto’s months-long fundraising head start if he is able to transfer funds.
The case against Lamb is not as strong; Lamb raised every dollar of his campaign cash within the confines of the current law. Indeed, when Lamb’s campaign appears in court this week they may actually support Peduto’s complaint against Wagner.