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More than $250,000 spent in race for Mehaffie's 106th House District seat; money mostly coming from PACs

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 5/29/20

The three Republicans running for the 106th House District seat in the June 2 primary have spent nearly $250,000 combined in the race, according to campaign finance reports submitted to the state May …

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More than $250,000 spent in race for Mehaffie's 106th House District seat; money mostly coming from PACs

Posted

The three Republicans running for the 106th House District seat in the June 2 primary have spent nearly $250,000 combined in the race, according to campaign finance reports submitted to the state May 22.

All but about $5,000 of that has been spent by two of the candidates, Rep. Tom Mehaffie of Lower Swatara Township, and Mimi Legro, who is chairwoman of the board of supervisors of Conewago Township.

The majority of contributions to the campaigns of both Mehaffie and Legro are from political action committees, according to their respective campaign expense reports.

Mehaffie, first elected in 2016 and seeking his third two-year term representing the 106th, reported spending $120,559.57 in the race so far this year. Legro has spent $117,234.85, according to two reports filed by her campaign.

Legro is also known as Mimi Brodeur, the name she uses for the food column Added Spice that she has written for 26 years for The Patriot-News/PennLive.com.

The third Republican candidate in the race, Middletown Area School Board member Christopher Lupp of Lower Swatara Township, has sought to separate himself from Legro and Mehaffie by saying he is the only one of the three who is not accepting contributions from PACs.

The winner of Tuesday’s Republican primary will face the unopposed Democratic candidate, Lindsay Drew, in November. Drew is a self-employed business owner, community leader and vice president of the Derry Township School Board.

The 106th District includes Hummelstown, Middletown and Royalton; Conewago, Derry and Lower Swatara townships; and part of Swatara Township.

Lupp’s spending

Lupp in his campaign committee filing reports receiving $7,578 in contributions from March 10 through May 15, all from individuals.

Lupp said his not accepting or soliciting contributions from PACs “allows me to remain independent and make independent decisions, and not be loyal or beholden to any particular organization.”

“I think people are tired of that, candidates loyal to a cause or an organization because they get a lot of money from that organization,” Lupp said.

He said he has run his campaign “the old-fashioned way,” going door to door and meeting and talking to people in their neighborhoods, despite the limitations of the coronavirus.

Big money from PACs

Simply put, a political action committee is a private group set up to elect candidates or to advance a political issue or legislation. Critics say the PACs can curry favor with the candidates because of the donations, which often can be substantial.

Of $101,270 in contributions and receipts reported by Mehaffie’s committee, Friends of Tom Mehaffie, for the time period Jan. 1 through May 18, $84,800 is from PACs.

Legro’s campaign committee, Friends of Mimi, reported receiving $121,814.84 during the same time period.

Of that, $105,000 is from one PAC, the one representing Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania. It came in three amounts — $40,000, $10,000 and $55,000. Legro also received $1,000 from the Pennsylvania Manufacturers PAC. 

Her committee also listed $60,134.27 in in-kind contributions from the CAP PAC, all for campaign mailings.

Lemoyne-based CAP has put out mailers during the campaign attacking whom they call Tom “Wolf” Mehaffie, saying while Mehaffie bills himself as a conservative Republican, most of his money comes from “Democrat-supporting interest groups pushing a socialist agenda” according to one of the most recent mailers sent to 106th Republican voters. 

CAP describes itself on its website as “an independent, nonprofit organization founded to raise the standard of living of all Pennsylvanians by restoring the constitutional principles of limited government, economic freedom, and personal responsibility.”

On Oct. 3, 2019, CAP CEO Leo Knepper wrote an article posted online with the headline “Tom Mehaffie is best Republican Dems have in Harrisburg.” The CAP website gives Mehaffie’s voting record a grade of F minus.

Legro in announcing her campaign in January labeled Mehaffie “the General Assembly’s most liberal Republican, often siding with Democrats and [Gov. Tom] Wolf on taxes, spending and bailouts.”

Mehaffie donations

Mehaffie’s report lists contributions from 59 PACs, with all but five of the groups giving $250 or more. The others gave from $50.01 to $250.

At least 21 of the PACs represent labor unions. The largest single contribution, $10,000, is from the PAC representing the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

However, the list also reflects a diverse and broad range of interests. There are PACs representing law firms and lobbyists, energy companies such as FirstEnergy — whose subsidiaries currently own Unit 2 of Three Mile Island, the reactor crippled in the 1979 accident — and Exelon, which owns the Unit 1 reactor of TMI which Exelon shut down last September.

Mehaffie in 2019 introduced legislation aimed at preserving TMI and other nuclear plants in Pennsylvania by creating a subsidy for them similar to that enjoyed by renewable sources of energy in the state such as wind and solar. The legislation never got out of committee.

Mehaffie’s committee according to the report also received PAC money from media such as Comcast, housing and real estate concerns, the horse racing industry, banking and finance, the association representing malt beverage distributors in Pennsylvania — Mehaffie owns Breski Beverage and is past president of the statewide association — health care professionals, law enforcement, and Hershey Entertainment and Resorts, among others.

Mehaffie said the broad range of PACs he receives money from reflects that “I’m willing to listen to anybody and meet with anybody.” He contrasted his diverse list of PACS with Legro receiving nearly all of her PAC money from just one organization.

“I would rather be supported by numerous amounts of groups and people than by one. Who is she going to listen to, that group or her constituents? I can guarantee who — she will listen to that group. If someone spends that kind of money for your campaign, you are bought and paid for.”

Legro critical of Mehaffie

Legro would not consent to a phone interview, but in an emailed response said she is not concerned over how voters may perceive her getting most of her campaign funds from just one organization.

“Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania is perfectly legitimate,” she said. “I’m proudly supported by this group of Pennsylvania-based conservatives and entrepreneurials.” 

“Mehaffie is upset because my campaign exposed his close link to Gov. Tom Wolf and Democrat interest groups. He is out of the mainstream of Republican voters in this area.”

Mehaffie defended his voting record against the attacks from Legro and CAP, saying he votes with Republicans 98 percent of the time.

While all of the last three state budgets Mehaffie voted for were initially proposed by Wolf, they were all “Republican budgets” by the time they came to a vote, Mehaffie said.

“They have all been compromised budgets between the House, Senate and the governor, because if not, the budget doesn’t pass,” he said.

By the same token, Mehaffie said he is willing to vote with Democrats if it’s a “good” bill and one that is “good for the (106th) District.”

“You represent 65,000 people” in the district, he said. “I have never turned anyone away. You have to meet with people, you have to understand both sides and be able to compromise and find a way to pass a good bill. That is what I do, what I have always done. … I am not willing to compromise my principles but I am willing to compromise, and that’s the difference between the two.”

Legro said she will “strive” for bipartisanship, “especially when working together to solve major issues; reforming liquor laws, eliminating wasteful spending and curbing debt. Mehaffie sides with Democrats and their interest groups even when it comes to important votes that matter like the $9 billion massive debt plan (House Bill 1585) or to kill a Republican-crafted budget (House Bill 543). He is a partisan Democrat.”

Mehaffie defends record

Mehaffie is among 99 co-sponsors of HB 1585, also known as the Restore Pennsylvania legislation introduced in June and supported by Wolf. The bill remains in a House committee.

Mehaffie said the bill would not increase taxes on residents but would be funded through a fee imposed on developers of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale. Eighty-percent of the natural gas extracted from the shale goes outside of Pennsylvania, Mehaffie said.

The funding would help address recurring flooding issues, which Mehaffie said is a major concern in the 106th District. 

Municipalities in the district can’t afford to fix these flooding issues on their own but need help from the state, which Restore Pennsylvania would provide, Mehaffie said.

Regarding House Bill 543, Mehaffie said he doesn't know what Legro is referring to. He said the only HB 543 he knows of was not a budget bill but a bill introduced in 2017 concerning the gas industry. Mehaffie said he was not a co-sponsor of the bill and never voted on it. The bill never got out of committee, Mehaffie said. 

Mehaffie in a list of legislation accomplishments referred to his work toward passing “fiscally responsible budgets that did not increase taxes on our hard-working families and seniors on fixed incomes”; working with law enforcement, providers and victims to combat the opioid crisis; and working toward passing Tobacco 21 legislation that prevents anyone younger than age 21 from purchasing vaping and other nicotine-related products.

Legro on her campaign website says if elected she will support Republican efforts to enact balanced budgets and stop “runaway debt.” She says she will work to “clean up Harrisburg by eliminating the lavish perks only afforded to politicians” and will support legislation to make government more transparent.

Legro said she supports term limits, pledged to “avoid the special interest entanglements that come with legislative careerism,” will oppose Wolf’s “massive tax increases and big-government spending schemes,” will work to limit the size and scope of government, and will support “strong fiscal discipline measures to ensure Harrisburg puts taxpayers first.”

Lupp on his website touts his experience as a small business owner for 20 years and his involvement in service organizations in addition to being on the school board.

He said his values are those of a fiscal conservative and one who is “pro-life,” “pro-2nd Amendment” and “pro-business.”