This post has been updated to include an interview with David A. Miller
By his own admission, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams has a hard time holding onto money. But, either because of or in spite of that fact, he still wants you to donate to his campaign.
“I can barely pay my bills now,” he told Philadelphia Magazine, in a July profile. “I have to pay alimony, child support, tuition, private school. I have five jobs.”
So, despite high-profile issues with federal corruption investigators and problems accurately reporting items of value he receives from political well-wishers, the Seth Williams Victory Committee is circulating an email advertising a college football-themed fundraiser next Saturday.
The fundraiser will take place at Chickie’s & Pete’s, a popular South Philadelphia sports bar, during the Temple-Penn State game, with suggested donations ranging from $75 to $500.
The event will feature former Penn State cornerback-turned-politician Adam Taliaferro, along with a bevy of other guests who claim one of the schools as their alma mater – Williams is a Nittany Lion alum – and, of course, some with connections to Philadelphia’s political realm.
But the big question that night won’t be about which school wins; it will be whether or not Williams can actually raise any money.
“The fact is, when you have these kinds of situations, there will be a certain reluctance for people to participate,” said Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College, referring to Williams’ various scandals playing out in the press over the past month. “There isn’t any doubt that it puts a limit on your ability to fundraise. It restricts your access to some donors who are reluctant to get involved in a controversy.”
Some of those reluctant people may include the folks Williams’ campaign is advertising as the event’s featured guests. Sources said that several of them tried to reschedule it or otherwise back out of the event, which was reportedly organized in June – prior to some of Williams’ more recent troubles.
Besides Taliaferro, guests include lawyers Josh Scarpello, Charles Gibbs and Vince DeFino (DeFino also served as Williams’ former campaign treasurer), and former Delaware County state Rep. Bryan Lentz. Also on hand: Gabrielle Santulli, a marketing strategist, and David A. Miller, a fitness expert who runs D.A.M. Good Bodies, a personal training company.
Miller, a classmate and friend of Williams' since they were students together at Penn State, emphasized that while his name is on the flier, he will not be in attendance at the event.
"Seth asked if I would be on board with being one of the hosts, knowing I have a whole lot of Penn State friends in the area and from being a former player" – Miller played safety for the Nittany Lions – "and I could try to get a lot of them to attend. But even when he asked me to be on board, I let him know I probably wouldn’t be there because I was considering going up to the game. I have decided I am going – I'm not going to be at the fundraiser – but I let him know he could put my name on" the promotional materials.
Miller said that the controversies swirling around Williams didn't factor in to his decision to miss the event, but allowed that he wouldn't be attaching his name to any fundraising efforts for his friend in the near future. "Until some of the current things going on get cleared up and things look a little better, frankly, I would be a little hesitant to participate in anything," he acknowledged. "Seth is a friend, and I think he has done some great things for the city. I still support him, but the things that he has admitted to doing have absolutely given me pause. Being a business owner, I have to be conscious of what I attach my name to.
"That doesn’t mean we aren’t friends," he continued, "but I have not really done anything as far as the fundraiser goes – I haven’t gotten involved in it at all, to be honest."
When asked if he and the DA have spoken recently, Miller said they had not. "I owe him a phone call or at least a text – he texted me last week asking me if I’ve gotten any response" from people interested in attending. "I've been meaning to get back to him to tell him I haven’t been able to do anything, not even posting on my Facebook page."
There is little doubt that Williams could use a cash infusion. He closed out a troubled campaign fund last year, moving just $8,200 into a new PAC, according to campaign filings.
With his toughest reelection fight to date looming in 2017, that is not a good omen for Williams. A rumored challenger, U.S. Attorney Joe Khan, recently resigned from the federal prosecutor’s office, as did his wife, presumably ahead of a bid for Williams’ seat. Former City of Philadelphia Managing Director Rich Negrín has similarly indicated it’s a question of “when” and not “if” he runs, and several judges are eying the DA spot as well.
All that said, it’s still hardly the final chapter for Williams (barring another bombshell federal indictment). And some of Williams’ money troubles may, counterintuitively, encourage his remaining allies to double down.
“You have two kinds of fundraising problems,” said Madonna. “When you have a lot, and when you don’t have any. And the latter creates a sense of urgency about it. Williams got elected. He still has a hardcore group of supporters. Many of them are not going to go away.”