Multiple sources have confirmed that the political action committee associated with Local 98 leader and political power broker John Dougherty has purchased at least $125,000 in broadcast and cable ads to support Democratic candidate Jack O’Neill in the race for district attorney of Philadelphia.
For weeks, rumors have been circulating that Dougherty and his politically powerful electricians union have had their eyes on the 38-year-old latecomer to the race. News of the six-figure ad buy comes just a week after O’Neill landed the endorsement of eight building trades unions, although Local 98 was not one of them.
Sources familiar with the situation, however, say that the Dougherty-linked super PAC, Building A Better Pennsylvania, is behind the purchase.
“Honest to God, I don’t know anything about that,” O’Neill said when asked for comment on the development Monday afternoon.
It would be a problem if he had.
Independent expenditure-only committees like Building A Better Pennsylvania are not beholden to campaign finance spending limits, which, in Philadelphia, cap contributions at $2,900 from an individual and $11,900 from organizations and businesses. They can raise and spend as much money as they please. The hitch: They’re not allowed to coordinate with any of the campaigns they plan to spend money on.
Building A Better Pennsylvania has flexed its muscle in several big races to date. The group supported Democratic Congressional candidate Brendan Boyle and helped him secure victory in the 2014 primary to replace U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, and in 2015, it purchased television support for Jim Kenney’s mayoral campaign.
All told, Local 98 has donated nearly $600,000 to the PAC since 2014. A campaign finance report filed in January from the super PAC showed $255,725 in its coffers, although it is unclear how much of that money come from Local 98. Another campaign finance report, filed by Building a Better Pennsylvania in May 2016, was signed and submitted by Tara Chupka, a Local 98 employee who earned $120,522 for a position listed as “office” in 2015, according to filings with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards.
O’Neill is not the only candidate to receive outside help. A national PAC funded by billionaire George Soros is looking to spend nearly $300,000 in broadcast advertising for criminal defense attorney Larry Krasner. With just two weeks until the election, only two other candidates — former prosecutor Joe Khan and self-funded millionaire Michael Untermeyer — have purchased airtime in the race.
Max Marin is a staff writer at Philadelphia Weekly, where this article first appeared.