Spending Passes $17 Million in Pennsylvania High Court Campaign as Billionaires, Unions, and Lawyers Dig In

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Philadelphia, November 2, 2023

The contest for an “open seat” on the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court has turned into a fierce competition involving labor unions, legal advocates, and wealthy individuals, as substantial sums of money flow into the election. As the clock ticks down to the November 7th election, Republican Carolyn Carluccio and Democrat Dan McCaffery and, along with their respective supporters, are engaged in fierce spending to gain an edge.

Recent campaign finance reports, due on Friday, reveal that total spending in this contest has exceeded $17 million. Over $12 million of this spending has materialized after September 18, with contributions from labor unions, trade associations, lawyers’ groups, and deep-pocketed donors funding television ads, online campaigns, and mailers across Pennsylvania.

A substantial portion of this funding, over $5 million, can be traced back to groups acting as conduits for two influential GOP billionaire donors. The result of this election won’t alter the fundamental composition of the seven-member court. However, it has the potential to reduce the Democratic lead to a single vote, making it 4-3 in favor of Carluccio.

Democrats have framed this election as a de facto referendum on abortion rights, emphasizing the recent decision of U.S. Supreme Court to overturn “Roe v. Wade,” leaving the regulation of abortion rights to state courts. Given this context, the outcome of this election carries significant implications for the future of reproductive rights in Pennsylvania.

Both candidates have criticized the involvement of special interests in the campaign, decrying the influence of external funding on the race. McCaffery, in a recent online video, stated, “Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen billionaires and corporate interests spending millions of dollars in negative attack ads because they know what we stand for. We stand for middle-class values, we stand for working men and women all across Pennsylvania. We will not let this seat be bought.”

McCaffery has continuously expressed reservations regarding the erosion of labor rights, voting rights, abortion rights, and various federally safeguarded rights by the U.S. Supreme Court. He argues that these pivotal decisions are being pushed to the purview of state courts, which makes this state Supreme Court race all the more crucial.

One key line of attack from McCaffery and his supporters has been their assertion that Carluccio cannot be trusted to safeguard “abortion rights in Pennsylvania.”

Carluccio, on the other hand, has endeavored to dispel these concerns. She has presented herself as a candidate who is apolitical and bipartisan while emphasizing her commitment to upholding Pennsylvania state law, which permits abortion up to 24 weeks. In a new TV ad, she states, “My opponent is backed by special interests who are spending millions of dollars on lies about me. Here’s the truth: I will always stand for the law and your rights as Pennsylvanians. And I will fight every day for you.”

Furthermore, Carluccio enjoys endorsements from anti-abortion groups, including the “Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation and Pro-Life Coalition of Pennsylvania.”

After the campaign finance reports were filed, it became evident that McCaffery’s campaign held a modest spending edge. In the five weeks preceding October 23, McCaffery’s campaign disclosed expenses amounting to $2.3 million. In contrast, Carluccio’s campaign expended nearly $3 million during the same timeframe, of which $2.2 million came through a channel that facilitates campaign funding on behalf of Jeffrey Yass, a billionaire renowned for his backing of educational choice initiatives in Pennsylvania.

The Commonwealth Leaders Fund, funded by Yass, has contributed more than $4 million to Carluccio’s campaign, as reported in the campaign finance documents. Fair Courts America, backed substantially by Illinois billionaire Richard Uihlein, has earmarked $735,000 for a television advertisement that criticizes McCaffery. It’s worth noting that Fair Courts America previously invested millions in an unsuccessful endeavor to support the Republican candidate in Wisconsin’s recent state Supreme Court race.

Furthermore, prominent business-oriented organizations like the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry and a substantial hospital and health system trade association are also providing financial backing to Carluccio.

On the opposing side of the campaign, McCaffery has secured millions of dollars in support from trial lawyer associations, labor unions, and other traditional Democratic supporters, including Planned Parenthood. Pennsylvanians for Judicial Fairness, a collective organization, has reported expenditures exceeding $4 million, while the “American Civil Liberties Union” has documented over $1 million in expenditures.

The election for this open Pennsylvania Supreme Court seat is just days away, and the significant financial backing from various interest groups underscores the high stakes of this race.

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