It’s already apparent that the 17th Congressional District race between U.S. Reps. Keith Rothfus and Conor Lamb will be bitterly contested, with the first salvo fired coming over contributions from a political-action committee.
Last week, The Times published a story about End Citizens United, a group backing campaign finance reform and opposed to corporate influence in elections, announcing that it would be targeting Rothfus, R-12, Sewickley, this fall as part of a $35 million ad campaign opposing candidates who accept corporate political-action committee (PAC) money.
In the story, Rothfus campaign spokesman Mike Barley charged that Lamb, D-18, Mount Lebanon, had broken his pledge not to accept corporate PAC money. Barley cited contributions made to Lamb by the National Beer Wholesalers Association PAC, based in Alexandria, Va.
But, the Lamb campaign strongly denied that claim, saying that Barley was twisting the facts for political purposes and that Lamb had not broken his pledge, which applied to corporate PACs. They insisted that the National Beer Wholesalers Association PAC was a trade association PAC, a contention that is supported by documents filed with the Federal Election Commission.
“This appears to be a distinction without a difference,” Barley said in response to the Lamb’s campaign explanation. “Business owners and corporate heads give to a PAC, that PAC gives to Conor Lamb, equals Lamb breaks corporate PAC pledge.”
Barley said Lamb’s campaign is engaging in semantics to defend the contributions.
“He can play games all he wants by doing gymnastics to label PACs this way,” Barley said. “He should just be honest with the people and stop trying to pull the wool over their eyes.”
However, according to the National Beer Wholesalers Association PAC’s statement of organization filed with the FEC in May 2009, it identifies its connected organization, or who they are supporting, as a “trade association.” Among the other options is “corporation” and “labor organization.”
Myles Martin, an FEC spokesman, said PACs must disclose their connected organization when they file a statement of organization. He said PACs operate separately, but the connected organization typically sponsors them.
“The Rothfus campaign is lying about Congressman Lamb’s record. Conor Lamb has never taken a penny from corporate PACs,” said Abby Murphy, Lamb’s campaign manager. “He pledged he would not take their money, and he never has.”
Murphy said there are “different types of trade associations” and the beer wholesalers’ PAC “represents many small- and family-owned businesses,” as opposed to the corporate conglomerates, such as Verizon and ExxonMobil, that have donated to Rothfus.
Lamb, she said, “has rejected and will always reject money from trade associations funded by wealthy corporations.”
Barley said last week that the majority of Rothfus’ contributions have come from individuals and that PAC money has not influenced any of his votes.
Anne Feldman, a spokeswoman for End Citizens United, which endorsed Lamb in his 18th Congressional District special election, said corporate PACs have “a single agenda,” and that is profit, while noncorporate PACs focus on issues and causes.
“We’ve all seen that corporate special interests have too much influence and access in Washington. The tax bill, which gave just about all of the benefits to corporations is a perfect example,” Feldman said.
“Not only has Conor Lamb kept his pledge and not accepted a dime of corporate PAC money,” she said, “but he is going above and beyond by vetting trade associations and rejecting money from those that are funded by wealthy corporations.”