A group combating the unfiltered flow of corporate money into politics will spend some of its own cash this election cycle in an effort to boot U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus from office.
The End Citizens United PAC on Thursday added Mr. Rothfus to its Big Money 20 list, a $35 million spending campaign that is targeting politicians who — according to the committee — cozy up to corporate donors “at the expense of the American people.”
In a written statement, committee President Tiffany Muller called the Sewickley-area Republican Congressman “one of Washington’s worst offenders” of favoring mega-donors while ignoring constituents.
“We’re mobilizing our grassroots members to help throw him out of office and elect a reformer who will fight for the needs of families in the district,” Ms. Muller said.
That “reformer” is Democrat Conor Lamb, whom the committee also backed in March when he was running for the 18th Congressional District. During that race, End Citizens United ran a $250,000 ad campaign for him, praising his pledge to reject corporate money.
The committee believes the issue of campaign finance can help Democratic candidates across the country win back Trump voters, and that — like the president’s own pledge to “Drain The Swamp” — it will resonate with voters who have increasingly low faith in the government.
But Mr. Rothfus’s campaign spokesman deemed the PAC’s efforts a “desperate attempt by the extreme left and their outside forces to falsely attack the Congressman’s record.”
“As far as Congressman Rothfus’ fundraising is concerned, the majority of the Congressman’s donations during his campaigns have been from individuals, which calls into question the credibility of this outside group,” spokesman Mike Barley said. “Additionally, any PAC money he has accepted have had zero bearing on how the Congressman has voted.”
The PAC’s fundraising numbers appear to be on pace to pass its haul in 2016, when they raised about $25 million. As of April 30, End Citizens United had brought in nearly $18 million this cycle, with more than 90 percent of its donations coming in at under $200.
The PAC was established in 2015, five years after the Supreme Court opened the door for unlimited spending from private corporations and unions in support of political candidacies.
With more than 3 million members, the group aims to boost candidates who will help reverse the impacts of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Critics of the decision have deemed it a free pass for corporations to influence elections.
Among its beefs with Mr. Rothfus? His 2017 resolution blocking reforms to prohibit companies from forcing consumers into arbitration, and his efforts to limit the powers of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Mr. Rothfus was added to the PAC’s target list following the retirements of House Speaker Paul Ryan and five others, including Pennsylvania Reps. Pat Meehan and Ryan Costello.
The PAC’s familiarity with Mr. Lamb is also a factor in its newfound focus on the 17th district. After the special election for the 18th in March, the committee found that one-fifth of voters said Mr. Lamb’s commitment to rejecting corporate PAC money was the main reason they voted for him.
The Rothfus campaign, though, gave Mr. Lamb a punchy name — “The Manchurian Liberal” — asserting that he broke his pledge not to take PAC donations.
“Conor likes to pretend he is one thing in the District, but he has received contributions from the who’s who of liberal donors from coast to coast, including Rosie O’Donnell,” Mr. Barley said.
But Mr. Rothfus can expect some outside help for his campaign, too. Already, the House Republican leadership-backed Congressional Leadership Fund made a digital ad buy in the district, as part of a $10 million digital package in 30 districts across the country.