GOP group attacks Conor Lamb over outside money, but spends big to support Rick Saccone |
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Wesley Venteicher
Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb, a former federal prosecutor, are running for Congress in a March 13 special election.

The GOP’s chief fundraising committee dedicated to getting Republicans elected to Congress is attacking Democrat Conor Lamb for accepting millions of dollars from donors outside Pennsylvania.

That’s not stopping the Washington, D.C.-based National Republican Congressional Committee from pumping more than $3 million of its own money into efforts to defeat Lamb and bolster the campaign of his opponent, Republican Rick Saccone, in Tuesday’s special election.

Committee spokesman Chris Martin said $460,000 in donations from individuals and groups in California and New York, along with contributions from celebrities such as Rosie O’Donnell and Alyssa Milano, suggest Lamb might not be as moderate in office as he has said he would be on the campaign trail.

“He’s not who he says he is,” Martin said.

Lamb had raised about $3.8 million as of the latest financial filing deadline, according to the data, while Saccone raised about $900,000. Outside groups had spent about $11.7 million on the race.

“We’re grateful to everyone who has pitched in to try and level the playing field for Conor Lamb,” Lamb campaign manager Abby Murphy said in a statement. “Tens of thousands of people gave an average of $33 to help Conor fight back against the out-of-state super PACs and special interests spending more than $10 million to try and buy this election for Rick Saccone.”

The NRCC has spent more on the race than any other outside organization, according to Center for Responsive Politics data, including about $2.1 million attacking Lamb and $1.4 million supporting Saccone. The group has paid for several ads attempting to tie Lamb to Nancy Pelosi despite his saying he wouldn’t support her as Democratic leader in the U.S. House, and continues that line of attack in its criticism of Lamb’s donations.

Chris Borick, a professor of political science at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, was skeptical donations to Lamb’s campaign support the NRCC’s criticism amid a U.S. House race that has drawn unusual amounts of outside money to Pennsylvania.

“A lot of people just want an outcome right now,” Borick said. “They want a candidate to win or to prevent the other party’s candidate from winning. You’ll see money coming in for that purpose. Maybe not specific things in the long term.”

Nonetheless, he said, individuals and groups often contribute to campaigns in hopes that they will be able to at least catch a legislator’s ear in the future.

Saccone, who had benefited from about $10.2 million in outside money as of the latest filing deadline, is at least as susceptible to influence as Lamb, Borick said.

“If those donors, especially large contributors, feel that they have a say in what he does, it’s always a concern,” he said. “I think this is part of the broader issues and concerns with campaign finance – what is expected?”

Of the $10.2 million spent to benefit Saccone, the groups spent about $7.4 million attacking Lamb and about $2.77 million supporting Saccone.

Saccone campaign spokesman Patrick McCann, when asked about the money in the race, responded with a similar message to the NRCC’s, saying the donations to Lamb are evidence Lamb would be a “rubber stamp for Nancy Pelosi’s liberal agenda in Congress.”

When asked whether donations to Saccone imply he would be a rubber stamp for Paul Ryan, McCann responded, “Rick is running on the Republican agenda of cutting taxes, reducing regulations, and bringing jobs back to Southwestern Pennsylvania.”

Lamb’s campaign benefitted from about $1.6 million in outside spending. The groups spent about $950,000 attacking Saccone and $620,000 supporting Lamb.

Donald Trump won the 18th District, which includes parts of Allegheny, Washington, Westmoreland and Greene counties, by 19 percentage points in the 2016 election. Recent polls have shown the race to be within a few percentage points.

“I think it tells you once again that, even in a very good district overall for Republicans, that in this cycle the winds are blowing against them,” Borick said. “Even with resources, even with favorable voter demographics, cycles and candidates matter. And the Democrats right now have two solid advantages — they have a solid candidate by many metrics and the wind’s at their back.”

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, [email protected] or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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