In 2015, unions, trial lawyers, and so-called dark-money groups that don’t disclose donors spent more than $13 million, compared with Republicans $4.3 million, to win three open seats on Pennsylvania’s state Supreme Court. In 2023, a similar lineup of special interest Democratic donors spent more than that amount to win just one open seat on the high court.
While Republican candidate Carolyn Carluccio garnered nearly double the funding of the 2015 GOP candidates (and my organization, Commonwealth Leaders Fund, heavily supported her), it didn’t come anywhere close to the backing that Democrat Dan McCaffery received from national interest groups, out-of-state millionaires and billionaires, and dark-money groups that the Left loves to hate – until they don’t. With reports still coming in, the Left spent at least $14 million – outspending Republicans by nearly 2-1.
The groups that poured money into the court race include Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety (based in New York), the progressive Working Families Party National Political Action Committee (also in New York), the Progress Action Fund (based in Vermont and funded primarily by out-of-state donors), Planned Parenthood (New York), former President Barack Obama and Eric Holder’s National Democratic Redistricting Committee (Illinois), suburban-women-focused Red, Wine and Blue (Ohio), and even the American Civil Liberties Union (New York).
This is the first time that I can recall the ACLU ever engaging in state elections; it spent nearly $2 million for McCaffery while ironically claiming that it doesn’t endorse candidates.
On Election Day – just in time for voters not to be paying attention – the media reported that Wall Street executives and billionaires such as Steven Spielberg had also “quietly” supported McCaffery’s campaign by giving to a new political action committee innocuously called “Pennsylvanians for Judicial Fairness.” Other donors to the PAC included PA Alliance Action, a 501(c)(4) dark money group that gave $700,000.
“The North Fund, another 501(c)(4) ‘dark money’ organization, gave $600,000 to the PAC, according to records,” the story notes. “That group is part of a network of left-leaning organizations that’s run, in part, by consulting juggernaut Arabella Advisors.”
The media howls about outside money or individual Pennsylvanians engaging on behalf of Republicans but largely turns a blind eye to special interests bankrolling Democrats. With final spending reports still coming in, nearly 95% of McCaffery’s funding came from unions, trial lawyers, other special interests, and dark-money groups.
In many cases, their reasons for giving are obvious. The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, for example, was created in 2016 with the purpose of reshaping the electoral landscape by to gain state-level Democratic dominance to control legislative and congressional redistricting. NDRC was heavily involved when the Democrat-controlled Pennsylvania Supreme Court tossed out the state’s congressional district map in 2018 and imposed one of its own. That map was drawn by a Stanford Law professor to benefit Democrats. It’s little wonder that NDRC wants another acolyte on the court.
For its $350,000 in donations, the Carpenters Union undoubtedly expects McCaffery to follow through on his promise to act as the union’s “voice” on the court.
The Pennsylvania trial lawyers’ largest state PAC contributed more than $1.7 million – not including many tens of thousands of dollars more in trial-lawyer donations apart from this particular PAC. The state Supreme Court has been asked to reconsider the so-called “venue shopping” rule that handed trial lawyers millions of dollars by letting them file cases in plaintiff-friendly Philadelphia, regardless of where the alleged offense occurs.
In the first two months after the rule change went into effect earlier this year, medical malpractice cases filed in Philadelphia nearly tripled. Trial lawyers stand to gain big if Supreme Court justices maintain the rule – and they spent big to ensure that McCaffery does just that.
While national special interests typically work from the top down when it comes to elections, this year in Pennsylvania they also worked from the bottom up.
In addition to spending for McCaffery, for example, Red, Wine and Blue also engaged in school board races, including the hotly contested Central Bucks School Board race, where spending surpassed $600,000 – an astounding amount for a school board race. Bucks County ended up voting heavily for McCaffery, a sharp swing from the 2021 state Supreme Court race, when Republican Justice Kevin Brobson won the county.
The Working Families Party (WFP) National PAC, while backing McCaffery, also worked from the bottom up by engaging in closely watched county races in Allegheny County and Philadelphia, likely driving up turnout that had an up-ballot impact.
In short, the Left has done a stellar job convincing deep-pocketed national donors and special interests that they should invest in Pennsylvania. That’s because it understands that Pennsylvania is the frontline battleground for the American future. The Right needs to come to this same realization before Democrats succeed in pushing Pennsylvania over the progressive cliff – and taking the country with it.