Pennsylvania Dem Illegally Used Funds to Boost Congressional Bid, Complaint Says

Ethics watchdog says Dem misused donations

Screenshot from Twitter
August 11, 2020

Pennsylvania Democrat Eugene DePasquale illegally used more than $130,000 to jump-start his congressional bid, according to a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission.

DePasquale, the state's auditor general, used donations to his state campaign coffers to launch his bid against Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.). In March, the Democrat began running Facebook ads that touted his tenure in state government and asked voters for email addresses and other personal information. Many of the ads specifically targeted the city of Harrisburg, which is located in Perry's district and routinely votes to elect Democrats.

In addition to the ads, DePasquale used his state campaign account to disburse more than $110,000 to Democratic campaign firms from March to May 2019. The Democrat paid Rising Tide Interactive more than $12,000 as a "retainer," despite being term-limited out of his state office. DePasquale also sent $8,000 to Think Big Campaigns for "website" purposes. His state campaign website was shut down in early March 2019.

DePasquale went on to formally announce his campaign against Perry in June 2019. Nearly one week later, he unveiled a campaign ad made by Jackson Group Media, a consulting firm that received $11,000 from DePasquale's state campaign account in May 2019. The Democrat had not previously used Rising Tide Interactive, Think Big Campaigns, or Jackson Group Media as vendors on his state campaign. His congressional campaign, however, has paid the firms more than $77,000 since the 2019 launch.

DePasquale's alleged campaign finance violations were first raised by Democratic primary opponent Tom Brier, who accused DePasquale of "flouting the rules" in April. After Brier failed to notarize an FEC complaint detailing the potential wrongdoings, the allegations were picked up by the conservative watchdog group Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT).

"Federal law clearly prohibits candidates from using state campaign funds for a federal campaign," FACT executive director Kendra Arnold said in a statement. "Not only does this merit immediate investigation, this is a serious offense."

DePasquale did not respond to a request for comment about his alleged violations. The campaign dismissed the allegations in April, telling the York Dispatch that DePasquale's state campaign payments came "before he announced his candidacy" and that they "had nothing to do with his congressional campaign." Federal candidates are allowed to spend money in order to "test the waters" before officially launching a campaign, but they must use funds that are subject to federal regulations. While individuals cannot give more than $2,800 per election to federal candidates, Pennsylvania has no political contribution limits for individuals, meaning DePasquale could not use state campaign funds to "test the waters."

A DePasquale campaign spokesman attacked the watchdog group as a "partisan organization" in a statement to the York Dispatch on Monday, but declined to answer questions about the substance of the allegations. Arnold said the campaign is dodging in the hopes that media and voters will ignore the issue.

"The thing that alerts me is that there's no defense to the spending," she told the Washington Free Beacon. "We'd like a response as to why [DePasquale] was paying for a state campaign website when he did not have an active state campaign website. It's important that they respond to the facts of the complaint."

DePasquale won his primary against Brier in June, receiving 57.5 percent of the vote to Brier's 42.5 percent. He will now face Perry in November. The Republican has a slight fundraising advantage, having raised nearly $1.9 million as of June 30. DePasquale, meanwhile, has raised $1.6 million. Perry's seat is seen as a prime pickup opportunity for national Democrats—the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the race a "toss up."