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Pennsylvania Unions Flood Judicial Races with Millions

Brother of union honcho on the Supreme Court ballot

Kevin Dougherty / AP
• October 28, 2015 5:00 am

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Pennsylvania unions are pouring millions into the campaign coffers of Democratic judicial nominees, including the brother of one of the state’s most powerful labor leaders.

Voters will elect three new judges to the seven-member court in November. Democrats are spending big money on the races, raising more then $7 million for its three favored jurists. Unions alone have raised $2.9 million for these candidates—topping the $1.9 million total haul for Republican candidates.

Megan Sweeney, a GOP state party spokeswoman, said that the massive donations demonstrate that unions and their allies are attempting to buy the election.

"Liberal special interests groups are desperately trying to buy this Supreme Court election," she said in a release. "By pouring millions of dollars into this Supreme Court race, these extreme liberal special interest groups are trying to ensure that our highest court is filled with activists judges who will legislate from the bench."

The state Democratic Party did not respond to a request for comment.

The biggest beneficiary of union contributions is Kevin Dougherty, brother of John Dougherty, the newly minted head of Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, a collection of about 40 labor groups. Judge Dougherty, who serves as a Philadelphia trial court judge, has received $1.3 million from labor unions, representing half of his overall donations. His campaign website touts the fact that he has been endorsed by 11 state and local unions.

Judge Dougherty did not return a request for comment.

State Supreme Court justices serve 10-year terms. Republicans hold a 3-2 majority on the court. The November elections will fill two vacancies on the bench, as well as determine the successor of Judge Correale Stevens, a Republican.

A Democratic sweep could prove decisive as the state weighs a number of labor reforms.

On October 14, the Pennsylvania State Senate passed a bill that would prevent the government from automatically deducting labor dues going to political causes from public sector paychecks. A judicial showdown is likely if the bill becomes law. Nathan Benefield, a labor expert at the Commonwealth Foundation, a free market think tank, said that such a law would not receive a fair hearing from a group of judges that have received nearly $300,000 from public sector unions.

"Most troubling is the scope of union influence in these elections, and that a good chunk of their political money is collected at taxpayer expense," Benefield said.

State Democrats have campaigned on the fact that the Koch brothers had spent $1 million on the election—about three times less than unions and half of what trial lawyers have donated to campaigns.

"We’re down to the last nine days to Election Day, and we need your help. The Koch brothers are spending $1 million to help Republicans in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court race. We can’t let them buy out our judicial system," the party posted on its Facebook page on Sunday.

We're down to the last nine days to Election Day, and we need your help. The Koch brothers are spending $1 million to…

Posted by Pennsylvania Democratic Party on Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sweeney, the GOP spokeswoman, said that the influence of union money on the race threatens the credibility of the court system, especially when those same unions will have direct business before the court.

"We can’t afford jurists whose campaigns are stacked with the funds of extreme liberal special interest groups because it casts a dark shadow on their judgment," she said in a statement.

The election will be held on November 3.

Published under: Big Labor, Pennsylvania