On the Legislature's opening day, Democratic state Rep. Steve Samuelson beseeched Republicans to postpone a procedural vote to allow more input from his minority party. The Republican House speaker, after all, had just told Democrats they had an obligation to participate in the legislative process.
"I urge the leaders to listen to their own words and vote no," Samuelson said.
They didn't. The resolution passed overwhelmingly, launching a 2017-18 legislative session in which Republicans hold a historically high 121-member majority, and 81 Democrats find themselves as relevant as rotary phones.
But if Samuelson felt left out, he can blame himself for not putting his money where his mouth is.
The Bethlehem lawmaker, unopposed in his re-election bid, raised no money for Democrats running in 113 contested House races during the 2016 election.
In fact, 26 other House Democratic lawmakers were just as stingy, contributing nothing to the House Democratic Campaign Committee, which raises money to defend vulnerable incumbents and to recruit and fund newcomers. In contrast, all but eight Republicans donated to the House Republican Campaign Committee, according to internal spreadsheets of both committees reviewed by The Morning Call.
There's little surprise, then, that the HDCC has $1.9 million heading into the next election cycle, while the RDCC has $6 million in its coffers. The imbalance is a key reason Democratic lawmakers are so outnumbered, say House members and Democratic operatives who want party leaders to get tough on those who don't contribute. House Democrats lost two more seats in November.
"We are getting the crap kicked out of us," said Rep. Peter Schweyer, D-Lehigh, who, records show, donated $5,000 to the HDCC and $3,900 to nine candidates last year. "There is absolutely no excuse for a legislator in a safe seat to not contribute, and I'm not talking about a token $250."
HARRY FISHER/THE MORNING CALL
PA House Democratic Policy Committee members / state representatives Mike Schlossberg (center) and Peter G. Schweyer (right) hold a hearing about minimum wage at Allentown City Hall on Tuesday, September 6, 2016.
PA House Democratic Policy Committee members / state representatives Mike Schlossberg (center) and Peter G. Schweyer (right) hold a hearing about minimum wage at Allentown City Hall on Tuesday, September 6, 2016. (HARRY FISHER/THE MORNING CALL)
To be sure, Republicans enjoy the advantage of being in districts redrawn in 2012 to help the GOP, and last year benefited from a voter wave that carried Republican Donald Trump to the White House. But the GOP's organized fundraising is playing an increasingly important role against Democrats' disjointed, miserly approach to legislative races.
"I don't think the party was doing enough to help itself, and I think a lot of Democrats are just complacent," said former Democratic Rep. Tim Mahoney, who was outspent by $120,000 on his way to losing his Fayette County seat.
Added Democratic Whitehall Township Commissioner Phillips Armstrong, who got no HDCC funding while being outspent by $32,000 in his losing bid for the Lehigh Valley's vacant 183rd District: "I tried to do it the old-fashioned way; I knocked on 16,340 doors. But if you don't have the money to fight back, you can't."
Democrats running for statewide office have done well at the ballot box. Tom Wolf was elected governor in 2014, three Democrats became state Supreme Court justices in 2015, and three Democrats swept row offices in November. But Wolf's agenda and his own re-election chances have been so hampered by the Democrats' shrinking pool of lawmakers that the GOP has become dominant in crafting laws and budgets in Pennsylvania.
If Wolf loses re-election in 2018, Democratic priorities lawmakers purport to protect could fall. A Republican governor — backed by the most conservative Legislature in modern times — could weaken union protections or toughen state abortion laws via bills that previously failed due to unified opposition among Democrats and moderate Republicans, or a gubernatorial veto.
"If he loses and a conservative who is a Republican is elected governor, I think union stuff, contracts, it's all up for grabs," said G. Terry Madonna, Franklin & Marshall College political science professor and pollster.
An incumbent in a "safe" district, typically, is expected to help others in his party.
"If you are in a safer district and don't need the money yourself, you still should be able to help your team in terms of its efforts to win other seats," said Chris Borick, Muhlenberg College political science professor and pollster. "Sometimes legislators are superstars at doing that, and sometimes legislators don't actively engage in that type of effort."
In Congress, the speaker, regardless of party, uses a carrot-and-stick approach to force rank-and-file members to donate money, said Michael J. Malbin, a legislative campaign finance expert at the State University of New York's Albany campus. The carrot can be a plum assignment, he said, or a convincing argument that donations serve as the majority's self-preservation.
"The stick is if you don't give, it affects your position of power within the institution," Malbin said.
In Harrisburg, House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, carries no sticks. He has no extra money to toss around, given the weak finances of his own caucus. And House rules, enacted in 2010 at the behest of Democrats, forbid him from stripping members of committee chairmanships, which are based on seniority.
Although 10 committee chairmen, including Samuelson, donated nothing to the HDCC in 2016 — Dermody reappointed them to top committee posts last week.
"That is completely unacceptable," thundered T.J. Rooney of Bethlehem, a former state lawmaker and one-time chairman of the state Democratic Party. "There is no magic to any of this. When you have committee chairs that don't support the caucus, you will not raise enough money to make [candidates like] Phillips Armstrong competitive or protect vulnerable incumbents."
A former newspaper reporter turned politician, Samuelson raised $1,150 for himself and spent $300 before coasting to a ninth term during the 2015-16 election cycle.
Asked why he offered no financial support to Democrats in political dogfights, Samuelson said it's because he didn't have an opponent himself.
"I will increase my donations in the future," he said. "Fundraising is necessary to support a campaign, but like I said, I was unopposed."
Rank-and-file lawmakers such as Samuelson earn $86,479, and the salaries of caucus leaders run higher. Donations can come from their own checkbooks, but more often come from their campaign coffers.
Nathan Davidson, HDCC executive director since mid-2015, said it's fair to question why more incumbents don't donate. One reason, he said, stems from the HDCC's poor reputation. Over many years, members who lost re-election campaigns blamed the HDCC.
Davidson, 27, says he's tried to rebuild bridges with county parties, which, in turn, have helped recruit better candidates. HDCC also is asking more lawmakers, especially younger ones, to help with fundraising, political messaging and candidate recruitment. Since he took the helm, Davidson said, the HDCC has raised more money. The party in 2016 lost four races in western Pennsylvania, but it knocked out two GOP incumbents for the first time in four years.
"I think the trend lines are good," Davidson said. "Would it help our fundraising efforts if more members contributed? Absolutely."
Schweyer said Davidson has made the committee more professional, but incumbents have to help.
"This is our responsibility," Schweyer said. "We are going to continue to lose seats or at least not gain more seats that are winnable if members are not a key part of the fundraising apparatus."
Dermody, who did not return calls for comment, is the HDCC's biggest contributor. He donated $812,500, or 43 percent of its net proceeds, the committee spreadsheet shows. The rest of the caucus leaders were not even close.
In the Senate, where the Democratic caucus has been in the minority for all but one legislative cycle since 1980, the Democratic Campaign Committee raised $742,552 and ended up with $46,898 in debt, state records show.
The Senate Republican Campaign Committee raised more than six times as much, records show, and spent nearly all of it on the way to defeating three Democratic incumbents to pick up a "super majority" in the chamber. Having a super majority in both chambers means GOP lawmakers can override the Democratic governor's veto.
Senate Minority leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, defended his caucus. In the 2012 election, he said, Democrats picked up three seats, but lost them in the last two elections because of national voter waves and redrawn legislative districts that favor GOP candidates. Despite those challenges, Costa said, all but three of his caucus members donated to the campaign committee in 2016.
"Obviously, we could do better because we were not successful," Costa said. "But we had good candidates."
State Democratic Party Chairman Marcel Groen said the GOP historically is able to raise more money than Democrats. His party, including the HDCC, he said, lacked the money to help as many candidates put up a better fight in districts affected by redistricting.
Redistricting is an "over-used [excuse] for some of our defeats," Rooney countered.
For years, he said, the HDCC has suffered from weak fundraising and candidate recruitment.
"In the 10 years I've been away from the General Assembly, I have never been asked to contribute personal money to any [HDCC] event," Rooney said. "I've done it; I'm sure I'd be inclined to do more if asked."
Democrats now are so deep in the minority, Rooney said, some potential donors will be more reluctant to open their wallets, wondering why they should bother.
It may already be happening.
In a Nov. 17 letter to his members, John Dougherty, business manager of the powerful Philadelphia electricians union, Local 98, said he was closing the checkbook to the Democratic Party, not individual lawmakers, because of the collective losing and the party's over-infatuation with cultural issues that do not resonate with some voters who want jobs.
"This election revealed a stunning lack of energy, resources and commitment," Dougherty wrote. "Wake up, Democratic Party leaders. You can no longer expect us to pay all the bills, but seldom get a seat at the table."
Ryan Anthony Costello (born September 7, 1976) is an American attorney and politician from the state of Pennsylvania. A Republican, Costello is the representative for Pennsylvania's 6th congressional district, elected in the 2014 to the United States House of Representatives. He previously served on the Chester CountyBoard of Commissioners (2011–2015), and as its chair from 2013 to 2015.
Costello was born in 1976 to schoolteacher parents. Costello attended Ursinus College and Villanova University School of Law.
Costello served on the Board of Supervisors for East Vincent Township in Chester County, Pennsylvania, for six years, serving as chairman for the last four. He was elected the Chester County recorder of deeds in 2008. He was elected to the Chester County Board of Commissioners in 2011. His fellow commissioners elected him as chairman of the commission in 2013, and reappointed in 2014.
When Jim Gerlach, the Republican incumbent in Pennsylvania's 6th congressional district in the United States House of Representatives, announced that he would not run for reelection in 2014, Costello chose to run for the Republican Party nomination. He faced no primary opposition.
He faced Manan Trivedi of the Democratic Party in the general election. Costello defeated Trivedi, 56%–44%.
In 2016, Mike Parrish challenged Costello. Costello was re-elected.
In November 2017, Costello voted for the Republican Party's 2017 tax plan that passed the House, but did not commit to supporting a reconciliation version of the bill. Costello said that he supported the House bill in the hopes that his vote would advance the process. According to Bloomberg, the major sticking point for Costello was the reduction in individuals’ state and local tax deductions in the House version of the bill, which would hit high-tax districts such as the one that he represents.
In February 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which has a Democratic majority, released a new map for the state's congressional districts to replace a map which the court had previously struck down as a Republican partisan gerrymander. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, "Of the many Republicans who took a political blow from Pennsylvania's new congressional map, Chester County's Ryan Costello got hit the hardest." Costello saw his district move from having a Republican-leaning constituency to a narrowly Democratic one. The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote that "the previous, GOP-drawn map was one factor aiding Republicans as they held a firm grip on every competitive seat in the moderate Philadelphia suburbs." According to the Pottstown Mercy, the Republican-drawn congressional map was "widely viewed as among the nation’s most gerrymandered."The New York Times wrote that the new congressional map met "every standard nonpartisan criteria" while ensuring a partisan balance. After the new congressional map was released, Costello said he supported impeaching the justices who imposed the map, calling the court corrupt and undemocratic. Republicans requested that the United States Supreme Court intervene in the redistricting dispute, although Politico reported that the Republican challenge was unlikely to be successful.
See also: United States House of Representatives elections in Pennsylvania, 2014 § District 6; United States House of Representatives elections in Pennsylvania, 2016 § District 6; and United States House of Representatives elections in Pennsylvania, 2018 § District 6
- Pennsylvania's 6th Congressional District election, 2014
- Pennsylvania's 6th Congressional District election, 2016
|Republican||Ryan Costello (Incumbent)||88,349||100|
|Republican||Ryan Costello (Incumbent)||207,469||57.24|
- 115th Congress
- 114th Congress
Ryan Costello lives along with his wife and two children in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He is a Presbyterian.
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- ^Cohn, Nate (February 19, 2018). "The New Pennsylvania Congressional Map, District by District". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 23, 2018.
- ^"Pennsylvania redistricting map challenge filed with Supreme Court". CBS News. Associated Press. February 22, 2018. Retrieved February 23, 2018.
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