Allegheny County DA candidates each raise more than $200,000 leading up to race

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1 month ago

The two candidates for Allegheny County district attorney each raised nearly the same amount of money during the most recent reporting period for campaign finance reports.

According to the county Department of Elections, incumbent Democrat Stephen A. Zappala Jr. received $213,389 from June 11 through Oct. 21, while independent challenger Lisa Middleman’s posted reports show she has collected $198,590. That total does not include a $20,000 donation made to Ms. Middleman’s campaign on Thursday from state Rep. Summer Lee’s UNITE political action committee.

“For an independent to be in the same range, in terms of campaign funds raised — is not normal,” said Chris Borick, of Muhlenberg College’s Institute of Public Opinion.”Independents usually struggle to put them on par with a major party candidate. It’s a testimony to the strength of the candidate.”

Ms. Middleman, a longtime assistant public defender campaigning on a progressive platform, didn’t join the DA’s race until late June and gathered three times more signatures on her petitions than were required when she filed her candidacy on Aug. 1.

Mr. Zappala, running for his sixth term, faced a Democratic challenge in the primary by former Chief Deputy Public Defender Turahn Jenkins. Mr. Zappala won the primary with 59% of the votes. The incumbent also won on the Republican ticket as a write-in candidate, meaning his name will be cross-listed on the general election ballot.

Although the total contributions are similar in each of  the two candidates’ campaign finance disclosures filed Friday, they tell strikingly different stories. 

Mr. Zappala, who has been in office for 20 years, collected much of his money from unions contributing high dollar amounts, as well as individuals donating more than $250 each.  For example, he received $25,000 from the Western Pennsylvania Laborers and $25,000 from the Steamfitters. 

Ms. Middleman, on the other hand, collected just over $17,000 from individuals who donated $50 or less. Her filings showed $18,000 in donations were made through PayPal. 

Mr. Zappala reported no donations of less than $50 and only $6,550 from individuals who donated between $50 and $250. 

“When you get lots of small donations, it’s an indication of your ability to tap into grassroots politics,” Mr. Borick said. “To get people who might not have a lot of money but feel passionate about you.” 

Those candidates who get the low-dollar amounts, he continued, tend to have a broader range of support. 

G. Terry Madonna, the director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, said it’s possible that Mr. Zappala, because of his position as a long-term incumbent, may not have been fundraising as hard as Ms. Middleman. 

“Has he made any conscious effort to raise money or is he just coasting?” Mr. Madonna asked. 

Further, he said, because Mr. Zappala is a longtime member of the Democratic Party in Allegheny County, he can rely heavily on that for the race.

Other noteworthy donations to Mr. Zappala’s campaign include $5,000 each from criminal defense attorneys Phil DiLucente and David Shrager; $1,000 from Dennis Logan, the chief of detectives for the Allegheny County district attorney’s office, as well as $400 from First Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Spangler and $500 from psychiatrist Dr. Bruce Wright, who often testifies as an expert witness for the prosecution. 

Noteworthy donations listed in Ms. Middleman’s disclosures include $18,000 from Pastor Janet Anti, and $25,000 from Eric Charles Cooper, a former computer science professor and Carnegie Mellon University trustee. 

Ms. Middleman also received several donations from criminal defense attorneys in Pittsburgh, including $1,000 each from Dave Fawcett, who ran briefly against Mr. Zappala in the Democratic primary for Pennsylvania attorney general in 2016; Ken Haber and Owen Seman. Civil medical malpractice attorney Neil Rosen donated $5,000. Ms. Middleman also received a $1,000 donation from Dr. Cyril Wecht, former Allegheny County medical examiner. 

According to the campaign finance reports, Mr. Zappala spent $104,743 over the reporting period, while Ms. Middleman spent $103,424.

Paula Reed Ward:, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter: @PaulaReedWard. 

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