Marking another milestone in the price of running for local elected office, Democrat Janet Diaz raised $1.5 million over the summer through mid-October — almost twice as much as incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Martin — in the race to represent half of Lancaster County in Harrisburg.
Diaz’s fundraising haul — the vast majority coming from Democratic groups hoping to flip control of the Republican-led Pennsylvania Senate — likely makes her the best-funded legislative candidate in Lancaster County history.
It also underscores the importance that statewide and national Democrats are putting on flipping the historically Republican 13th Senate District.
“Janet is one of the most hardworking candidates across the state,” her campaign manager, Oliver Truong, said. “The numbers also show that she has broad support. People are excited about her historic candidacy and someone who's alway been a fighter for others.”
Martin, seeking his second four-year term, raised $838,523 since June 23, according to his latest filing provided to LNP.
“My record of bipartisan leadership on the issues that matter to our families, children and seniors is more important to voters than Mrs. Diaz’s false attacks fueled by over $1.5 million in special interest money,” Martin said in a statement. “I am confident they know me and my proven commitment to protecting Lancaster County and will give me their support on Election Day.”
The amounts raised by both candidates dwarfs the hauls from 2016. During the same period four years ago, Martin raised $138,066 in his first campaign for state Senate. His Democratic opponent raised just $46,941.
Four years earlier, then-state Sen. Lloyd Smucker raised about $195,000, compared to Democrat Tom O'Brien’s $13,000 in the same period.
The latest figures more closely resemble higher-profile congressional races in recent years.
In 2016, Smucker and Democrat Christina Hartman both raised about $1.1 million in the race to represent the county in the U.S. House of Representatives. Those numbers jumped two years later when Smucker, then the incumbent, and Democrat Jess King raised and spent about $1.9 million each. In the historically Republican county, Smucker still won by comfortable margins in both races.
‘There’s just tremendous interest in this election,” said G. Terry Madonna, a longtime Lancaster County political observer and director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College.
Madonna attributed the interest and ensuing funding boom to the “Democratic surge in the suburbs,” both in the county and across the state. Lancaster and Manheim townships have shifted toward Democrats in recent years, which matches similar trends across suburban areas outside Philadelphia and Harrisburg.
With half of the 50-member Senate up for election this year, those trends have led Democrats to invest millions in an effort to win four Republican-held seats, which would effectively give the party control in the chamber.
Observers say the 13th district — which covers Lancaster city, some of its suburbs and rural southern Lancaster County — is the biggest reach on that four-seat list.
“Money being put into it means that Democrats feel optimistic that they can win the seat,” Madonna said.
Where’s the money coming from?
Most of Diaz’s $1.5 million came from large political committees run by Democratic Party organizers, activists and politicians who have targeted several Pennsylvania races and raised millions off the heightened enthusiasm among voters this year.
More than 80% of her funds came from such groups, including $290,000 from the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee and $175,000 from Gov. Tom Wolf’s Wolf PAC.
Those groups also include national organizations, like Flippable and Future Now Fund, that are aiming to flip Republican-held legislatures in multiple states and gave Diaz $162,500 and $50,000, respectively. And they include special interest or union groups that are often major players in Pennsylvania politics — like $100,000 from a committee representing trial lawyers and $70,000 from the Pennsylvania SEIU committee.
Diaz’s high-profile endorsements from the likes of former President Barack Obama have helped put her on the national fundraising map, too. Just under 20,000 individuals have donated to her campaign, and the average donation is $14.83, said Truong, her campaign manager.
Not all those small-dollar donors have to be disclosed. Of the $71,000 that was disclosed for the summer period, about 30 percent came from within Pennsylvania while the rest came from donors in 32 other states and Washington, D.C., according to LNP’s review of her report.
Martin’s campaign spokesman Jason Ercole criticized Diaz for fundraising from ‘special interests’ and from individuals who live outside of the commonwealth. He noted that most of Martin’s contributions came from “individuals predominantly across Lancaster County and Pennsylvania - real people who care about the future of Lancaster County.”
Martin’s latest reports do show nearly $92,000 from individuals, but also almost $741,000 in contributions from other Republican or corporate political fundraising committees.
Commonwealth Children’s Choice Fund, run by school-choice advocates who have also spent money independently to benefit Martin, donated $200,000. Another $121,000 came from Build PA PAC, which is controlled by Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman. Another $75,000 came from Sen. Ryan Aument’s committee (Aument is not up for election this year).
Outside groups have also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent weeks, in what is sometimes referred to as “dark money,” to support both candidates.