David Argall

State Sen. David G. Argall, R-Schuylkill/Berks, chairs a Senate Majority Policy Committee briefing with a nationally renowned expert on welfare reform at the state Capitol in June 2018.

In an unusual arrangement, the state Senate Republican Campaign Committee has been paying its new chairman, Sen. David Argall, $1,000 a month, according to campaign finance reports.

Argall, installed this year by Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman as chairman for the 2021-22 campaign cycle, is the first senator holding this post to collect a paycheck since at least 2000, state records show. He referred questions to Corman, who, as the Senate’s presiding officer and top Republican,  is the campaign committee’s overall chairman.

Corman said one of his goals when taking over the SRCC was to “professionalize all aspects of the operation.” In a statement to The Caucus, Corman, R-Centre County, wrote  “As such, I asked Senator Argall to serve as the cycle chair for 2021-22. I tasked Senator Argall with many new duties, including recruiting candidates, and hosting and attending fundraising events across the Commonwealth for our members and for the SRCC.”

The payments to Argall, R-Schuylkill, are a “stipend,” Corman said. While intended to help cover travel and other expenses, Argall will report the payments on his Statement of Financial Disclosure, where state ethics law requires public officials to report outside income, Corman wrote. Argall’s annual Senate salary is $90,000.

"It's untoward and unjustifiable," said Eric Epstein, co-founder of Rock the Capital, a nonprofit government watchdog group and a longtime critic of lawmakers' pay and perks. Epstein, a Democratic candidate for Controller in Dauphin County in next week’s election, said, “The appearance is awful.”

Corman credited Argall with leading SRCC “to one of its best fundraising years.”

During the first five months of 2021, which is the most recent data available, the SRCC collected almost $1.1 million, the best five-month start to a campaign cycle since 2005, when it took in almost $1.2 million. 

The committee raised $641,000 during the same period in the term of his predecessor, Sen. Camera Bartolotta, a Western Pennsylvania Republican. The two chairmen before her, former senators Guy Reschenthaler and Scott Wagner, raised $357,000 and $262,000, respectively, during their first five months.

“He’s led our committee and positioned us well for 2022 and we believed that a stipend to help cover the cost of the job (including travel and other expenses) was warranted,” Corman wrote.

Key player in key year

Pennsylvania has an open seat for governor and U.S. Senate next year. Corman has said he is considering running for governor and last month made a pitch for his potential candidacy to some of the state’s Republican members of Congress at a breakfast meeting in Washington D.C.

The campaign committees run by each party caucus coordinate fundraising and campaign activities to maintain — or, in Democrats’ case, to obtain — control of their respective chambers. They collect contributions from big-dollar donors and members in safe seats, and focus that money on vulnerable members or races where they believe they can flip seats held by the opposing party.

The work allows cycle chairmen and chairwomen to develop relationships with their parties’ top donors, and to ingratiate themselves with their own caucus’ members by helping them hold or win seats. That — not a steady paycheck — is usually the reason lawmakers covet the job.

And it has paid off for them.

Wagner chaired the SRCC in the 2015-16 cycle, then won his party’s nomination for governor in 2018. Reschenthaler moved from SRCC chairman to a congressional seat in 2018. Political hands have mentioned Bartolotta as a potential statewide GOP candidate in the 2022 cycle.

Republicans maintained control of the Senate during their tenures, and none of the committee chairs in the cycles before Argall took over was paid by the SRCC.

The SRCC paid Argall $3,000 in March, $1,000 in April and another $1,000 in May, the most recent month for which the committee's campaign finance records are available. During that same period, Argall’s own PAC, Volunteers for Argall, donated $15,000 to the SRCC, including a $10,000 check on April 30, the same date as the SRCC’s second payment to him.

Follow The Caucus on Twitter ​@CaucusPA. Brad Bumsted is ​@BEBumsted, and Mike Wereschagin is ​@Wrschgn.

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