Westmoreland judicial candidates have spent more than $500,000

| Friday, July 3, 2009

Candidates for two open seats on the Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas have spent more than $500,000 through the first half of this year's campaign.

And the top spenders got the most votes in the May primary, winning spots on the Nov. 3 general election ballot for the job that pays about $162,000 a year.

Democrats Chris Scherer and Meagan Bilik DeFazio and Republican Michele Bononi will vie for two seats to be filled from the retirements at year's end of Republican judges Daniel Ackerman and William J. Ober.

According to campaign finance reports filed in Harrisburg, Scherer was the top spender among eight candidates in the primary. He spent more than $139,000.

Bononi's campaign listed expenses that exceeded $110,000, while Bilik DeFazio spent more than $103,000 through the first six months of the year.

Scherer of Lower Burrell secured nominations on both the Democratic and Republican ballots. Bononi, of Unity, won the GOP primary. Bilik DeFazio, of North Huntingdon, finished second for the Democrats.

"That's a big chunk of change just to get through the primary," said Ken Burkley, a Greensburg lawyer who served a stint as head of the county Democratic Committee.

Spending is expected to escalate as the three finalists step up efforts to win the general election.

"It's a big county, and we have to get the message out," Bilik DeFazio said.

In addition to some contributions, she and Bononi so far have largely financed their campaigns through gifts from family members or personal loans.

The three candidates said fundraising efforts for the fall campaign will begin soon.

"It's unfortunate that to try to get your message out, you have to spend money. Sometimes money can win a race, but that's not right, either," said Bononi, who is making a third attempt to win a seat on the bench.

Scherer, who is in his third term as county sheriff, used $88,000 in loans from his sheriff's campaign committee to finance his bid for judge.

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