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Former Mayor Ravenstahl pays $20K to law firm out of campaign funds

| Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, 11:48 p.m.
James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Former Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl speaks to the media October 17, 2013 at the newly opened Shop 'n Save in the Centre Heldman Plaza in the Hill.

Former Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl paid $20,000 in campaign funds to a Whitehall law firm that he hired to represent him during a federal investigation into city government, according to his latest campaign finance reports.

Ravenstahl, 34, of Fineview made payments of $10,000 in May and November to Bruckner Schneider and Porter.

Ravenstahl last year hired Charles J. Porter Jr., one of the firm's partners, to represent him during a federal investigation that resulted in charges against former police Chief Nate Harper and two others. Ravenstahl declined to comment on Thursday.

State law says campaign funds must be used to influence an election, but political experts said it's so broad that politicians can use the money for virtually anything, even after they've announced their intention to leave office as Ravenstahl did.

“They have used (campaign funds) literally for vacation, for clothing, for legal fees,” said G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College.

Former state Senate Democratic Leader Robert J. Mellow's campaign committee spent more than $700,000 on his legal defense, according to the Scranton Times-Tribune. Mellow pleaded guilty in 2012 to conspiracy and is serving a prison sentence.

Ravenstahl said in March that he would not seek re-election. He spent $233,077 from May to December and still has $340,069 left in his war chest.

He gave $110,000 to the Committee for a Better Pittsburgh, which he chaired. The committee was responsible for a series of ads during the May Democratic primary attacking Ravenstahl's political foe Bill Peduto, who is now mayor.

Ravenstahl also gave $1,000 to the Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School football team, which his father coaches. He spent nearly $6,000 on dues for Shannopin Country Club and the Downtown Rivers Club and $1,244 at a state liquor store on New Year's Eve, an expense listed as “event supplies.”

“People might be critical of him, but to officially challenge him on it, that's another story,” said Gerald Shuster, professor of political communications at the University of Pittsburgh.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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