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Outside money pours into U.S. House race between Saccone, Lamb

Tom Fontaine
| Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, 1:54 p.m.
Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb, a former federal prosecutor, are running for Congress in a March 13 special election.
Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb, a former federal prosecutor, are running for Congress in a March 13 special election.

Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb raised and spent more money than his Republican opponent Rick Saccone through the end of last year, but spending by outside conservative groups threatens to negate Lamb's fundraising advantage.

“Saccone doesn't even have to go out and do fundraisers and appeal to people for money,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of Franklin & Marshall College's Center for Politics and Public Affairs.

Lamb outspent Saccone by a 10-to-1 margin from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31 in the special election race to replace former U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, according to Federal Election Commission data. Wednesday was the deadline for candidates to file year-end campaign finance reports.

The FEC data showed Lamb, 33, of Mt. Lebanon, spent $148,295 while Saccone, 59, of Elizabeth Township, spent $14,737.

Lamb's campaign also raised more than twice as much cash as Saccone, $560,481 to $214,675, records show.

“The fundraising report shows that Conor will have the resources he needs to get his message out and to prevail against all the murky outside groups trying to obscure what this race is about,” Lamb campaign manager Abby Murphy said in a statement. “By March 13, citizens will have plenty of good, clear, honest information on which to base their vote.”

Saccone's campaign said it would have ample money to win and survive a Democratic assault.

“Nancy Pelosi and her liberal allies across the country are throwing everything they have at Rick,” said Saccone campaign manager Pat Geho. “The people of Pennsylvania's 18th District know Conor Lamb would be a rubber stamp for Pelosi in Washington, and Rick will have the resources needed to continue telling his story and win in March.”

Nearly 400 online contributions made to Lamb's campaign through the fundraising platform ActBlue totaled nearly $300,000.

Individual donors included members of his family, including his father, Thomas F. Lamb Jr.'s $5,400 donation, and contributions from former U.S. Attorney David Hickton ($2,700), former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy ($2,700), comedian and actress Rosie O'Donnell ($2,000) and several Democratic members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle of Forest Hills.

More than a dozen political action committees — all of them based outside Pennsylvania — made $5,000 contributions.

Saccone was his own biggest donor. Patriots4Saccone, a campaign committee Saccone used last year before withdrawing from Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race to run for Congress, transferred $41,899 to the Rick for Congress committee.

Saccone also loaned his campaign $11,000.

Dozens of political action committees, almost all of them from out of state, contributed, as did U.S. Reps. Keith Rothfus of Sewickley and Bill Shuster of Bedford County.

While Lamb's campaign has outraised and outspent Saccone, conservative groups not affiliated with Saccone's campaign have spent or pledged millions of dollars.

The Congressional Leadership Fund spent $1.5 million on an ad linking Lamb to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and the super PAC also opened two field offices in the district, The Hill reported . Similarly, the National Republican Congressional Committee spent money on an animated ad that changes the words from “Mary Had a Little Lamb” to “Nancy Had a Little Lamb” and places Lamb's face on a sheep.

Lamb has said he would not vote to give Pelosi another term as House minority leader.

The political nonprofit 45Committee group committed $500,000 to an ad buy , Politico reported. And the ironically named super PAC Ending Spending Inc. spent $1 million to air a pro-Saccone ad , according to the Washington Post.

Democratic groups have been less active. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reportedly spent $69,000 on an ad that was slated to run for two weeks, Politico reported.

“If there was an outpouring of super PAC money for Lamb, then it would look like outside Democrats had looked at this and thought he had a real shot of winning this race,” Madonna said. “We've seen that (money) isn't there, at least not at this point in the race.”

The March 13 special election is being held to fill the congressional seat that had been held by Murphy for about 15 years.

He resigned last year after details of an affair he had became public, including the particularly damning allegation that the pro-life Republican asked his mistress to get an abortion when he thought she was pregnant.

Even though Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 24,000 voters in the congressional district that includes parts of Allegheny, Westmoreland, Washington and Greene counties, Murphy never had a competitive race. He won by 16 percentage points in the closest of his six contested races and was unopposed in the past two elections.

Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review assistant news editor. Reach him at tfontaine@tribweb.com, 412-320-7847 or on Twitter at @FontainePGH.

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