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Politics

Campaign dollars coming from afar

| Sunday, May 15, 2005

Even people from Cleveland have a stake in who wins the Pittsburgh mayor's race.

About $1 million in campaign donations has come from people who live outside the city, according to a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review analysis of campaign finance reports filed with Allegheny County.

That's more money than Pittsburghers gave the candidates.

"As a city resident, it ticks me off," said Mark Fatla, executive director of the Community Technical Assistance Center, which supports community development groups. "They see the mayor's race as important to the future of their well-being, but they're not willing to give money for taxes to support services."

Nearly two-thirds of the $1.2 million raised by front-runner Bob O'Connor, a former City Council president, has come from outside the city. He even found a vein of more than $21,000 in contributions from Cleveland and its wealthy suburb of Shaker Heights.

What are contributors buying with their money•

"I don't think they're buying anything," O'Connor said in a recent meeting of the Trib's editorial board. "I think they want to invest in a mayor that they can work with."

Political observers and O'Connor's competitors say campaign contributors will want at least access for their financial support.

The three leading candidates in Tuesday's Democratic primary for mayor -- O'Connor, city Councilman William Peduto and Allegheny County Prothonotary Michael Lamb -- have raised more than $1.9 million in the past 16 months. The Trib's analysis includes all itemized donations submitted for 2004 and this year through May 6.

None of the four minor Democratic candidates reported raising any money. Republican Joe Weinroth, who is unopposed in the GOP primary, reported just $250 in new contributions and a negative campaign balance of more than $1,500.

Only the Lamb campaign provided the Trib with an electronic version of its latest campaign finance report. Lamb promised to increase public access to government records if he's elected mayor.

"Obviously what you always want is openness and transparency about who's giving and why," Lamb said.

By O'Connor's own admission, "almost everybody" has given to his campaign. He has received money from labor unions representing city drivers and police, from the heads of Mellon Financial Corp. and PNC Bank Corp., from politicians and from ordinary folks.

O'Connor not only raised the most money, but a lot of it came in large chunks. He received 28 contributions of $10,000 or more and 353 of at least $1,000.

Lamb raised 58 percent of his $360,000 from city residents. He had just six donations of $10,000 or more, and 88 of at least $1,000.

More than three-quarters of Peduto's $260,000 came from Pittsburghers, and he had the fewest large donations. Just two people gave him $10,000 or more, and he received 77 contributions of at least $1,000.

"If one candidate has access to enormous amounts of cash, the money may determine the outcome, rather than the qualifications," said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, a nonprofit that advocates for limits on campaign contributions. "Fundraising skills become more important than governing skills."

When individuals and groups give money to candidates, they expect to receive support in return, said Jerry Shuster, a political communications professor at the University of Pittsburgh and Robert Morris University. The Teamsters union would not have given O'Connor more than $30,000, for example, if it did not think he would support its members, he added.

That's exactly the concern voiced by Lamb and Peduto about all the money O'Connor has raised. Both of the candidates have been working hard to try to keep up with him.

O'Connor received an average contribution of nearly $1,200; Lamb and Peduto averaged less than a third of that.

"I would say that special interests have chosen their candidate in Bob O'Connor, and with it comes their agendas," Peduto said.

"As we move through the process of the city's transformation, we've got to have everything on the table," Lamb said. "If you're taking items off the table for those who contribute to you, that's not in the interest of the city."

O'Connor has said he will offer nothing less than an "open shop" for those who gave, as well as those who didn't.

"Whoever has a plan for this city that will benefit the people of Pittsburgh, I have an ear for," he said.

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