In mayor's race, Wagner brings serious out-of-town cash advantage

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As former state Auditor General Jack Wagner enters the race for mayor, he is sitting on a sizable stash of campaign contributions. But if his fundraising in 2012 is any guide, very little of the money he'll use to launch his campaign in Pittsburgh actually came from here. Or from anywhere closer than Harrisburg.

City Paper looked at some $209,475 in campaign contributions reaped last year by Friends of Jack Wagner, the campaign committee that financed Wagner's previous runs for statewide office. Of that money, only 6 percent — $12,500 — came from a Pittsburgh-area ZIP code (one that began "15_ _ _"). By comparison, nearly $127,000 came from the Philly region (ZIP codes beginning "19 _ _ _").

What's more, Wagner's Pittsburgh-area money came almost entirely from three Downtown law-firms: Eckert Seamans, Reed Smith, and Buchanan Ingersoll. In all of 2012, he got a single contribution from an individual living in the Pittsburgh area — and that individual was a lawyer from Eckert Seamans.

Wagner's 2012 fundraising performance is a marked contrast to last year's fundraising totals for City Controller Michael Lamb, City Councilor Bill Peduto, and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl (who has since dropped out). As we previously reported, the vast majority of their money came from ZIP codes in and around the city.

Of course, it's no surprise that Wagner, who served two terms in statewide office and campaigned for governor in 2010, was able to attract financial support from across the state. Nor is it any surprise that in 2012, a year when he was winding down his two-terms as auditor general, most of his support would come from union and business PACs. (Of the 110 contributions he logged last year, only about a third were from individuals.)

Depending on your outlook, those patterns may not even be a problem. For example, Wagner's supporters included union PACs which — although they have Harrisburg mailing addresses — can represent the interests of workers in Pittsburgh. And having out-of-town support could arguably be a good thing. After all, as a Pittsburgher, would you be more concerned if Wagner took $500 from southeast-PA insurer Independence Blue Cross — as he did — or from UPMC (which he didn't, at least not last year)? And while Pirates fans may find it distasteful that Wagner's single biggest supporter last year (at $50,000) was John Middleton —- a part-owner of the Phillies — would you rather him be taking cash from the goddamn Nuttings? Those dollars could be spent in free agency, for God's sake.

Still, the numbers do suggest the extent to which Wagner's entrance into the race changes the landscape. Judging by 2012 numbers, Wagner is the best-financed candidate running for office in Pittsburgh, and he hardly needed to raise a dime in Pittsburgh to do it. (To be sure, Wagner's 2012 fundraising doesn't account for all the money he has on hand —- though a quick check of 2011 contributions suggests the same pattern was in effect then as well.)

Wagner has also been able to raise cash in much larger chunks than his city rivals. The state has no cap on how much a donor may contribute, but city politicians have been living under city campaign-finance rules that limit contributions to a maximum of $8,000. By my count, at least $100,000 of Wagner's 2012 support -- roughly 48 cents of every dollar he raised -- came in amounts larger than the city's campaign-finance law permits. That's one reason why, as we first reported yesterday, Wagner's entry into the race has already been accompanied by questions over whether he will — or can — finance his money with campaign contributions made when he was auditor general.

This isn't the first time the issue has surfaced: Peduto has challenged Lamb for using money that he garnered as a controller, before he announced his campaign for mayor. But Wagner is a whole different ball game. Arguably, his name recognition has allowed him to vault effortlessly into second-place in a recent political poll -- even though when the poll was taken, he'd done no real campaigning at all. And while there's every reason to think he'll be able to raise money from Pittsburgh voters once his campaign here gets underway, his statewide bona fides have given him a similar instantaneous boost in the money race.

You'd almost be tempted to say this was unfair. Except in politics, nothing really is.

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