by Chris Potter
In politics, the long knives often really start coming out in the days just before the election. And in a South Hills battle to represent state House District 22, Erin Molchany has launched a salvo at the endorsed Democrat, Marty Schmotzer. Team Molchany has accused Schmotzer of failing to file a campaign-finance report on time, accusing him of "betraying the public's trust." Schmotzer, who denies the allegation, called the attack "cheap publicity."
Late this morning, Molchany's camp sent out a statement reminding readers -- in case they could forget -- that while working in the county clerk's office in 1997, Schmotzer transferred $50,000 to a private account. (Schmotzer later returned the money.) "[T]here he goes again," the Molchany statement says. "When he admitted to stealing $50,000 ... Schmotzer said he used the money for gambling, paying taxes, and daycare bills. So, we have to ask: where's Marty spending the money now?"
Campaign finance reports were due to the state April 13, and indeed, a search of the state online campaign-finance database didn't turn up Schmotzer's report by mid-afternoon. But that's not unusual: The Department of State, which handles the filings, has taken its lumps from Gov. Tom Corbett's budget cuts, and is short-handed to the point where calls to it sometimes ring with no answer. (The work of uploading documents to the web, meanwhile, is done by a vendor.) A department official told me, "We can't say he's missed the deadline, because we are still processing those hundreds and hundreds of reports that we've received."
Reached by phone, Schmotzer denied filing his report late. "I had it notarized and postmarked April 12," he says. Under state law, a finance report is considered on time if it's postmarked the day before the filing deadline.
Schmotzer says he also filed a copy of his report -- in person -- at the Allegheny County Board of Elections last Friday. I've obtained a copy of that report, which was indeed notarized April 12, and time-stamped by county workers at 4:01 p.m. April 13.
It's safe to say Schmotzer was not happy about Molchany's original statement. "It's another sign of the little game this candidate and her cohorts play, and of the cheap publicity she wants," says Schmotzer. "What she's saying is an absolute lie."
When I notified Molchany's campaign about the copy of the report at the county -- and Schmotzer's claim to have properly mailed it into the state -- they sent a correction of their earlier release, which added the following statement:
This campaign has had conversations with the Department of State over the past several days. Candidates have a requirement to file a campaign finance report with the state by April 13th, 2012. Molchany's report has been online and accessible since 4/13. One week later, Schmotzer's report is still not accessible online & the Department of State has informed us that no report of Schmotzer's has been processed. Schmotzer has filed a courtesy copy with the county Elections Division.
And what does Schmotzer's report show? Between mid-February and mid-April, he raised $43,200. A full $10,000 of that came from Schmotzer himself, with another $10,000 from a relative. Schmotzer is the endorsed Democrat, and has some labor backing as well, so not surprisingly, other large contributors include a number of unions led by the Steamfitters ($5,000), and committees affiliated with state Rep. Dan Deasy ($500), and Allegheny County Treasurer John Weinstein ($2,500).
And where did that money go? Mostly on postage -- LOTS of postage -- printing, rent for the Schmotzer campaign headquarters in Brookline ... the typical stuff candidates spend money on. At first blush, nothing really jumped out at me as being unusual.
(In any case, it might be worth noting -- as our Chris Young reported not long ago -- that the rules governing campaign expenditures are so loose as to be meaningless.)
And what of Molchany's fundraising? Her statement boasts of her "broad base of small donors, which reflects her viability and wide spread support."
Indeed, in the first quarter of the year, she raised just shy of $31,000 -- roughly the same amount Schmotzer raised when you subtract his own contribution. Nearly 45 percent of Molchany's fundraising was in amounts of less than $250; all but $1,900 of Schmotzer's total was in checks larger than that amount.
Much of Molchany's support, not surprisingly, comes from like-minded progressives: Among her biggest supporters is Run Baby Run, a PAC which supports female candidates and which gave Molchany $4,100. Meanwhile, the campaign fund of City Councilor Natalia Rudiak, whose district overlaps portions of the 22nd and who has already backed Molchany publicly, has loaned her $2,500. New Castle businesswoman and former Congressional candidate Georgia Berner -- a reliable supporter of progressives -- gave $1,000.
But Molchany also drew support from more entrenched Dems, like a PAC affiliated with the Operating Engineers ($250), parking lot magnate Merrill Stabile ($1,000), and Reed Smith attorney Daniel Booker ($1,000).
The 22nd House District may not be around for much longer: a GOP-led redistricting plan has it slated for execution in 2014. But if it does perish, at least it went out with a bang.