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Pennsylvania attorney general candidates rebuild campaign coffers after pricey primaries

The seal of the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Commonwealth Media Services
The attorney general serves as Pennsylvania’s legal representative and defends the commonwealth’s laws in court.

HARRISBURG — The Democratic and Republican candidates competing to be Pennsylvania’s next attorney general first had to survive contested primaries that drained their campaign coffers.

With more than five months until the November election, they’re rebuilding those cash reserves, thanks to very different backers.

The campaigns of Democrat Eugene DePasquale and Republican Dave Sunday have each spent more than $300,000 since the beginning of 2024, new campaign finance filings show. That left both with roughly $30,000 to spend as of May 13.

DePasquale, the state’s former auditor general, leveraged his statewide name recognition and cruised to victory in a crowded Democratic field that saw no party endorsement. Sunday, the district attorney in York County, handily beat state Rep. Craig Williams (R., Delaware) with the help of an endorsement from the state Republican Party.

Sunday raised nearly $20,000 between April 9 to May 13. His biggest donors included a candidate committee associated with Heather Heidelbaugh ($2,000), who unsuccessfully challenged former Attorney General Josh Shapiro in 2020, and a PAC associated with central Pennsylvania-based Shipley Energy ($2,500).

His latest campaign finance filing also shows significant support from the Commonwealth Leaders Fund, a PAC that supports alternatives to public education and is overwhelmingly funded by billionaire Jeff Yass. That group spent $108,000 ahead of the primary on mailers.

“We are excited for any help from individuals who want to bring accountability and redemption to the criminal justice system,” Sunday campaign spokesperson Ben Wren said of the in-kind contribution.

Sunday also received considerable outside support. Keystone Prosperity PAC, which is associated with the Republican Attorneys General Association, spent more than $100,000 on text messages to back Sunday through the independent expenditure process — meaning it was not allowed to coordinate with the campaign.

The attorney general serves as Pennsylvania’s legal representative and defends the commonwealth’s laws in court. In recent years, this position has attracted national attention, particularly as the office defended the results of the 2020 presidential election.

The role has been a launching pad for politicians aspiring to higher office. Two of the state’s last three governors previously held the position of attorney general.

DePasquale raised just over $58,000 between April 9 to May 13. That includes a $10,000 post-primary donation from International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union No. 5.

“We spent all of our resources on the primary leaving nothing to chance, but we’ve already seen that turn around pretty quickly,” Carver Murphy, campaign manager for DePasqaule, told Spotlight PA. “We don’t have Jeff Yass writing us an endless check, but we’re seeing good support from institutional partners, labor, grassroots donors.”

He added that since May 13, the DePasquale campaign has raised over six figures, with major donations from a carpenter’s union and a firefighter’s union in Pittsburgh.

Mustafa Rashed — CEO of Bellevue Strategies, a Philadelphia-based lobbying firm — said he expects both campaigns’ fundraising to take off as the party establishment falls in line behind the general election candidates, especially after finishing a “very challenging primary season across the board.”

Democrats have held the attorney general’s office almost continuously since 2013, and it’s a major target for the Republican Party. Still, with races for president and U.S. Senate on the ballot, the attorney general contest is expected to be relatively low-profile even though the outcome has very high stakes.

Sam Chen, a Lehigh Valley-based political consultant, noted that Sunday had relatively few individual people donate to his campaign this cycle. If that continues, he said, it could point to Sunday having a name recognition issue.

“It could mean his name [recognition] is not where it needs to be, he’s not a known quantity, or that people aren’t seeing him,” Chen said.

In comparison, DePasquale has served in the state legislature, as auditor general, and has run for Congress. That means he has “less ground to make up,” Chen said.

Wren said he believes the mailers paid for by the Commonwealth Leaders Fund improved Sunday’s name recognition across the state. He also pointed to a recent AARP poll showing neither DePasquale nor Sunday with a lead outside the margin of error.

“That suggests to me that people know who DePasquale and they don’t think that he should be attorney general,” Wren said.