Pennsylvania trial attorneys were the largest listed contributor to a political action committee whose $10,000 in 11th-hour mailers opposing a York County candidate have led to allegations of political sabotage and an election law complaint.
LAWPAC, the Pennsylvania Association for Justice's bipartisan PAC, contributed $3,500 to "PA Taxpayers for Integrity," the group that sent mailers opposing conservative Republican Marc Woerner's bid for the 169th House seat in the Hanover area.
Woerner has filed a complaint with the state Department of State, alleging PA Taxpayers for Integrity violated state election law because it was not a registered PAC in the days before the May 20 primary, when the negative mailers were sent. He said he believes the mailers cost him the election, which Kate Klunk won.
Klunk, an attorney, said she's not a member of LAWPAC and hadn't ever heard of the group. She didn't know anything about the origination of the mailers, she said.
She said there's "no place for outside groups to come in and influence elections" locally, and "I believe that I won through very, very hard work, knocking on doors."
In papers filed with the state, PA Taxpayers for Integrity didn't list a candidate it was being founded to support, checking instead that it was "opposed' to Mark (sic) Woerner.
PA Taxpayers for Integrity filed an independent expenditure report showing the $9,994.59 it spent on the mailers was "on their own and was not coordinated with a candidate," said Ron Ruman, press secretary for the Department of State.
According to its website, LAWPAC supports "candidates in statewide elections who believe in the advocacy system, trial by jury & tort recovery."
Calls to LAWPAC for comment were not returned.
The law: Under election law, entities must register with the state if they intend to spend money to influence the outcome of an election, Ruman said.
PA Taxpayers for Integrity filed to become a PAC on May 12.
But the May 12 filing was incomplete and the application wasn't processed, so the group wasn't registered at the time the mailers were sent, Ruman said.
"We have to go by what the law says in terms of what is needed, and their paperwork was not correct until June 11," he said.
A campaign finance report filed last week shows LAWPAC contributed $3,500 June 5 as well as a May 15 expenditure of $3,400 for direct mail from Harrisburg-based Red Maverick Media.
According to the finance report, LAWPAC was the only contributor for the period of May 12 through June 9, and PA Taxpayers for Integrity still owes Red Maverick $6,599 for the mailers.
Ruman declined to say whether the state is investigating the group, but he said information would be forwarded to a prosecuting authority if there's an investigation that yields a possible breach of law.
The group has since met its legal obligations by registering as a PAC and filing the campaign finance report, he said.
The people: Registration documents filed with the Department of State June 12 list the PAC's address as 130 W. Main St. Suit 144-129 in Collegeville, Montgomery County. The filer is listed as Maria Cusik of Southeastern, Chester County. Earlier documents list chairman as David O'Connell of Gladwyne, Montgomery County.
Neither returned calls to numbers listed. There was no response to emails sent to a gmail account provided for the group. The address is the location of a shopping center and commercial space, according to images from Google Maps.
The complaint: Woerner said he realizes an investigation won't change the result of the race, but he wants the group to be held accountable regardless because there are "still a lot of questions that need to be answered."
"Why would LAWPAC contribute $3,500 to smear and attack me?" he said. "And why would anyone from Montgomery County have any interest in a race in southwestern York County?"
He said he "never heard of" Cusik or O'Connell and he doesn't understand why the group would be opposed to him.
"We're going to keep following the money and see what shakes out," he said.
The 169th House was moved from Philadelphia to York County through redistricting, and the primary was the first York race for the district, which includes Codorus, Heidelberg, Penn, Manheim, Shrewsbury and West Manheim townships and Glen Rock, Hanover, New Freedom, Jefferson and Railroad boroughs.
— Reach Christina Kauffman at email@example.com.