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In Pa. Senate race, Oz spends own cash, Fetterman flush

Jonathan Tamari and Julia Terruso
The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA — Mehmet Oz is reaching deep into his well-tailored pockets to fund his Republican Senate campaign in Pennsylvania. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is still running laps around his Democratic opponents when it comes to campaign cash. And some other high-profile candidates are struggling to collect the dough needed to run in a state as vast as Pennsylvania.

Those details emerged in the latest round of federal fundraising reports, released late Monday and covering the final three months of 2021. They provided a snapshot of the candidates’ financial strength in one of the country’s most closely watched Senate races, and our first detailed look at how the celebrity “Dr. Oz” is throwing his immense personal wealth into his first run for public office.

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Here’s just some of what the reports reveal:

Oz’s wealth shapes the race: Those ads you’re seeing nonstop from Oz and GOP rival David McCormick? They’re not going away.

Oz lent his campaign $5.2 million in just his first month in the race. That accounted for almost all the money in his campaign fund, with a significant chunk of the rest coming from his wife’s family, Oz’s first campaign disclosure shows. (His in-laws own Asplundh Tree Service Inc., a massive international company based in Willow Grove.) He has already booked $7.6 million of television airtime, according to the advertising tracking firm AdImpact, including purchases that would have been made after the Dec. 31 cutoff for the new reports.

The report underscores just how much money is sloshing into this election extraordinarily early. Political veterans say they’ve never seen spending like this so far out from a primary that doesn’t arrive until May 17.

This initial report shows Oz is willing to shoulder much of that spending himself – and that means it’s unlikely to slow down between now and the primary. It reflects just how much personal wealth can shape campaigns.

Dave McCormick, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania during a campaign event in Coplay, Pa., Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

McCormick remains a mystery: McCormick, a former hedge fund CEO who joined the race in January, has been trying to keep pace, spending $4.2 million on the airwaves himself. But we won’t get a look at the details of his campaign spending for a few more months. Because he joined the race only last month, after the latest reporting cutoff, he won’t have to file a public disclosure until mid-April, about a month before the primary.

That means we don’t know how much spending is coming from his own pocket, who is backing him, or who exactly is working for him. McCormick, clearly aiming to catch former President Donald Trump’s eye, has touted his hires of high-profile Trump advisers like Hope Hicks and Stephen Miller, but it’s unclear exactly what they’re doing for him.

We did get one glimpse at some of the deep pockets supporting McCormick. A super PAC backing him and hammering Oz on TV filed its report, showing that six people and an LLC combined to supply almost $5.5 million in just a few days in late December. That giving was led by fellow hedge fund executive Kenneth Griffin, who donated $5 million.

A super PAC backing Oz, American Leadership Action, reported raising $330,000 in the final days of the year, but its television spending shows it has brought in much more cash since then.

Again, it shows the political advantage of being rich — and having rich friends.

Others struggled to keep up: Other Republicans are struggling to keep pace. Real estate developer Jeff Bartos lifted his fundraising haul to $456,000 in the last quarter, an improvement from the previous three months. But with $2.5 million on hand, he’s still lagging far behind his wealthy competitors.

Carla Sands, a former ambassador to Denmark under Trump, is also putting her own money into the contest, but few others seem willing to support her financially. Sands raised a paltry (for a Senate race) $165,000 in the final quarter. Of the $4.2 million her campaign has raised overall, $3.6 million, or 85%, came from her. And she’s already spent much of it: She had just $1.5 million left as of Dec. 31.

Conservative commentator Kathy Barnette raised $420,000 and had about $566,000 on hand. Another GOP candidate, Philadelphia attorney George Bochetto, also didn’t have to report because he entered the race last month.

Fetterman continues to lap the Democrats: In the Democratic primary, Fetterman is still vastly outpacing his rivals, showcasing a small-donor operation that helped him raise $12 million in 2021, including $2.7 million in the final quarter. The sheer volume of giving, from more than 170,000 people overall, shows the vast network of support Fetterman has built, even as Democratic insiders in Pennsylvania make it increasingly clear they’d prefer an alternative.

He finished a distant second at the state party’s endorsement meeting Saturday, and some of the biggest liberal players, including major labor unions, have backed Fetterman’s rivals — choosing them over a front-runner who already holds public office. (He hammered the point home Tuesday, releasing an internal poll that showed Fetterman with 46% support, with his closest Democratic rival, U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, at 16%.)

It’s an unusual dynamic: The candidate in the strongest position in polling and fundraising isn’t the one the party establishment seems to want. Fetterman is betting he can win without party elites. He had $5.3 million on hand as of Dec. 31, the most in the Democratic field.

Lamb raises cash while Arkoosh, Kenyatta trail: Lamb, who has come in a distant second in recent polls, also came closest to Fetterman’s fundraising. He had around $3 million in his campaign fund. He raised $1.3 million in the quarter, less than half of Fetterman’s haul and a chunk of it designated for the general election — but still far more than any other Democrat in the race. Lamb appears to be the preference of most of the Democratic establishment in Pennsylvania.

But he still has a lot of ground to make up.

Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh reported raising $621,000 to end the quarter with about $1.2 million on hand. That’s an improvement from the previous quarter but still leaves her a distant third in raising money and adds to the viability questions surrounding her campaign. She received just 17 votes at the Democratic State Committee’s endorsement meeting Saturday, a distant fourth. She has struggled for traction in the race, a reality both reflected in and compounded by her fundraising.

And it continues to be a split-screen campaign for State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta. The Philadelphian has racked up some major endorsements and impressed some with his dogged campaigning. His 55 votes among party activists Saturday, just nine fewer than Fetterman, showed the inroads he has made despite questions about his age, experience and ability to win statewide.

But fundraising continues to be a glaring weakness that raises serious questions about whether he can turn that into statewide viability. He raised $338,000 and had just $285,000 on hand. That’s actually a decrease from his previous report, and by far the lowest amount of any major candidate in the race.

Kenyatta argues that if people hear his message he can win them over. But if you can’t afford to spread the message, it’s hard to make your case in a state as big as Pennsylvania.