Wagner 'tapped out' of money, accuses Republicans of undermining him

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Republican Scott Wagner uses money to illustrate a point as fifth grader Haja Lewis looks on during a gubernatorial forum in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. Fourth- and fifth-graders from across Pennsylvania submitted questions for the state's gubernatorial candidates. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner claims he's "tapped out" and can't put any more money into his campaign to defeat Democratic incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf.

The Spring Garden Township resident and owner of Penn Waste made the claim in an email to supporters in which he also alleged some in his own party are working against him.

Wagner sent the email Saturday, Oct. 6, asking for campaign donations and wrote it "may be the most important email that I will write during my campaign for Governor."

He emphasized the email was intended to appeal to everyone, but especially business owners, professionals and "highly successful people."

'Tapped out': "A lot of people are sitting on the sidelines saying to themselves that Wagner will put more of his own money into the campaign, but with more than $10 million of my own money already invested in this race, I am tapped out," Wagner wrote.

The challenger added that a "small number of establishment Republicans" are working against him to undermine his campaign. 

Wagner campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo didn't respond to email and phone inquiries asking the campaign to specify who the Republicans are and what they're doing to ruin the candidate's campaign.

In the email, Wagner wrote he doesn't need the job or the money that comes along with it, but he remains determined to beat Wolf and his "liberal socialist friends."

"Everyone knows that I don’t need this job or the money, and I sure don’t need the public lynching," Wagner wrote. 

Governor Tom Wolf and Scott Wagner, Republican candidate for governor, take part in a debate moderated by Alex Trebek, Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. John A. Pavoncello photo

The state Democratic party was quick to jump on Wagner for the email.

“Scott Wagner is beginning to fly the white flag because he knows Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike know he’s the worst of Harrisburg,” said party spokesman Mike Mikus. “Whether it is working to defund public education, wanting to tax retirement income or going after women’s health care, even Republicans across Pennsylvania think he’s too extreme.”

But Wagner's call for help might have been heard, as the campaign announced Tuesday, Oct. 9, that President Donald Trump would be campaigning with Wagner the next day in Erie.

Trump previously endorsed Wagner during an August rally in Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County.

Fox News host Jeanine Pirro also headlined a fundraiser for Wagner in York on Wednesday.

Wagner's email comes after polls continue to show Wolf with a double-digit lead, and recent campaign finance reports show his campaign is largely lagging behind that of Wolf's in fundraising and spending.

Campaign finance: The reports show Wolf's campaign with roughly $8.9 million on hand compared to Wagner's $1.8 million.

Gov. Tom Wolf addresses media during a press conference at the York County Office of Emergency Management in Springettsbury Township, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Wolf raised $7.2 million during the June-to-August quarter, and Wagner raised $3.6 million.

The governor has also drastically out-spent Wagner, paying out more than $13.5 million since June — roughly $10 million of which was for advertising — compared to Wagner's $3.4 million total, of which about $1.4 million went to advertising.

In addition to Wagner's lagging finances, his campaign has nearly $6 million in unpaid debt and obligations. Wolf's report shows a zero balance.

Investment strategy: Those same reports show Wagner has been investing campaign funds that he donated into a brokerage account, a move his campaign said was a smart way to boost campaign funds.

The move is legal by state law, but it has also stumped political analysts as to why the candidate would invest the money rather than spend it.

More:Politicos stumped by Wagner's investments of 'excess campaign funds'

In April, Wagner reported receiving $1.5 million because of an "increase in value of excess funds" put into a brokerage account.

Gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner speaks during a Rotary Club of York luncheon at the Country Club of York Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. He outlined his plan to battle the opioid crisis in the state. Bill Kalina photo

Then in May, he reported $1.4 million in expenditures because of a "decrease in value of excess campaign funds" put into the account, nearly zeroing out his initial gains from the investment.

Still, the investments made further gains, and as of September, the brokerage account netted more than $840,000.

The campaign itself also has been loaned nearly $1.4 million from the account since 2017.

The campaign specified the money invested was from Wagner's own donations, but Romeo didn't respond to follow-up inquiries about exactly how much money was invested.

G. Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall College Center for Politics and Public Affairs, has questioned the logic of investing campaign funds.

"This means you're not spending the money since you have it invested," he said. "When you're being outspent the way he's being outspent, what's the point of that?"

Madonna said Wagner's priorities should lie elsewhere, such as increasing his presence in the state and getting more name recognition.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.