Chairman of secretive group behind ad attacking Bill Peduto: Luke Ravenstahl

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Documents released Tuesday, just three weeks before the May 21 primary, show that Luke Ravenstahl is head of the secretive committee behind new TV attack ads taking on his longtime foe and Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Peduto.

Little was known about the group called "Committee for a Better Pittsburgh" financing the citywide, $53,000 ad buy that started Monday targeting the city councilman's mayoral bid. But paperwork KDKA-TV filed with the Federal Communications Commission lifted the veil: The committee chairman is the outgoing mayor.

Starting last year the FCC began requiring broadcast television stations to post their "public file" of political advertising purchases online along with a measure of identifying information on the officials behind the ads. A note by KDKA's political advertising director added "Despite several requests, the agency has declined to designate on behalf of the committee a contact person, address and phone number."

However, it did list Mr. Ravenstahl as chairman of the committee and as treasurer John Morgan -- a Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority employee and longtime campaign official for local Democrats, including the mayor's brother, state Rep. Adam Ravenstahl, and state Sen. Jim Ferlo, a Ravenstahl ally.

Mr. Ravenstahl's government spokeswoman would not address the political ads Monday.

But after an earlier version of this story was posted on post-gazette.com Tuesday evening, Mr. Ravenstahl posted online comments on it; his comment also appeared on his Facebook page.

"Breaking news: One of America's (self-proclaimed) greatest newspapers actually takes the time to pull the records of an account that's been in existence for years!" he wrote. "Truth is no one is hiding anything, nor has attempted to. I have personally been the Chairman of this committee since its inception."

He said of the ad: "It's 100% factual and begins to expose the real Bill Peduto. Future ads will do the same."

Mr. Ravenstahl has the money to pay for such ads: When he announced March 1 he would not seek re-election, his suspended campaign was sitting on nearly $1 million in cash.

The ad buy was placed by a Republican media firm based in Alexandria, Va., that has advertised for former U.S. Sen Rick Santorum and "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth," the conservative group that attacked 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's Vietnam record.

Ads began airing Monday on Pittsburgh television stations questioning Mr. Peduto's votes on projects in largely black city neighborhoods and on wages for low-income workers and claiming he favors his East End city council district. Over an image of neighborhoods crumbling in a Pittsburgh map, but the East End left standing, it features the finishing line "We need a mayor for all of Pittsburgh -- not just Peduto's neighborhood."

The Peduto campaign disputed the claims in the ad and argued that former state Auditor General Jack Wagner, his lead rival in the May 21 primary, was behind the attack spot. No Wagner affiliation is reflected in the FCC filings.

Asked about the ad before a candidates' debate Tuesday night, Mr. Wagner said, "I have not seen it. ... I don't know who created it."

Many of Mr. Ravenstahl's top campaign contributors and political allies have moved their allegiance to Mr. Wagner, but his campaign has pushed back on claims that the two men have ties. Mr. Wagner has criticized the current mayor on the campaign trail and said last week that they have had little interaction since Mr. Ravenstahl ascended to the mayor's seat in 2006.

On Tuesday, the Peduto campaign challenged Mr. Wagner -- who has made his own Vietnam service part of his campaign -- to denounce the mayor's ad, partially because of the ties to the "Swift Boat" firm.

"If the Wagner campaign has no connection with Ravenstahl and this committee, they should join us in denouncing this ad, unless he has vested interest in the ad being out there," Peduto spokeswoman Sonya Toler said. "As a veteran, Wagner should be insulted by this [firm that placed the ad] and their attacks on other Vietnam veterans such as John Kerry."

"It's up to Jack to end this Swift Boat attack, and any veteran would oppose the organization that attacked Vietnam veterans," Mr. Peduto said Tuesday night. "Jack needs to say to stand down, that these attacks have to end because all of his supporters are paying for Jack Wagner's campaign."

In response to Mr. Peduto's call for him to disavow the ad, Mr. Wagner said, "I have denounced negative ads my entire career. I think Bill Peduto should denounce his own negative ads toward myself. He initiated the negative ad campaign."

The Wagner campaign met Mr. Peduto's critical ad with a negative response of its own, a move that Mr. Wagner called, "a natural response."

"His ad misrepresented me in many different ways, and therefore we rebutted," he said.

Television advertising by outside groups is common in federal campaigns, but this is the first time the strategy has been used in a Pittsburgh mayor's race.

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Tim McNulty: tmcnulty@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581. James O'Toole contributed. First Published April 30, 2013 8:15 PM


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