Peduto files for injunction claiming Wagner, Lamb violating Pittsburgh campaign finance law
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Pittsburgh mayoral candidate Bill Peduto is taking two rivals to court, provoking an intriguing legal test of the city's campaign finance law and the first major confrontation among those fighting over the unsettled turf of the mayor's race.
Mr. Peduto claims fellow Democrats Michael Lamb and Jack Wagner are inappropriately using funds raised for previous campaigns in their mayoral bids this year, violating the city's 2009 campaign finance law. The court injunction the city councilman from Point Breeze is seeking would essentially strip his rivals of much of the money they have on hand to campaign for the May 21 Democratic nomination.
Both the Lamb and Wagner camps brushed off the complaint.
"Instead of focusing on the issues and challenges facing Pittsburgh, Mr. Peduto has shown a pattern of filing nuisance lawsuits to gain political advantage. That's the approach of a gadfly, not a leader -- and certainly not a mayor," stated Mr. Lamb, the city's controller.
"Jack Wagner's record speaks for itself," said J.J. Abbott, spokesman for the former state auditor general and onetime city councilman. "This stunt by Bill Peduto is a desperate attempt to distract from the real issues in this campaign, including education, jobs and public safety, which our campaign will continue to focus on."
The other Democratic candidates -- city council President Darlene Harris, state Rep. Jake Wheatley of the Hill District and bus monitor A.J. Richardson of Sheraden -- were not named in the legal complaint and did not have significant campaign accounts on file anyway. Incumbent mayor and money-leader Luke Ravenstahl announced March 1 he would not seek re-election.
The city's campaign finance law caps giving in mayoral primaries at $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for political action committees. Under the Peduto campaign's interpretation, the Lamb and Wagner campaigns could only sink $4,000 raised during previous races into this year's race.
Mr. Lamb had $212,000 on hand at last report, a "substantial portion of which" was taken from his 2011 controller campaign account, according to Mr. Peduto's complaint. Mr. Wagner's state account had $371,000 at last account, which he planned to roll into his mayoral bid. Mr. Peduto started a new mayoral account to raise the $261,000 in cash he had on hand.
"It is our intent to follow the spirit and the letter of the law," Mr. Peduto stated. "And to ensure that others do the same. This is ultimately about being fair to the residents of Pittsburgh, who overwhelmingly support campaign finance reform, and ensuring the integrity of the upcoming primary election for mayor."
The Peduto team withdrew its previous complaint to the Allegheny County elections board that Mr. Lamb inappropriately loaned his campaign $52,000. That was notable since, if proven accurate, it could have triggered language in the 2009 law erasing all contribution limits for the race.
This is the first Pittsburgh mayoral race since the finance law was adopted and the first time its language has been taken to court. A similar Philadelphia measure approved in 2003 went to court during its 2007 mayor's race and was ultimately upheld by the state Supreme Court a month after the election won by current Mayor Michael Nutter.
Mr. Peduto was a leading proponent of the Pittsburgh law so it would be an embarrassment for him if it were undermined by the courts, while also securing his rivals' finances. Yet if the court fully granted his injunction request it would leave him with far more money than any other candidate.
Josh Wander of Squirrel Hill is the sole Republican nominee.
First Published March 21, 2013 2:04 pm