State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

High court candidates not above dark money

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Oct 14, 2015 10:23 PM
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Six of the seven candidates vying for three open seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court say it's a dark-money world -- we're just living in it.

At a forum in Harrisburg on Wednesday, the three Republicans and three Democrats running say they won't denounce negative advertising funded by groups that don't disclose their donors, because the practice is absolutely legal.

But the lone Independent in the race said he will condemn such contributions and refuse to take them.

"The purpose of the pledge, I thought, was to discourage dark money and other monies from coming into the campaign... we know they have the right," said Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Paul Panepinto, who has run as a Republican in past appellate races.

Panepinto is lagging in fundraising totals among candidates who have raked in eye-popping amounts of cash. Supreme Court hopefuls have raised more than $8 million this year, if you count the money reported before the primary contest.

The political balance of the high court is up for grabs this fall, with an unprecedented three available seats.

Panepinto is joined in the race by Democratic candidates Superior Court Judge David Wecht, Superior Court Judge Christine Donohue, and Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Kevin Dougherty. The Republican candidates are Superior Court Judge Judith Olson, Adams County Common Pleas Judge Mike George, and Commonwealth Court Judge Anne Covey.

Instead of taking swings at one another at the forum, the candidates made the high court their punching bag. The court announced this week it would reopen an investigation into sitting Justice Michael Eakin after seeing allegations that he exchanged offensive e-mails. The follow-up review comes a year after the court pressed for the resignation of a former justice, Seamus McCaffery, for exchanging pornographic messages.

Nearly all of the candidates voiced discomfort at the idea of the Supreme Court policing its own.

"I don't think it's something that the Supreme Court itself should be doing, since there is a Supreme Court justice at issue," said Olson.

Other candidates said the Judicial Conduct Board should be the only body investigating sitting justices.

"In a sense, the Supreme Court has already done too much," said Donohue. "It's time to let the Judicial Conduct Board do its work."


Published in State House Sound Bites

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