Election 2017

Philly’s 2017 District Attorney Democratic race: Twice as expensive as the last

Total spending could easily hit $5 million in the primary. Last time, it topped out at $2 million.

Top row, from left: DA candidates Teresa Carr Deni, Tariq El-Shabazz, Joe Khan and Larry Krasner. Bottom row: Rich Negrin, Jack O'Neill and Michael Untermeyer.

Top row, from left: DA candidates Teresa Carr Deni, Tariq El-Shabazz, Joe Khan and Larry Krasner. Bottom row: Rich Negrin, Jack O'Neill and Michael Untermeyer.

Photos via candidates' campaigns, Facebook and YouTube.

Thanks to George Soros, a deep-pocketed candidate and unions, this year’s District Attorney’s race is costing vastly more than the last time Philly had a competitive DA Democratic Primary.

As of early May, according to campaign finance reports, the eight candidates or PACS had spent $2.8 million (only seven candidates are still in the running, with indicted DA Seth Williams having withdrawn).

Some $2 million remained to be spent over the final days of the campaign, with the likelihood of candidates and PACs also pouring in more funds. Given the remainder of funds, the total spent on this Democratic Primary for DA for the seven candidates, plus Williams’ expenditures before he withdrew, should surpass $4 million and could reach the $5 million range.

In 2009, the last competitive DA race, the total spending among the five candidates was around $2 million. Though this race still doesn’t come close to spending in the Mayor’s Race — closer to $20 million for Democratic primaries — they’re spending all this money to hopefully get 35,000 to 40,000 votes. That’s likely how much it will take to win this race. Candidates like Michael Untermeyer, who has self-funded much of his own campaign, and Larry Krasner, who’s reaped the benefits of Soros, will be paying about $30 a vote if they end up with 35,000. Perhaps 100,000 total people will vote, based on estimates from the 2009 election, so the cost will be about $40 a vote if total expenditures reach $4 million.

There are a couple of reasons why spending has increased so much this year, the first being wealthy candidate Michael Untermeyer. It’s not unusual for a rich candidate to trigger the so-called millionaire’s provision in a political race by donating $250,000 or more to his or her own campaign. It’s less usual for the candidate to actually contribute $1,000,000.

But that’s exactly what Untermeyer has done, almost completely self-funding his campaign. As of early this month, by the second deadline for campaign finance reports, he had spent about $900,000 of his own money and the Inquirer reported he spent another $300,000 last week, bringing the total to $1.25 million. 

Outside PACs have also been much bigger contributors. They were nearly nonexistent in the 2009 race, with one candidate, Michael Turner, even saying he wouldn’t accept PAC contributions. IBEW’s PAC, oftentimes a major player spearheaded by John Dougherty, only spent about $10,000 on candidate Dan McCaffery.

This time, two outside PACs — one affiliated with Johnny Doc — are joining Untermeyer as major spenders. Building A Better Pennsylvania, a building trades PAC, had spent $139,000 on Jack O’Neill as of early May and had another $116,000 in the bank for the last two weeks of the election. The Soros PAC, Philadelphia Justice & Public Safety, spent about $500,000 by May 6 and had another $1 million left for the last two weeks before the primary.

Want some more? Explore other Election 2017 stories.

Mornings in the know

Sign up for Billy Penn’s free morning newsletter for a daily roundup of Philadelphia’s most pressing news, top interesting stories, fun tidbits, and relevant events.

Thanks for reading another Billy Penn article!

We don’t have a paywall, and never will. Instead, we depend on readers like you to keep our newsroom jamming on stories about Philadelphia. If you like what you see, will you support our work?

Thanks for reading a Billy Penn story

We don’t have a paywall, and our daily newsletter is free. Instead, YOU are key to keeping our nonprofit newsroom running strong. If you like what you see, will you join as a member today?

This story was powered by readers

Readers like you make articles like this possible, so thanks for your support. Want to make sure we stick around? Become a sustainer with a recurring contribution!

Tell a friend about Billy Penn

Thanks for reading another article — and we’re grateful for your support! Want to help a friend start their day with Billy Penn? Send them to our newsletter signup page.