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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Matt Shaner Serious About Congressional Race

Shaner spending triggers FEC law


With seven weeks to go until Pennsylvania’s April 22 primary, 5th Congressional District Republican Matt Shaner has already spent more than $350,000 of his own money on the race, a campaign finance report shows.

The amount reflects the skyrocketing cost of congressional campaigns and especially the cost of TV commercials but also underscores a difference in personal wealth among candidates for the only open U.S. House seat in the state.

Federal law requires self-financed candidates to notify their opponents when they exceed $350,000 in spending because the opponents then become eligible to accept contributions from individuals three times higher than the typical limit, $2,300.

Shaner, 28, a State College-based real estate developer, filed the required Federal Election Commission report last Friday and sent copies to opponents in accordance with the FEC’s so-called Millionaire’s Amendment.

The amendment was added to campaign finance laws in 2002 and first took effect in the 2004 elections. In the more than 870 U.S. House elections since then, including special elections, only 59 candidates have filed the form to indicate they’ve spent personal funds beyond the Millionaire’s Amendment threshold, FEC spokesman Bob Biersack said.

This year’s regular pre-primary campaign finance reports for Pennsylvania’s congressional races are not due to the FEC until April 10.

Shaner this week explained the expenditures by saying that, with so many Republicans seeking the 5th District nomination — nine — and with the campaign spread over 17 counties, “we’re trying to get our message out.”

He added: “By spending my own money on my campaign, it allows me to remain independent if elected and not be beholden to large donors because they financed my campaign.”

Shaner, the son of hotel industry entrepreneur Lance Shaner, said he has spent the money mostly on TV and radio commercials throughout the district’s 17 counties as well as on direct mailings to residents.

“We’re in this to run a very strong campaign over the entire district and hopefully win the district on April 22,” Shaner said. He could not project how much he might spend in the remaining weeks of the race, saying that “campaigns are fluid.”

The Shaner spending report covers 29 days from Jan. 29 to Feb. 27. A course of spending at the same rate until the April 22 primary — more than $12,000 a day — would amount to a total campaign expense of more than $1 million.

An analysis of the 2006 congressional elections by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics found that the average of cost of winning a U.S. House seat was about $1.3 million, including the full cycle of primary and general election campaigns. The analysis also found that in 93 percent of the U.S. House races, the candidate who spent the most money won.

Three Democrats are competing for their party’s nomination for the 5th District seat, but they are not opponents of Shaner. Shaner’s Republican primary opponents reacted to his spending with wide-ranging criticism.

“Is this the guy who’s the fiscal conservative?” said former Centre County commissioner Chris Exarchos, 63. “If he treats his own money that way, how’s he going to treat the rest of our money?”

Clearfield County financial consultant Derek Walker, 32, the son and grandson of wealthy coal industry entrepreneurs, said his father and grandfather “haven’t put one cent into the campaign so far.” Until the Millionaire’s Amendment took effect, his father and grandfather could not contribute more than $2,300 each to his campaign.

“This election is not going to be won by glitzy ads,” Walker said. “If I can afford to use TV, I’ll use TV. It’s good for name recognition. It’s not good for character recognition.”

Lycoming County Republican Jeff Stroehmann, a former Woodward Township supervisor, said Shaner mailings — he counted three so far — were inundating Jefferson County Republicans. But he said the Shaner spending helps him out.

“It actually makes me happy that he tripped the Millionaire’s Amendment because it allows my contributors to donate more,” said Stroehmann, 42, the great-great grandson of the founder of Stroehmann Bakeries. “He actually did us a big favor.”

Clarion Mayor John Stroup, another of the Republican candidates, acknowledged that individual contributors may now donate up to $6,900 instead of $2,300. But he added that “I don’t have a whole lot of those people to worry about.”

Centre County Republican Chairman Glenn Thompson said he was surprised when he got a copy of Shaner’s Millionaire’s Amendment form.

“I really never expected it would be something that would be used in this congressional race,” he said. “I’m not worried and frankly not intimidated by that much money being spent in the race. We trust that the voters will use all opportunities to make an informed decision.”

Other Republican candidates could not be reached for comment.

Exarchos and Walker wondered where Shaner got the money.

“I’d like to know how a 28-year-old guy made that kind of money,” Exarchos said. “He must have a job that pays a lot.”

“Where did the money come from?” Walker said. “The money had to come from somewhere.”

Shaner said he accumulated the money “through businesses that I’m partners in.”

Mike Joseph can be reached at 235-3910
"Solomon's words" appreciates Mike Joseph and the Centre
Daily times letting us republish these articles on the 5th District Congressional race.

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