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FILE- In this file photo from Nov. 19, 2019, the dome of the Pennsylvania Capitol is visible through the trees in Harrisburg, Pa. There are 203 House seats and 25 of 50 Senate seats up for election on Nov. 3, when voters will decide whether to extend gains Democrats made two years ago or tighten the majority hold Republicans have long held over both chambers of the Pennsylvania Legislature. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Parker Wallis

All across Pennsylvania, tens of millions of dollars have been funneled into right-wing political action committees (PACs), organizations, and election campaigns over several years with the goal to instill Republican lawmakers in state legislatures and promote conservative legislation, including in Delaware County’s Legislative District 168. Much of that money stems from one billionaire and the PACs to which he donates. 

Legislative District 168 is located in southeast Pennsylvania and includes the townships of Edgmont, Marple, Middletown, Newtown, Thornbury, and Upper Providence in addition to the areas of Chester Heights and Media. The seat is currently occupied by Republican incumbent Christopher Quinn, who has been in office since 2016 and is seeking re-election. His opponent is Democratic candidate Lisa Borowski, a Radnor Township commissioner who also served as the vice president of the Radnor school board. 

Quinn resides in Middletown and has described himself as a moderate Republican, though his record tells a different story. For example, according to the PAC “Firearm Owners Against Crime (FOAC),” Quinn voted for pro-gun legislation 80 percent of the time, including voting to lift the ban for semi-automatic rifles for hunting, de-escalation training for school security guards, and establishing background checks for gun purchases. 

Borowski supports common sense gun safety reforms, and has stated:  “We need common sense gun reform now to prevent gun violence and keep our communities safe,” said Borowski in response to a question from Patch. “I support a ban on assault weapons, as well as universal background checks, closing loopholes in firearm legislation, and red flag laws. I’m proud to have earned the Moms Demand Action Gun Sense Candidate Distinction.”

While nothing on Quinn’s website mentions his position on abortion, he voted for Senate Bill 106, a measure that includes an amendment to the state constitution declaring that abortion is not a constitutional right, previously voted to abortions at 20 weeks with no exception, and voted to require a funeral or cremation for abortion remains. 

On the other hand, Borowski has been transparent about her advocacy for reproductive rights. “Abortion access is a fundamental right – everybody has the right to make their own decisions about their futures, and politicians do not belong in the doctor’s office,” she said. “We must do everything we can to protect abortion access in Pennsylvania.”

But while Quinn has described himself as a moderate Republican, he and many other Republican legislators have received funds, either through PACs or directly, from Pennsylvania’s richest man: right-wing billionaire Jeffrey Yass. Spotlight PA reports that Yass spent $18 million on this year’s primaries alone. Starting in September, Yass’ group is spending at least $210,000 on TV promoting Quinn’s campaign. 

“This is about power for Jeffrey Yass,” said Eric Rosso, who organizes with a left-wing third party called the Working Families Party. “This is a billionaire wanting to exert his personal influence on the election.”

Yass has a reported net worth of $12 billion, and is the 184th richest person in the world, according to Forbes. In 1987, Yass co-founded Susquehanna International Group with no outside capital, which now manages over $400 billion in investments for corporations like Tesla, ExxonMobil, and Amazon. 

Yass currently sits on the board of the Cato Institute, a national Libertarian think tank, and is one of the country’s largest donors to PACs supporting lower corporate tax rates and “school choice” (which, in practice, has meant funding for private and charter schools at the expense of local public schools). 

Since 2017, Yass has given more than $43 million to the Students First PAC, which has donated over $35 million to the Commonwealth Children’s Choice Fund and nearly $2 million to the Commonwealth Leaders Fund. These organizations all support candidates who push school choice policies in Pennsylvania. The Children’s Choice Fund also donated nearly $24 million to the Commonwealth Leaders fund over the same period of time. These PACs are managed by a right-wing group called the Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, of whom Matthew Brouliette is the founder and CEO, and the organization then funnels millions to Pennsylvania legislators in the Republican Party. Some of the money is also distributed to other PACs connected to Yass and Brouliette’s right-wing network. 

Because of Pennsylvania’s lax campaign finance laws, there is virtually no limit to the amount of money Yass and other wealthy donors can give to right-wing PACs and organizations like these. 

“It’s more or less the wild west,” said Chris Borick, a pollster at Muhlenberg College. “That opens up the door for an incredible amount of influence to come from a few donors.” Borick, who observes state spending, has described Yass’ contributions to the election cycle as “enormous” and said Yass “seems to be positioning himself to be a real power broker… in Pennsylvania politics.”

Samuel Chen, a political strategist, is concerned that billionaires like Yass have enough money to buy an election, rendering ideologies and policy positions pointless. “We risk stifling debate when we do this,” he said. “It becomes who shouts the loudest and longest.”

Voting against  candidates who accept billionaire money, such as LD 168’s Chris Quinn, from getting re-elected is the first step to getting corporate lobbying and dark money donations out of Pennsylvania politics and electing candidates who genuinely represent what the people need and want. 

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