Politics & Government

The Money to Run: Rep. Mike Hanna maintains strong donor base

Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Lock Haven, center, has built a strong campaign donor base over his 25 years in public office.
Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Lock Haven, center, has built a strong campaign donor base over his 25 years in public office. Centre Daily Times, file

Editor’s note: “The Money to Run” looks at contributions to the election campaigns of local politicians, state and federal. The series was reported by Penn State journalism students using public campaign finance reports archived on the websites of the Federal Election Commission, FollowTheMoney.org and OpenSecrets.org.

State Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Lock Haven, is up for re-election for the 13th time, and the House Democratic whip hopes to grow a donor base that has given him more than $1 million in campaign contributions during his years in office.

He represents the 76th District, which includes Clinton County and part of Centre County, and is the second-ranking Democratic leader in the House.

Since becoming whip, his fundraising clout has mirrored his leadership position.

In 2010, when he was challenged by both a Republican and a Constitution Party candidate, he had contributions totaling $49,000. In 2011 he was elected whip for the first time.

In 2012 and 2014, though he was running unopposed in the primary and general elections, he raised about $505,000 and $252,000, respectively.

This year Hanna is running against Republican Stephanie Borowicz, of McElhattan. According to the first financial report for his 2016 race, he has raised almost $78,000 so far.

The data come from FollowTheMoney.org, a nonpartisan, nonprofit site run by the National Institute on Money in State Politics that aggregates public data on campaign finances to promote transparency.

Follow The Money has data only for the past 18 of Hanna’s 25 years in office. Its total of $1,050,458 through his first 2016 report does not include money he raised for campaigns between 1990 and 1996. Still, his donor base appears strong and consistent.

Hanna’s top non-individual supporter is the Pennsylvania State Education Association. The Harrisburg-based organization represents teachers and staff in public schools and state universities. Over the years, it has donated more than $105,000 to his campaign.

PSEA members contribute to political candidates because politics impact education in about every aspect. Every aspect of public schooling is determined by public officials.

Wythe Keever, PSEA spokesman

“PSEA members contribute to political candidates because politics impact education in about every aspect. Every aspect of public schooling is determined by public officials,” said PSEA spokesman Wythe Keever. Hanna, he said, “has typically been a good friend of public education throughout his career.”

Hanna is a member of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education board of governors and advocates for accessible education. According to Hanna, educational investment is key.

“My belief is that we need to reinvest in education at the basic, as well as higher, levels so we stop the ever-increasing (school) property taxes in Pennsylvania,” he said.

Hanna attributed the increased local taxation to state education budget cuts pushed by former Gov. Tom Corbett.

Other sectors that heavily back Hanna are public sector and general trade unions, which have contributed nearly $323,000 throughout his career, and lawyers and lobbyists, who have given about $145,000 since 1998.

Hanna’s fifth-highest contributor is the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association, a professional organization of civil and criminal litigation attorneys in that area. It has donated $35,000 to Hanna’s campaigns.

As the House Democratic whip — the party’s vote wrangler and party-line enforcer — it is not uncommon for Hanna to receive donations from interest groups outside his district.

Joseph Messa, president of the trial lawyers group, cited rights for injured citizens, keeping courthouse doors open and the right to a fair trial by jury as some of its main legislative interests.

Messa stressed that it is a bipartisan organization, but about 82 percent of its contributions during the past 13 years have gone to Democrats, according to Follow The Money.

Hanna’s third-largest contributor — after Friends of Mike Hanna, his own political committee — is PA Future, formerly known as Rendell 95.

This group has given $57,500 to Hanna over various election cycles. Money from PA Future — not to be confused with the Republicans’ PA Future Fund — comes from leftover campaign funds from Ed Rendell’s time as governor.

Barry Kauffman, executive director of the nonpartisan watchdog Common Cause Pennsylvania, said this transfer of funds is allowed.

“Under Pennsylvania law, a PAC can re-give money to anybody they want to. (The candidate) could then turn around and use that money any way they want to,” he said. “By state law — and though this doesn’t get enforced very well — this has to be in order to benefit someone running for office.”

PA Future has spent 97 percent of its $9.02 million on Democratic causes and candidates, including Dan Onorato, the party’s unsuccessful candidate for governor in 2010, and Gov. Tom Wolf. Some $6.7 million went to Rendell’s campaigns.

Hanna’s Republican opponent this year, Borowicz, is campaigning for funds as well.

“Running against a 25-year incumbent, I know our campaign will face a significant disadvantage,” she said.

Borowicz said she did not have an estimate of her expected donations for her campaign but added that her biggest financial supporters were “countless hard-working Americans in the 76th District.”

Noelle Rosellini is a Penn State journalism student.

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