Mon Valley lawyer to join race for Daley seat

Published by Janice Crompton on .

Carroll lawyer Alan Benyak has thrown his hat into the ring for a soon-to-be-vacated seat in the 49th Legislative District.

Mr. Benyak, 52, is the first Democrat to announce his intention to seek the seat being vacated by state Rep. Peter J. Daley, D-California, who intends to retire this year after 17 terms in office.

The district includes portions of the Mon Valley in Fayette and Washington counties.
Mr. Benyak has a private practice and serves as solicitor in Charleroi and for the Municipal Authority of Belle Vernon.

"I have lived, worked and served the residents of this district throughout my life," Mr. Benyak said in a statement. "I am honored that people whom I respect have asked me to run because they believe I can be a strong advocate for our interests in Harrisburg."

Mr. Benyak served four years in the U.S. Army on active duty and eight years in the Army reserves before leaving the military to start a private practice.

"I was honored to serve my country and my fellow military personnel as a lawyer, and I am proud to have built a successful law practice. My background gives me a mature, reasonable approach to public policy that I think we need in the state house," Mr. Benyak said.

A graduate of Southmoreland Senior High School, Mr. Benyak earned a bachelors degree in political science from Waynesburg University in 1985, followed by a law degree from Capital University in 1988.

Representing Republicans in the Apr. 26 Primary will be small businessman Bud Cook of West Pike Run and Melanie Stringhill Patterson, a small business owner and entrepreneur from Washington Township, Fayette County.


Dem field narrowing in AG's race

Published by Chris Potter on .

And then there were three. 

Veteran prosecutor Jack Stollsteimer, of Delaware County, dropped out of the state attorney general's race this morning, a move announced by fellow southeast Pennsylvania AG candidate Josh Shapiro.

In a release issued by the Shapiro campaign, Mr. Stollsteimer said that while he was grateful for the support he'd received, it had "become increasingly clear that 2016 is not the right year for me to make this race."

The move comes one day after Pittsburgh lawyer David Fawcett withdrew from the race, saying that Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. "earned his shot" at representing the west. 

Together, the two departures leave Mr. Shapiro, a Montgomery County Commissioner, and Mr. Zappala without rivals in their own political backyards. A third Democrat, Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli remains a contender. The Republicans have a sole candidate, Montgomery County state Senator John Rafferty, who received the party's endorsement last weekend. 

Mr. Stollsteimer, a former special assistant U.S. attorney, endorsed Mr. Shapiro's campaign, calling him "a public servant for whom I have great respect." Mr. Fawcett, while ceding western Pennsylvania to Mr. Zappala, stopped short of endorsing his fellow Allegheny County resident (with whom he has been engaged in a high-profile court fight, incidentally). Instead, he pledged to be "actively supporting the eventual nominee" for his party. 

The moves come shortly before state Democrats hold their winter meeting this weekend. In the past, the gathering has been an occasion for party elders to endorse a candidate in the race, though it's not clear whether that will happen this year. Both Gov. Tom Wolf, the party's standard-bearer, and party chairman Marcel Groen have long been wary of making such endorsements before the primary. 


Another 'dark money' group jumps in state budget fight

Published by Kate Giammarise on .

Another so-called "dark money" group has joined the fray in Pennsylvania's budget fight.

The Growth and Opportunity Fund is a 501c4 organization "dedicated to advocating and promoting policies that lead to economic growth and opportunity. Fiscal responsibility, lower taxes, investing in our children's education and promoting private job creation are just a few of the policies that need the attention of our lawmakers," according to their web site.

You can hear a radio ad about the budget on the site.

The group is headed by Dan Meuser, a former Secretary of Revenue under previous Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican.

According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, his contributions to state candidates and committees from 2000 to 2014 total at least $156,000, of which $63,394 went to Mr. Corbett's 2010 run for governor.

Pennsylvania's current budget stalemate has produced a number of advertisements funded by outside groups on both sides. (Read more on this here, as my colleague Chris Potter detailed in this July article.) Among the most visible have been America Works USA, a group tied to national Democrats, and Citizens to Protect PA Jobs, which is tied to Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.

These groups are what are known as 501(c)(4) entities — sometimes called "dark money" groups -- nonprofits that can engage in political activity without identifying donors, as traditional political campaigns have to.

A proposal by former state Senator Dominic Pileggi would increase reporting and disclosure requirements for such outside groups. The bill, Senate Bill 998, remains in committee and has not gotten a hearing. Rep. Scott Petri, R-Bucks, has proposed a similar bill in the House.


Join us for Voices, Viewpoints and Votes 2016

Published by Mike Pound on .

vvv logo

This will be a presidential election like no other. Not a single vote has been cast, but the 2016 campaign has already changed how we think about national politics, and it's certain that more surprises are on the way. The Post-Gazette is ready to help map out the new political landscape with a series of discussions – called Voices, Viewpoints and Votes 2016 – before several key points in the campaign.

er pg politics first panel

The series begins Wednesday, Jan. 20, with a preview of the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, the first contests of the year. PG Executive Editor David Shribman will lead a discussion featuring Peter Canellos, Executive editor of POLITICO; Susan Milligan, political writer and contributing editor at U.S. News & World Report; Dan Onorato, executive vice president of Highmark Health and 2010 Democratic nominee for governor; and Jim Roddey, former Allegheny County chief executive and chairman of the Republican Committee of Allegheny County.

That session will be followed by previews of Super Tuesday in February, the national conventions of both parties in July and the general election in November. All four sessions will be held in the Champions Club at Heinz Field, and all feature free admission and free parking.

For more information and to pre-register, click here.


BREAKING: Albert Baker Knoll, son of former Lt. Gov. running for state treasurer

Published by Chris Potter on .

Albert Baker Knoll, the son of former Lieutenant Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll, is running as a Democrat for state Treasurer, according to multiple sources and a campaign website that appears to still be under construction.

"I have always been inspired by my mother’s service to her community," says a statement on the site. "When she was elected State Treasurer, her approach was to 'awaken a sleeping giant.' She saw potential in that office to help as many Pennsylvanians as she could. And she did. She created the 529 Tuition Account Program to help parents save for college for their children. She worked with homebuilders and banks to build affordable housing across the Commonwealth. She made the Treasury work for average Pennsylvanians. That’s exactly what I intend to do. As the campaign unfolds, you’ll hear from me on issues ranging from student loans and tuition to savings for the disabled and steps to help community banks make loans to local businesses. I will leverage every penny of every asset of this Commonwealth to change the lives of Pennsylvanians for the better. I am cognizant of the fact that I have a legacy to uphold, and I intend to do just that."

Mr. Knoll is one of four children of the former lieutenant governor, a native of McKees Rocks who served under Gov. Ed Rendell and died in 2008. He previously worked as a lobbyist for Sunoco in Washington D.C. 

The Knoll campaign, a phone number for which was obtained from the web site, declined comment. But sources tell the Post-Gazette that Mr. Knoll has been seeking support from political figures across the state.

Mr. Knoll would be the second candidate to enter the Democratic primary: Joe Torsella, a former United Nations ambassador and key aide to Philadelphia then-Mayor Ed Rendell, entered last year. Republican Otto Voit, a Berks County businessman, has also indicated his intention to run.