Republicans Fighting to Protect Gerrymandering in Pennsylvania Have an Ethics Problem

It could complicate their conflict-of-interest challenge.

Pennsylvania’s 7th congressional district, drawn to help Republicans maintain a political edge.Mother Jones; National Atlas

Last week, after the Pennsylvania state Supreme Court invalidated the state’s GOP-friendly congressional map, top Republicans in the state Legislature asked the state Supreme Court to throw out the decision. One of the Democratic justices, they argued, should have recused himself from the case because of comments he made in 2015 opposing gerrymandering.

But one of these Republicans, Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, did not disclose a more serious conflict of interest: Scarnati donated $25,000 to a different state Supreme Court justice, Republican Sallie Mundy, in April 2017. The donation came through his political action committee.

State Supreme Court justices in Pennsylvania are elected in partisan campaigns, and according to campaign finance disclosures, last year Mundy received donations from Scarnati as well as PACs associated with two Republican members of the US Congress from Pennsylvania. A PAC supporting Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is listed on Mundy’s filing as donating $1,000 to Mundy’s campaign on July 27, 2017, after the gerrymandering case was filed in state court. But Fitzpatrick’s campaign spokesman, Mike Barley, insists that Fitzpatrick did not donate to Mundy’s campaign and suggests the donation might have come from Fitzpatrick’s brother, former congressman Mike Fitzpatrick. 

On November 1, 2017, after voting rights groups had asked the state Supreme Court to take the case, Rep. Charlie Dent’s is listed as donating $1,000 to Mundy. Both Fitzpatrick’s and Dent’s congressional districts were at stake in the case. 

The day after Dent’s donation, Mundy filed a letter disclosing that a law firm involved in the case had donated to her campaign. But she never disclosed the donations from Scarnati, Fitzpatrick, or Dent. Mundy won reelection for a 10-year term less than a week later. 

“It’s a mistake,” Jim Mundy, the justice’s campaign treasurer and ex-husband, told Mother Jones Monday morning. Of Scarnati’s contribution, he said, “She is disclosing it as we speak.” According to Mundy, the campaign had pulled a list of individual contributors to her campaign for her to consider when making disclosures but did not include political action committees on that list. Now, he said, they would go back through their contributors to find politicians’ personal PACs.

The offices of Scarnati and Dent did not respond to requests for comment. Scarnati released a statement Monday afternoon noting that it is up to Mundy to decide which donations to disclose but that both Scarnati’s PAC and Mundy’s campaign reported the donation in publicly available campaign finance filings. 

Last month, the court ruled that Pennsylvania’s congressional map, one of the most gerrymandered in the country, violated the state’s constitution. The vote was 5-2, with Mundy one of the two dissenters. The court ordered new maps to be drawn in time for the 2018 midterm elections. The decision was a big boost to Democrats hoping to retake the House of Representatives in November, and Republicans have fought it.

In addition to trying to get the decision thrown out over the Democratic justice’s public comments—a long shot because recusal requests are supposed to come before a decision, not after it—Republicans have asked the US Supreme Court to intervene. Republican secretaries of state from across the country have also weighed in, asking the Supreme Court to block the implementation of a new map in November. But that’s also considered a long shot because the matter concerns interpretation of the state constitution.

This story has been updated to include the statement from Scarnati and comment from Barley.