How Allegheny County judicial campaigns raised more than $2M in 2021

Allegheny County Courthouse. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

by Charlie Wolfson, PublicSource

More than $2 million has flowed through the crowded campaign to stock the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.

The 18 candidates for judge who appear on this November’s ballot to vie for 10 open seats combined to raise that amount since the beginning of 2021. Some candidates loaned large sums to their own campaigns; some brought in sizable donations from labor unions and other political campaigns; and some received financial support from family members.

Most of the candidates loaned money to their own campaigns, with some loans reaching six figures. The top self-funder was Sabrina Korbel, the legal director of the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, who loaned her campaign $113,000.

Local elected officials made many donations in the race, headlined by County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s campaign giving $25,000 to incumbent judge Elliot Howsie’s campaign. 

And then there’s Jessel Costa, a criminal defense attorney who comes from a family of elected officials. Support from his father, state Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, was instrumental in funding Jessel Costa’s bid for judgeship. Jessel Costa’s campaign raised more than $314,000 across the primary and general election campaigns.

A political action committee [PAC] tied to Jay Costa loaned $140,000 to Jessel Costa’s campaign, and the senator took to the streets and to Facebook to stump for his son on a few occasions in the spring. 

In Pennsylvania, judges are chosen in partisan elections that are flooded with cash like any executive or legislative contest. But judicial elections are unlike legislative or executive races in that candidates can raise money through campaign committees but they cannot personally ask for donations. 

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