D.A. Candidate Donates $250,000 to Own Campaign, Triggering “Millionaire’s Provision”

Campaign donation limits are now automatically doubled in the district attorney’s race.

Left: Michael Untermeyer via Facebook, Right: Seth Williams, photo by Matt Rourke, Associated Press

Left: Michael Untermeyer via Facebook, Right: Seth Williams, photo by Matt Rourke, Associated Press

On Monday, the Philadelphia Board of Ethics announced that Michael Untermeyer, one of five candidates hoping to unseat Seth Williams as district attorney later this year, had donated more than $250,000 of his own money to his campaign effort.

A self-directed donation of that size triggers the so-called “millionaire’s provision” in the local campaign finance law, automatically raising the limit on campaign donations from individuals and political committees. Now, donations will be capped at $6,000 for individuals and $23,800 for political committees, up from $3,000 and $11,900, respectively. The new limits will hold even if Untermeyer quits the race or his campaign returns a portion of his donation, according to an Ethics Board advisory.

Untermeyer previously ran against Williams as a Republican in 2009. The other candidates are Democrats Rich Negrin, Joe Khan, and Teresa Carr Deni and Republican Beth Grossman.

The millionaire’s provision has been triggered a number of times over the past decade. During the 2015 Democratic primary, real estate broker Allan Domb and Point Breeze developer Ori Feibush each gave more than $250,000 to their own campaigns. In the 2007 mayor’s race, businessman Tom Knox gave millions to his own campaign, doubling the limits for all the candidates. Dan McCaffrey triggered the provision in the D.A.’s race in 2009 as well, according to Shane Creamer, executive director of the Board of Ethics.

So who has the advantage when the limits are doubled? Being able to donate $250,000 or more to your own campaign is of course its own advantage, but not necessarily a decisive one. Of the four candidates mentioned above, Domb was the only one who won his race. But by raising the ceiling on fundraising across the board, it could also hurt lesser-known candidates who struggle to attract donations in any circumstance.

Creamer said the rule doesn’t seem to have any predictable benefit or detriment to specific candidates in races across the country. His research suggests that the candidates who self-fund enough to trigger millionaire’s provisions end up winning less than half the time, he said.

Dan Fee, a spokesman for the Williams re-election campaign, downplayed the news.

“Michael’s decision will have no impact on the District Attorney or the type of campaign he will run,” Fee said in an email. “[Williams] faced a multi-candidate field in 2009 where one of his opponents similarly donated more than $250,000 to his own campaign, and still won strongly. The District Attorney also, it should be remembered, won the general election handily that year over Michael despite Michael’s sizable investment in his own campaign.”

James Williams, a spokesman for Beth Grossman, said that Grossman’s campaign was hoping to raise between $250,000 and $500,000 dollars to challenge Williams in the general election.

“This is all good for us,” Williams said. “This is good for our campaign.”

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