Rep. Shuster lends aid as campaigns begin

Amid continuing rumors that other candidates might take an interest in his seat, Rep. Bill Shuster, R-9th District has yet to firmly state his 2018 plans.

That hasn’t stopped him from taking an active role for many other 2018 hopefuls, however.

Shuster has organized at least one Washington fundraiser for a fellow congressman’s campaign in recent weeks, according to media reports. And his leadership political action committee — a fundraising organ that leverages congressional influence to aid political allies across the country — has remained active so far this year.

Shuster’s leadership committee, Bill PAC, raised more money in the first six months of 2017 than it did at this time in 2015. While records since June are not yet available, the amount spent on other candidates demonstrates Shuster’s continuing influence as a GOP leader.

In late September, D.C. news outlet The Hill reported that Shuster had organized a fundraiser at an invitation-only membership club on behalf of Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky. Massie, described as “one of the least successful fundraisers in Congress,” was set to receive requested donations of $500 to $2,500 at the dinner.

“I am honored to work with Chairman Shuster on transportation issues that affect my district, and I am grateful for his willingness to host events in D.C. and Kentucky,” Massie, a deeply conservative House member, told the outlet at the time.

In the months before that, Shuster managed to raise and spend significant sums for fellow Republicans (and at least one Democrat) seeking both federal and state offices.

Bill PAC spent nearly $124,000 in the first half of 2017, with funds sent to 27 congressional candidates across the country. In Pennsylvania, he has sent aid to Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-8th District, Rep. Ryan Costello, R-6th District and Rep. Lou Barletta, R-11th District.

Notably, not one of the recipients of Shuster’s support has been a member of the House Freedom Caucus, the hardline conservative wing that has at times foiled Republican leaders’ plans. With early polls showing possible congressional gains for Democrats next year, more moderate Republicans in “purple” districts might need help from leaders like Shuster.

As has been the case in past years, Shuster has lent his support to candidates in his home county as well. Bill PAC gave $500 to prosecutor Jackie Bernard’s bid to become a Blair County judge and $5,000 to county native Wade Kagarise’s campaign for state Superior Court.

Shuster’s committee also gave $2,000 to “Friends of Brother Lou,” an organization supporting Monessen Mayor Lou Mavrakis. Mavrakis, a Democrat, drew widespread criticism from his own party when he welcomed then-candidate Donald Trump to the economically depressed Westmoreland County city.

Mavrakis has since taken a series of public hits, first losing a primary race to a Democratic challenger in his 20s and now facing at least two sexual harassment lawsuits.

At least as noteworthy as the recipients of Shuster’s largesse, however, are the donors who make it possible.

Bill PAC has received substantial donations this year from business figures, labor unions and corporate committees, many in the transportation industry represented by Shuster’s House committee.

The committee got $5,000 each from the FAA Managers Association, a group opposed to Shuster’s effort to privatize America’s air traffic control system. It also got $5,000 from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, a union that generally backs his privatization plan.

The committee has got more than $30,000 from donors in Oklahoma, where several major business figures and corporations gave Bill PAC generous donations in June. The committee also got $5,000 from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, an American Indian nation that counted Shuster among its top recipients in the 2016 campaign.

What all this support means — which another election around the corner — is less clear. Shuster has yet to announce his re-election plans, although his campaign war chest keeps growing.

Regardless of his 2018 plans or any possible challengers, however, he remains a sought-after fundraising force in Washington.

In other news:

n Rep. Frank Burns, D-Johnstown is set to hold his annual Veterans Day luncheon from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Nov. 12. Veterans can attend for a free spaghetti meal and help with health care, education and job programs.

n The Blair County Tea Party is hosting a “meet the candidates” night at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Bavarian Hall. Candidates for all local races have been invited to meet the public.

n The Blair County Republicans have invited the public to a Halloween pre-election information session 2-5:30 p.m. Thursday at their headquarters: 1543 Valley View Blvd., Altoona. Guests can view sample ballots, learn about candidates and use a voting demonstration machine.

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.