By PETER JACKSON
HARRISBURG - As 2013 melted into election year 2014, several of the Democratic candidates for Pennsylvania governor scrambled for position in a crowded field with a steady drumbeat of appeals to supporters for cash to line their campaign bank accounts.
The goal of the eleventh-hour push was to pump up their fundraising totals before the year-end deadline for the first campaign finance reports, which political analysts will scrutinize for early signs of strength in a competitive race for the nomination to challenge GOP Gov. Tom Corbett.
More complicated to explain was the similar appeal that went out from the political committee of state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who has ruled out entering the gubernatorial ring and vowed to complete the three years remaining in her four-year term.
"If you believe that elections matter and that Kathleen Kane has kept her promise to be an independent check on the business-as-usual mindset of Harrisburg, be sure to add your name (to the donors list) before the midnight deadline tomorrow," a Dec. 30 solicitation read.
As a former Lackawanna County prosecutor running her first campaign in 2012, Kane became the first woman and the first Democrat to be elected as the state's chief legal officer since the position became an elective office in 1980. She won more general-election votes in the state than either President Barack Obama or U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, both of whom were re-elected.
In Harrisburg, Kane's independent leadership style has often placed her at odds with Corbett on high-profile legal issues at a time when his low popularity worked to her advantage. That, in turn, has spurred speculation about her political future.
Kane's committee reported $82,000 on hand at the end of 2012 after multimillion-dollar primary and general election campaigns, and it has continued to raise money throughout 2013. Fundraisers included a September event at Comcast headquarters in Philadelphia. Ticket prices there ranged from $1,000 to $25,000.
The total amount Kane's committee took in may not become public its report is filed. It's due Jan. 31.
At least one expert on legal ethics and election law said raising large amounts of money so far before an election, while legal if done through a political committee, "sends the wrong message."
Major donors "aren't giving (money) just because they think she's the best thing since sliced bread. They're giving it because they have reasons - they want access," West Chester lawyer Sam Stretton said.
Kane is not up for re-election until 2016.
"It's worrisome to me that (an attorney general) would start campaigning for money so vigorously two years before they're going to run for office," Stretton said.
Aubrey Montgomery, spokeswoman for Kane's political committee, said all contributions are reviewed by a senior staff member during off-duty hours and returned if there are conflicts of interest. Contributions from employees also are returned, she said.
Fundraising is a necessity in case Kane is targeted by "the powerful and special interests," she said. "Therefore, the prudent course of action is to continue raising money to prepare for such a challenge."
To keep matters in perspective, Corbett was elected to two terms as attorney general before he was elected governor. He reported more than $350,000 in contributions in 2005, the first of those years, and ended the year with nearly $250,000 in the bank.
Jackson is the Capitol correspondent for The Associated Press in Harrisburg. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.