Kertes top fundraiser among Westmoreland GOP commissioner candidates

·3 min read

May 7—Westmoreland County Commissioner Sean Kertes has amassed more than $181,000 in his bid for a second term, according to campaign finance reports filed Friday.

Kertes was the top fundraiser among the five Republican candidates seeking two nominations in the May 16 primary and, in the six-week period between mid-March and May 1, reported more than $43,800 in new donations for his reelection bid.

Fellow Republican incumbent Doug Chew raised just less than $30,000 over the same period, but his campaign carries more than $144,000 in debt attributed to personal loans from the candidate to fund his initial bid for office in 2019.

Kertes' top campaign benefactor according to his financial report was the Avolio Law Group, which gifted the reelection effort $5,000 this year. The political action committee was created by Greensburg attorney Scott Avolio, who serves as solicitor for the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County and works as a part-time litigator for the county's law office.

Kertes also received donations from former Excela executive John Sphon and his wife. Sphon was appointed earlier this year to serve on the municipal authority's board of directors.

Chew reported a $553 donation from Avolio's political action committee.

Avolio defended the donations to both incumbents and said he has been a longtime campaign contributor to Republican and Democratic candidates seeking county, state and federal offices.

"These are the people I have confidence in, in running the county," Avolio said of the campaign donations. "I've been practicing for 25 years and I already have the jobs I have, so I don't expect anything in return. Any allegation otherwise doesn't add up with the facts."

Republican challenger Paul Kosko has accused Kertes of being influenced by campaign donors with ties to the municipal authority. Kertes denied those allegations.

Former Commissioner Tom Balya, who served two decades in office before he retired in 2012, said it is routine for incumbent campaigns to be funded by county vendors, authority members and others associated with the government.

"Other than using your personal finances, who else is going to donate? It's definitely not unusual. It doesn't mean there is a quid pro quo, and oftentimes they'll get money from competing vendors, so (commissioners) will have to make decisions," Balya said.

Kosko reported raising just more than $6,700 during the current campaign cycle. His financial report also lists a $7,500 in-kind contribution from attorney David Collecchia, who represented Kosko and Republican John Ventre in recent lawsuits filed by Westmoreland County GOP Chairman Bill Bretz. Bretz sought to have the GOP primary challengers removed from the May primary ballot but was unsuccessful.

Ventre listed a similar in-kind contribution from Collecchia for legal work.

Avolio served as Bretz's lawyer in the cases.

According to the campaign reports, Ventre listed just $400 in total donations and said he funded his election effort with a $60,100 personal loan.

Patricia Fritz, also a Republican candidate for commissioner, filed financial documents claiming her campaign raised and spent less than $250.

Commissioners earn an annual salary of $92,210 per year, or $95,616 if they are chosen as commission chairperson.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich by email at or via Twitter .