Is PA’s Richest Billionaire Trying to Buy a State Supreme Court Seat?

Judge Carolyn Carluccio, the Republican nominee for the open Pennsylvania Supreme Court seat. (From campaign Facebook page.)

By Sean Kitchen

August 16, 2023

Contributions made by entities affiliated with GOP mega donor and billionaire Jeffrey Yass’ accounted for 40% of the money Republican candidate Caroyln Carluccio raised during the primary.

With less than 90 days until the 2023 election, the Commonwealth Leaders Fund, a Political Action Committee (PAC) associated with Pennsylvania’s richest billionaire and Republican mega donor, Jeffrey Yass, has reserved over $362,000 in TV advertising for Judge Carolyn Carluccio, the GOP nominee for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The vacant seat on the Supreme Court opened up following the death of former Chief Justice Max Baer, who passed away in September 2022. Carluccio is running against Democratic nominee Dan McCaffery.

Democrats currently hold a 4-2 majority on the court, but a Carluccio win would make it easier for Republicans to flip control in 2025, when three Democrats are up for retention elections. If Republicans are able to flip control, it would make it easier for Republican legislators to potentially enact their priorities, such as banning abortion, redrawing gerrymandered legislative maps, and continuing to undermine public education.

A GOP-controlled state Supreme Court could also make it easier for Republicans in the state to enact an expansive private school voucher plan—the kind Yass has already profited from—funneling taxpayer dollars to cover the cost of private school tuition.

The TV ad, which began airing at the end of July and will run through the end of September, attempts to describe Carluccio as a bipartisan Republican who will protect the rights of everyone in the commonwealth. Most of the ad’s airtime will focus on the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh markets.

During the primary, the Yass-affiliated PAC spent $250,000 on TV advertisements and mailers to help get Carluccio over the finish line. The contribution from the Commonwealth Leaders Fund accounted for 40% of the money Carluccio raised through the primary.

“Billionaires like Jeffrey Yass spend extreme amounts of money to buy politicians because he knows that he and his billionaire friends will get a fantastic return on investment in court rulings that favor them,” said Michael Pollack, the executive director of March on Harrisburg, which is an organization that focuses on government corruption in Pennsylvania. “The people of Pennsylvania are sick and tired of living in a political system dominated by organized greed.”

Thanks to his investments in TikTok, Yass’ wealth more than doubled over the past two years. His net worth went from $12 billion 2021 to $28.9 billion in 2023, making him the 48th richest person in the world, according to Forbes.

Following the 2022 primary, Spotlight PA highlighted how much money Yass has spent in Pennsylvania and how the billionaire moves his money between three different PACs.

Yass starts by pouring his personal money into his Students First PAC, and since 2019, he has donated over $36 million to that PAC. That money is then funneled from Students First to the Children’s Choice Fund and the Commonwealth Leaders Fund.

According to the Spotlight PA article, Students First has poured $30.25 million into the Children’s Choice Fund and the Commonwealth Leaders Fund, and that money represents 78% of Students First’s spending during that time.

Bishop Dwayne Royster, the executive director of POWER Interfaith, a grassroots organization of religious congregations and individuals committed to racial and economic justice in Pennsylvania, raised concerns of Yass bankrolling judges on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

In 2021, the Commonwealth Leaders Fund spent close to $1.9 million to elect Kevin Brobson to the court. A portion of that money from the PAC came in the form of in-kind contributions, which paid for television and digital advertising and mailers.

“We’ve watched him have influence in other races across the state of Pennsylvania, and even now, the investments he’s made in Supreme Court justices – while I like to think that everybody is above the law, that also seems to force a quid pro quo at some point down the line,” said Royster. “We know that Jeffrey Yass has very significant issues in terms of education, taxes and other things that he’s worked on that are eventually going to wind their way to the state supreme court.”



  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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