Your Local News | Allentown, Bethlehem & Easton
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Lehigh Valley Election News

Baratta outspends Houck nearly 2-to-1 in one of costliest primaries in Northampton Co. history

stephen baratta terry houck side by side.png
Stephen Baratta / Houck for DA
Northampton County District Attorney Terry Houck (right) and challenger Stephen Baratta (left) will face off on the Democratic ticket in the May 16 primary election.

EASTON, Pa. — The two Democrats running for Northampton County district attorney have busted the bank in their bid for the office, burning through more than $250,000 in goods and services in the past five months.

Campaign finance reports filed in Northampton County on Friday show challenger Stephen Baratta and incumbent Terry Houck reached deep into their own pockets to fund campaigns that have featured personal attacks and claims of unethical conduct.

Their campaigns are among the costliest in county history.

  • The Northampton County district attorney's race has become one of the most expensive local primaries in recent memory
  • Challenger Stephen Baratta has spent over $115,000 and received another $49,500 of in-kind contributions
  • Incumbent Terry Houck has spent $89,760 as he seeks a second term

In his report, Baratta said his political action committee, Friends of Stephen Baratta, has raised over $142,000 in donations. That amount doesn't include nearly $50,000 he loaned his own campaign and another $49,500 of in-kind contributions he's received from his campaign staff. With less than two weeks before the primary, Baratta has spent over $115,000 of that amount on consulting costs, mailers and ad buys.

Meanwhile, Houck's PAC, Terry Houck for District Attorney, built a war chest of $99,363 for his second term. That total includes $35,337 he carried over from last year and a $25,000 loan his wife floated the campaign this week. His campaign has spent $87,760 of that amount on airtime on WFMZ, newspaper ads, mailers, palm cards and paying his campaign manager.

The money reflects a split party as voters are tasked with deciding between two legal heavyweights in the county. Baratta served 25 years as a judge on the Northampton County Court, including a stint as president judge. Houck has worked as a prosecutor in the area for 17 years, including four years as district attorney and 13 years as chief assistant district attorney under former District Attorney John Morganelli.

Top donors

Baratta's top donor has been attorney Raymond Lahoud, who donated $10,000 to the campaign and provided another $37,000 of in-kind contributions for everything from printing costs to setting up his website to arranging robocalls. Other significant donations include $10,000 each from real estate developers J.B. Reilly and Joe Topper; $5,000 from state Sen. Lisa Boscola's PAC; and $6,000 from Zhongue Hua, a New York City-based forensic pathologist who's worked for the county.

Baratta said that despite the strong showing, fundraising has proven difficult. With two high-profile candidates duking it out, Baratta said many of his financial backers in past campaigns opted to sit the primary out.

"I was disappointed because Democratic supporters who I knew like me and I knew had relationships with over the years felt uncomfortable to get involved in this race," he said. "It was really difficult to raise money for this race. It wasn't easy."

Meanwhile, Houck saw more union support, drawing $5,000 each from the Sheet Metal Worker's PAC and the International Union of Operating Engineers PAC. The Allentown Firefighters PAC contributed another $500. His largest individual donors this cycle included attorney David Ceraul and two of Houck's family members who donated $2,500 each.

While Houck's showing would normally be strong for a countywide campaign, Baratta outspent him by a nearly two-to-one margin when in-kind contributions are included. However, Houck said he was unconcerned.

"I've had an incredible amount of support. I'm very grateful and humbled by it," Houck said.

The spending spree stands out compared to other Northampton County primaries.

Few candidates have deep enough pockets for countywide mailers and ads, let alone the deluge Baratta and Houck have let loose on voters. Often times, richer candidates often try to save their resources for November. The 2019 Democratic primary for Northampton County district attorney, for example, saw Houck and opponent Nuria DiLuzio spend a total of $74,800 on the race. Houck outspent DiLuzio, Northampton County's chief public defender, nearly 5-to-1 in that campaign.

Historical perspective

The most recent — and possibly only — exception came a decade ago in the 2013 county executive race. Then-Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, former Executive Glenn Reibman and then-County Councilman Lamont McClure churned through a combined $293,000 in the Democratic primary. Callahan was the primary spender, lavishing $183,880 on a race where he won by 22 points.

The expenditures did him little good that November when he was stunned in the general election by Republican John Brown, the little-known mayor of Bangor who spent a fraction of what Callahan invested.

It's unclear if the winner of the Democratic primary for district attorney could face similar challenges ahead.

For now, there is no Republican candidate waiting in the wings, but that could change. Houck is mounting a write-in campaign on the Republican side, saying he hopes to sew up the election by winning the nomination from both major parties.

Republican officials have hinted they are seeking a write-in candidate of their own but have not announced one with just 11 days before primary Election Day.