Our ongoing local political soap opera, centered on the crowded field of warring factions seeking seats on the Cecil County Republican Central Committee, may have many observers wondering what all the fuss is about. But when you drill deeply into state campaign finance reports, it becomes clear that the fuss is about more than ideology, alliances, and political control. It’s also about money and who gets to decide how, and to whom, to dole out Republican campaign funds.
At stake in the Sept. 14 Republican primary is not just which faction gets control of the party’s official arm in Cecil County, the nine-seat Central Committee, but who will control the Committee’s bank account. In the most recent filings with the State Board of Elections, the county’s GOP Central Committee had $17,715 cash in the bank, which the committee can contribute to local Republican candidates for their campaigns, as well as fund-raise on behalf of GOP candidates.
While that might not seem like a lot of money, it becomes more significant in the context of a new and evolving strategy by one faction– which is tied to Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36) and Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36)– of moving Republican money around within various new entities, all of which have the same linkages and leaders. And the extent to which money has been moved around, especially in some cases of contested GOP primaries, shows that this is internecine political party warfare not seen in the county in a long time.
A key aspect of the new strategy is to create or control various political “clubs,” which under state election laws do not have the same financial reporting requirements that an official county Central Committee or a candidate’s campaign has. In general, the clubs do not have to disclose how much money they have, where it came from, or what they do with it. The only way to find out anything is when their donations to individual candidates or Political Action Committees show up on those candidates’ or PAC’s mandatory campaign finance reports, or when a candidate transfers funds from his/her campaign fund into the political club.
You need a map to follow the intersecting paths in our drama, although the players in all are virtually identical. There are two key elements: the political clubs and the PACS, and, to a lesser extent, the “slates.”
The “Young Republicans Club,” the “Republicans of Cecil (ROC)” club, and the Cecil County Republican Women’s Club are center stage in the drama. The YR group and the ROC group share a website, leadership, and fundamental alliance with Del. Smigiel and Sen. Pipkin. The Women’s Club, a venerable institution in the county for many years, was taken over earlier this year by a YR-er, Carrie Taylor. Taylor, the women’s club president, is running in a contested Republican primary for county Treasurer, against William Feehley, and she is also running for GOP Central Committee.
Other linked entities are the “Republicans of Cecil Fiscal Conservative Team Slate,” which includes Smigiel and Pipkin explicitly and their annointed candidates for GOP Central Committee, plus Jay Jacobs, a Kent Countian who is running for the open delegate seat formerly held by the retiring Mary Roe Walkup. (Jacobs got $200 from the “Republicans of Cecil” on Aug. 28, state records show.)The slate includes County Commissioner Jim Mullin (R-1st Dist.), a longtime Smigiel-Pipkin ally who is running for the GOP Central Committee.
[UPDATE: Del. Smigiel got the ball rolling when he transferred $500 from his own campaign account to the "Republicans of Cecil" on July 16, according to reports filed with the state. That fund transfer to the club helped prop up the money pot that the club could in turn move around through a PAC and other entities.]
A starring role is being played by the Republicans of Cecil PAC, (ROC PAC) which received $1,500 from the ROC Club on Aug.9 and $1,200 from the Women’s Club on Aug 13– and Lo and Behold, $2,000 from Commissioner Mullin, through his Mullin Appraisal Service business, on Aug. 13. Mullin has been a major bankroller of some of the YR campaigns, notably Chris Zeauskas, who is running in a contested primary for the GOP nomination for County Commissioner in District 2 as well as the party’s central committee. (See our previous article on the Mullin-Zeauskas financial connection here: http://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/02/01/cecil-commissioner-race-mullin-bankrolls-zeauskas/ )
With that cash in hand, the ROC PAC turned around and transferred $450 to Carrie Taylor’s campaign in two installments in August. Follow the money: Taylor heads the Women’s Club, which gives money from its treasury to the ROC PAC and then ROC PAC turns around and gives money to her individual campaign fund. Perhaps it would have been too obvious if she got the Women’s Club she heads to donate money directly to her campaign. Under party policy, such clubs are not supposed to donate to individual candidates before a contested primary has been decided. And Taylor IS in a contested GOP primary for Treasurer.
(In the past election cycle, the Women’s Club made its largest donation, $600, directly to the county Central Committee, state records show. The Club also donated $500 each post-primary to two female Republican candidates, Delegate Walkup and Sheryl Davis-Kohl’s delegate race.)
Under current state campaign finance rules, there is no clear way of knowing who is donating to the Women’s Club– or the ROC Club, or the YR Club– or how much money is in each club’s bank account. Only if a declared candidate transfers money from his/her own campaign fund would a donation to the club show up. And spending by the club would only show up by pouring through a lot of individual candidate’s reports to see where their donations came from. But the Women’s Club’s hefty donations to the ROC PAC showed up on that PAC’s report.
In case there was any doubt about loyalties, the ROC PAC also gave $200 to Sen. Pipkin’s campaign fund on Aug. 24. And ROC PAC is listed as giving $100 to Del. Smigiel on Aug. 28, with “Republicans of Cecil” donating another $100 to Smigiel on June 24, according to state Election Board records.
ROC PAC also gave $500 to Michael Dunn, who works for Smigiel in his legislative office, on Aug. 19. Dunn is in a multi-candidate contested GOP primary for County Commissioner in Dist. 3. Another YR-er, Mike Dawson, got $450 on Aug.23.
With the exception of donations to Pipkin and Smigiel, every one of the ROC PAC’s donations went to people who are running for the county GOP Central Committee, as well as some other local or state office. The political cleverness of the strategy of running for central committee along with another office is that one candidate campaign committee can pay for printing yard signs to get your name out there for both positions.
ROC PAC deposited its largest donation so far– $1,000– into the campaign fund of YR President Ted Patterson, who is running for the House seat now held by Democrat David Rudolph. Patterson also got some direct money from the Women’s Club (thank you, Ms. Taylor) with a $400 contribution from that club’s funds on Aug. 13. Patterson is also running for a seat on the GOP Central Committee. Conveniently, the treasurer of the ROC PAC is Jillian Patterson, his wife.
Yes, Dear Readers, we know your head is spinning from all these numbers and interlocking relationships. Take a deep breath, print this news article out, and read it again in the morning. It will all become oh so clear.