1st Dist. Congress: Harris Gets New Air Support from Outside Groups

October 4, 2010

(By Guest Blogger Lou Peck, Contributing Editor, Congress Daily)

   A newly formed committee, with the vaguely worded name of “Concerned Taxpayers of America,” late last week reported that it is putting nearly $47,000 into TV ads opposing the re-election of Maryland 1st District Democrat Frank Kratovil.

 But, thanks to a recent Supreme Court ruling, that’s about all the information the group needs to make public. Unlike traditional candidate and political party committees, groups such as the Concerned Taxpayers of America are not currently required to disclose who their donors are or where their money is coming from.

   A spokeswoman for Republican Andy Harris – the beneficiary of the Concerned Taxpayers of America advertising — said the Harris campaign does not know where and when the anti-Kratovil ads from the Concerned Taxpayers group are scheduled to run. The group’s treasurer, a Washington-based political consultant, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
According to limited information filed with the Federal Election Commission, Concerned Taxpayers of America has spent just under $225,000 since its creation on Sept. 1.  Of that amount, $178,000 has gone to support a Republican challenger in Oregon, with the balance of the moneyallocated for ads targeted against Kratovil.

   The emergence of the Concerned Taxpayers of America effort comes barely a week after a second little known group — the Commission on Hope, Growth and Opportunity – began running its own ad designed to boost Harris. The ad shows a caricature of Kratovil in a dance-line linking arms with President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. That ad, which has aired frequently on Baltimore TV stations, charges Kratovil with doing a “song-and-dance” with regard to his votes on federal spending.

   The Commission on Hope, Growth and Opportunity faces even less in the way of disclosure requirements than the Concerned Taxpayers of America: The commission is a organized under Section 501c(4) of the U.S. tax code, and therefore does not have to report its activities to the FEC. It is therefore virtually impossible to determine how much it is raising and spending, at least until it files its annual report with the Internal Revenue Service.

   Fueling this type of “independent expenditure” advertising is a recent Supreme Court ruling, Citizens United vs. FEC , which greatly loosened the restrictions on what corporations, labor unions and interest groups can do with regard to spending money to support or oppose candidates. Many of these interests have used groups similar to those working against Kratovil to spend political money in an anonymous manner.

    According to an analysis of FEC filings just published by the Washington Post, groups outside the Democratic and Republican parties have so far spent $80 million this year – a five-fold increase from the $16 million spent by similar groups in the last mid-term election in 2006. This year, the lion’s share of that funding is being spent by conservatives  to help elect candidates such as Harris.

     Regulations governing additional disclosure of funding sources by such groups are pending before the FEC, but it remains unclear whether that agency will reach a decision in the four weeks left before this year’s election.

   On Capitol Hill, legislation designed to close some of the disclosure loopholes created by the Citizens United vs. FEC ruling has been pushed by Democratic leaders. But the bill has been opposed by Republicans, who charge the measure would go well beyond disclosure issues and put their party at a disadvantage.

     Harris “supports campaign finance reform that levels the playing field” said spokeswoman Anna Nix, while adding that Harris believes the ability of labor unions to fund campaigns would need to be restricted along with that of corporations and other groups.

    Kratovil bucked his party by opposing the so-called DISCLOSE legislation last summer, declaring: “The goal of this legislation is to provide greater transparency for corporate political spending, but in fact this legislation captures many established, reputable organizations that are funded by individual citizens, not by corporations.”

   Meanwhile, with four weeks until Election Day, both Kratovil and Harris are getting help on the airwaves from more traditional sources – the campaign arms of House Republicans and Democrats.

   The National Republican Congressional Committee this past weekend launched a TV ad criticizing Kratovil for his support of the $700 billion economic stimulus bill in early 2009. The ad is running on broadcast television in Salisbury on the lower Eastern Shore and on cable TV stations in the Baltimore area, at a cost of just over $60,000. That follows nearly $48,000 that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent last week on pro-Kratovil advertising.

    That’s on top of the barrage of ads being underwritten by the Kratovil and Harris campaigns themselves. And look for a lot more before it’s all over: Sources confirm the NRCC has reserved more than $530,000 in air time to boost Harris between now and Nov.2


State Candidates’ Forum: ‘Who’s on First’ and Other Routines

September 29, 2010

  Like the old Abbott and Costello comedy routine (” Who’s on First?”) or the vintage comic strip of Alphonse and Gaston (“After you,sir”  and “No, After You”), the candidates forum for Cecil County’s District 36 Senate and House of Delegates seats Tuesday night was an entertaining sideshow in an otherwise routine  evening of multiple candidates’ recitation of their resumes and “vote for me” appeals.

  The forum, hosted by the Cecil County Chamber of Commerce at Cecil College, let candidates have four minutes to speak to an audience of about 200 people, without any questions from a panel or moderator, and it was not set up for back and forth debate among candidates. The groundrules scheduled incumbents to speak first, followed by their election opponents. That was fine with all the other candidates for state-level office –but not Cecil County’s District 36 leadership.

   When incumbent Republican Sen. E.J. Pipkin’s name was called, he was not present in the auditorium. (In fact, he was seen waving from his truck, about a half-mile down the road from the college shortly before the forum began at 6:30 p.m.)  So his Democratic rival Steve Mumford, of Kent County, went first. Pipkin then arrived in the hall at about 7:05 p.m., after the forum had moved on to other contests.  Pipkin was seen getting a briefing from one of  his GOP colleagues, and when he finally got up to speak indicated he knew exactly what Mumford had said.

    Then in the District 36 Delegate contest, incumbent Republican Michael Smigiel angrily demanded that he should not have to go first in the lineup. His opponent, Democrat William Manlove, had informed Chamber officials that he could not attend because his wife, Mary, was undergoing major surgery on Tuesday and he needed to be with her. Manlove had asked that a brief statement from him be read at the event.

    Smigiel protested that no statement should be allowed and that at the least he should be permitted to speak after any statement from his opponent was  read because he thought it would be “antagonistic” to him. (He also attacked the editor of the Cecil Times as “an antagonist of mine.”)  The crowd began to boo him, and the Chamber moderator suggested that the audience decide the batting order. The boos intensified and Smigiel then relented and went to bat first.

    “Yes, I have a reputation,” Smigiel began angrily.  “I don’t only vote right, I fight.” He went on to list his many lawsuits against the state, the Governor, the Comptroller and others. One of his lawsuits challenged the referendum that allowed slots, including the Hollywood casino that opened this week in Cecil County to much media attention on the over 300 local jobs it has created.

   “Slots are OK,” he said, “but they don’t belong in our Constitution.”  He went on to list his endorsements, including business groups, Maryland Right to Life and the National Rifle Association and the local FOP Lodge. He said his top priorities were to “fight to keep the taxes down, cut spending and create private sector jobs.”

   And the Manlove statement that so worried Smigiel? It consisted largely of a long recitation of his resume, including four terms as a County Commissioner and membership on numerous regional agency boards.  There were also the controversial statements that he has a dog, Max, obtained from an animal rescue group and he is proud that his grandson will become the sixth generation of his family to operate the family farm.  Manlove also disclosed that “our prayers were answered and the doctors tell us that [Mary] will make a full recovery” from her surgery.

    The audience politely applauded the statement and Smigiel, with his head bowed, joined in.

   In the Senate contest, Mumford stepped up to the plate and swung hard, saying District 36  “deserves better leadership” in Annapolis and a delegation that will “listen to our leaders back home and not hold our leaders hostage.”  He directly challenged Pipkin on a volunteer firefighters’ retirement bill, which he said his opponent tried to block, and a fight with Cecil County leaders on a special taxing district bill that was passed by the General Assembly despite Pipkin’s determined efforts to block it.

   Mumford said he would be more resonsive to constituents, with a “visitor’s chair” always available for constituents to meet with him, and would not simply “wave” at people driving by on the road. “I’m a  local boy and I’ll be there” for citizens and local government leaders, he said.

   Pipkin said he learned that he had “missed a great ripping” from Mumford during his absence from the auditorium. He defended his practice of sign-waving on roadsides, saying that in rural areas the side of the road “becomes like an office” and constituents stop to talk to him and express their concerns. He summed up his platform as “jobs, lower government spending, lower taxes.”

    The incumbent said he had already helped bring jobs to the District with the opening of an emergency medical facility in Queen Anne’s County and worked to expand health education programs at Chesapeake community college to train future healthcare workers.

  In other contests, incumbent Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R), who represents western Cecil and part of Harford county, touted her record as a fiscal conservative, saying “I have voed against all of [Gov.] O’Malley’s tax hikes” and said she had put in the first bill seeking to repeal a one percentage point increase in the state sales tax that was enacted under O’Malley. She said the state had fallen from 24th to 45th place on national lists of business-friendly states under the O’Malley administration.

   Her Democratic opponent, Art Helton, who served in the state Senate many years ago, emphasized his campaigning in the Cecil County portion of the district.  (Both Helton and Jacobs live in Harford County.) He pledged to help Cecil County get state aid to build needed infrastructure in the I-94/Rt. 40 growth corridor. Helton also said he would be more inclusive than his opponent and would “not just represent a narrow viewpont” on issues.

  In the other contested Delegate’s race in Dist. 36, for the Kent County seat formerly held by the retiring Mary Roe Walkup, Republican Jay Jacobs presented a down-home self- portrait: “I’m a blue collar public servant,” he said. “I’m not there for the pictures, I’m down in the ditch.” Jacobs is the mayor of Rock Hall and operates a kitchen contracting business.

    His Democratic opponent, Arthur Hock, whose family has run the antiques and furniture auction facility in Crumpton for many years, said he would be “a voice of conservative independence” and would be “a voice in Annapolis that will be heard and respected.”  He pledged to be a “bridge builder” between local governments and the state.

   Incumbent Democrat David Rudolph (Dist. 34B) cited his efforts on behalf of all residents of Cecil County, not just those who live in his district. He said the state delegation should work together “as a team and make sure we get our fair share” of state aid for the county. His Republican rival, Theodore Patterson, did not show up for the forum.

   Michael Dawson (not the same person who lost a GOP primary bid for county commissioner) said he was running as a Constitution Party candidate against Rudolph as an “everyman” candidate who would “give my heart, give my soul” to represent the interests of his constituents.


1st Dist. Congress: Harris Easily Wins Primary, Setting up Rematch vs. Kratovil

September 15, 2010

(By Guest Blogger– Lou Peck, Contributing Editor, CongressDaily)

State Sen. Andy Harris Tuesday handily defeated businessman Rob Fisher in the Republican primary for Maryland’s 1st District seat in Congress, setting up a general election rematch against Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil – who two years ago defeated Harris by less than 3,000 votes out of more than 360,000 cast.

 With all but a handful of precincts reporting, Harris led Fisher by a 2-to-1 margin district-wide. In Cecil County, Harris bested Fisher by 61 percent to 39 percent.

 Fisher, an information technology consultant, poured nearly $500,000 of his own money into the primary race – enough to finance advertising on Baltimore TV stations throughout much of August.

The 1st District encompasses the entire Eastern Shore along with portions of Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties on the Western Shore.

While he appeared to have few, if any, ideological differences with the strongly conservative Harris, Fisher crafted himself as an outsider in a year of strong anti-incumbent feelings among voters – while seeking to characterize Harris, a 12-year veteran of the Maryland Legislature, as a career politician.        

For Harris, who chose to largely ignore Fisher, this year’s primary was a cakewalk compared to two years ago – when he ousted GOP Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, a party moderate who had represented the district since 1990. Gilchrest crossed party lines to endorse Kratovil prior to the 2008 election, and is widely expected to do so again this year – despite an 11th hour endorsement of Fisher in Tuesday’s GOP primary.

Kratovil, a former Queen Anne’s County state’s attorney who was unopposed for renomination Tuesday, is regarded as one of the Democrats’ most vulnerable incumbents nationwide this year. The Republican-leaning 1st District voted for the GOP presidential candidate, John McCain, over President Obama by a nearly 3-2 margin in 2008.

Harris, a physician, was widely thought to have been hurt in 2008 in the Eastern Shore section of the district by his status as a Baltimore County resident. Before announcing for a second run at the seat, he sought to remedy this by working part-time at a hospital in Salisbury on the lower Eastern Shore. He is an anesthesiologist with long-time professional ties to  the Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore. 

Since Kratovil is considered the only one of the eight Maryland House members in danger of losing aseat in Congress this fall, the Kratovil-Harris contest is expected to attract statewide attention – second only to Maryland’s other marquee rematch, between Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley and former GOP Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

As of the end of August, Kratovil had raised over $1.9 million for his re-election bid, with Harris not far behind at $1.65 million, for a total in excess of $3.5 million. With seven weeks to go until Election Day, this puts them on track to equal or exceed the total of $5 million — $3 million by Harris, $2 million by Kratovil – spent two years ago.  And those totals don’t include hundreds of thousands of dollars more for advertising expected to be spent on the race by political party committees and independent groups.


County Commissioners: Roberts Upsets Tome in Democratic Primary

September 14, 2010

    Former Schools Superintendent Carl Roberts apparently upset incumbent County Commissioner Wayne Tome Tuesday in the Democratic primary for the District 4 Commissioner’s seat, after a well-financed campaign that contrasted Roberts’ dire predictions of fiscal and policy crisis against Tome’s contention that the county was on the right course.

   With all 19 precincts and early voting tallies reporting, Roberts had 2,928  votes to Tome’s 2,492. Roberts garnered 54 percent of the vote to Tome’s  nearly 46 percent.

    (County election officials said late Tuesday that all regular ballots had been counted. However, absentee ballots and provisional ballots will be counted Thursday and next week.)

   Tome, a battalion chief with the Baltimore County fire department and former mayor of Port Deposit, has been a strong supporter of local volunteer fire companies and EMS personnel. However, he drew fire from county Sheriff’s deputies– normally an ally of other emergency responders. Tome and other commissioners opposed legislation drafted by Sen. E.J. Pipkin and Del. Michael Smigiel, both R-36,  to impose binding arbitration on negotiations between the county and deputies represented by the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 2.  After a legislative battle in Annapolis, the county commissioners largely prevailed with approval of collective bargaining, which the commissioners always supported, and non-binding arbitration.

   Roberts, who presided over the county schools during a period of population growth and rising test scores for students, nevertheless drew criticism for spiraling costs of running the school system on his watch. During his Commissionercampaign, Roberts blasted the current board of Commissioners, saying they lacked a “strategic plan” to direct county policies, programs and finances for the future.

   The winner of the Democratic primary will face off in November against the winner of the Republican primary. 

    That GOP race, like many other contested Republican races in the county Tuesday, pitted members of a “slate” of candidates fielded by 36th District Del. Michael Smigiel and Sen. E.J. Pipkin, against non-slate candidates. 

   In the 4th District GOP primary, Diana Broomell, who ran against Tome in the general election four years ago but lost, ran a low-key, low budget primary campaign.  Her  better-financed opponent,  Mike Dawson, a former Prince George’s county police officer, was a member of the “Young Republicans Club” and a member of the Smigiel-Pipkin “slate” of local Cecil County candidates.

   But Broomell narrowly pulled off a 51 percent tally, with  2,908  votes, to Dawson’s 48.8  percent, with 2,777 votes.

     District 3

      The Pipkin-Smigiel slate pounded out a surprise victory in District 3, with the upset win by Michael Dunn, a legislative aide to Smigiel. Dunn registered 2,469 votes, or 42 percent.

        Former County Commissioner Harry Hepbron, who lost a re-election bid in 2006 to current Board of Commissioners President Brian Lockhart (D), came in second place in his comback campaign in the Republican primary Tuesday. Hepbron owns the popular Dove Valley Vineyards and Winery in Rising Sun and served two terms on the county Board of Commissioners before his defeat in the last election. ( Lockhart was unopposed in the Democratic primary Tuesday.) Hepbron received 2,084 votes, or 35.5 percent of the tally.

   Coming in third in Tuesday’s GOP primary voting was Ted Kolodzey, a local “tea party” activist, who surprised attendees at a candidate’s forum this summer when he attacked Smigiel and Pipkin for what he said was an attempt to control county politics and government. “They will destroy this county,” said Kolodzey, who said he had rebuffed attempts to recruit him to a Smigiel-Pipkin slate. Kolodzey received 1,314 or 22 percent.

 District 2

   As in so many local contests this year, District 1 became another Smigiel-Pipkin surrogate contest,  pitting their relatively unknown “slate” candidate, Christopher  Zeauskas, against Tari Moore, a former executive director of the county Chamber of Commerce. But Moore– the non-slate candidate–  won the victory.

    Moore pulled in 3,044 votes, or 52.2  percent, while Zeauskas received   2,784votes, or 47.7  percent.

 The winner of the GOP primary will face Earl Piner, Sr., who was unopposed in the Democratic primary. Piner is a former member of the county school board and Eklton town commissioner. He has also coached basketball teams at Cecil College and youth sports teams in the Elkton area.


Cecil County Goes to the Polls

September 13, 2010

  In a previous life, we wrote or edited many of the “Maryland Goes to the Polls” front page articles in The Baltimore Sun on every election day. It was a guide to basic voting information, names and political affiliations of candidates,  and otherwise a chance for readers to take a deep breath and think about their  choices without a lot of last minute back and forth charges and counter-charges among candidates. That might seem like a quaint custom from the days before the Internet, Facebook, Twitter and instant news, and to some extent it is. Quaint, but valid.

  At this late stage, with voters heading to the polls in a few hours, it is time for individuals to make their own choices– without the Cecil Times reporting every second of every comment that has been swirling through cyberspace for the past 24 hours. And there have been a lot of things written or posted by people who may take two aspirin and regret it in the morning.

  We will, however, bring our readers up to date on two significant issues, with links to places where you can read more information and make your own judgments.

  –Former Gov. Robert Ehrlich appeared at a weekend fundraiser for incumbent Delegate Richard Sossi (R-36) to firmly reiterate his support for Sossi’s re-election. Sossi has been the victim of last-minute negative mailers and robo-calls, attributed to his primary opponent, Steve Hershey, and Sen. E.J. Pipkin. Cecil Times filed an updated report on the Sossi-Hershey race here:  https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/09/06/dist-36-sossi-melts-hershey-on-campaign-gop-primary-endorsement-tiff/ 

 Del. Sossi has posted about the matter on his Facebook pages here:    http://www.facebook.com/richard.sossi

–The hotly contested Democratic primary for Cecil County Sheriff has had a last-minute back and forth over responses to a questionnaire to candidates from the Cecil County Patriots group. In his responses, Chris Sutton discussed the costs of having deputies assigned to the public schools. There is much debate raging in cyberspace over whether the comments meant he would pull the deputies out of schools and put them on patrols or whether he meant the school board should come up with some funds to help pay for the costs. You can decide for yourself.

   The link to Sutton’s answers to the questionnaire is here:   http://api.ning.com/files/ooPRsqiJrtdgCSB8CWB6yD5Bk52un0owZfrZcWGrp1ldj79AsLgJ6T4MZBWI7diuE-HGQ-Oz6s7d5Y4qlL-68cSYgQsWNRyr/Patriot27s20question20responses1.pdf

 There is a raging debate on the matter on the unmoderated Topix bulletin board here:   http://www.topix.net/forum/county/cecil-md/TPAOITFFUE5J9IIV8

(For those readers unfamiliar with Topix, it is rough and tumble and people can post under any assumed name they choose. It is not for the faint of heart.)

  For voters looking for some last-minute information on the many candidates on Tuesday’s ballot, the Cecil County Patriots have compiled a non-partisan voter guide that includes videos of their two forums for County Commissioner candidates (one for Democrats and one for Republicans.) It adds up to four hours of videos that might be a bit much to take in all at one sitting, but here is the link to the Patriots’ candidate information page:  http://cecilcountypatriots.ning.com/page/candidate-info

  The Cecil Times also covered both Commissioners’ forums and our reports can be read here, for the Republicans:  https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/candidates-forum-civility-and-cliffs-notes-for-cecil-county-issues/  and here, for the Democrats:  https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/cecil-commissioners-forum-democrats-sing-from-different-songbooks/

   For the 36th District House of Delegates and state Senate races, Cecil Times covered the League of Women Voters candidates forum in Centreville and filed this report: 

https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/08/19/36th-district-candidates-forum-lots-of-me-too-and-a-surprise/

    You can also click on the Politics 2010 tab at the top of the Cecil Times homepage and find links to all our political coverage of the season, including our exclusive campaign finance reporting.

    We thank our many readers who have expressed their support for the original reporting Cecil TImes does on politics and local news issues, and which you won’t find elsewhere, either in newspapers or in the regular blogosphere.  We will be back Tuesday night with our election night reports.

   Until then, we will just say: exercise your right to VOTE, regardless of the candidates you choose. Remember, there are brave men and women serving our country overseas who will be voting by absentee ballots. Honor them by going to your local polling place on Tuesday.


Harris, Kratovil Attract Big Donors in Run-up to Primary

September 13, 2010

(By Guest Blogger, Lou Peck– Contributing editor, CongressDaily)

Democratic incumbent Frank Kratovil and Republican Andy Harris – likely to face off this year in a rematch for Maryland’s 1st District House seat — have been attracting big-dollar donors at a steady pace in the run-up to Tuesday’s primary election, according to new reports filed through Friday with the Federal Election Commission.

Harris, who outraised Kratovil in the reporting period that covered July and much of August, pulled in another $46,300 from big-money individual donors and political action committees (PACs) in the nearly three weeks since the close of the prior reporting period on Aug. 25.

That’s somewhat more than the $38,900 that Kratovil received from PACs and big-dollar individual donors during the same three-week time slot.

The latest fundraising statistics by Harris and Kratovil are based on an examination of so-called 48-hour reports, in which candidates for Congress are required to report contributions of $1,000 or more received 48 hours prior to the primary or general election. The next full accounting of contributions to – and expenditures by – the Harris and Kratovil campaigns will not be available until the next FEC filing deadline in mid-October.

Kratovil is unopposed for renomination Tuesday, while Harris faces a primary challenge from businessman Rob Fisher. Fisher, who has pumped nearly $500,000 into a largely self-funded campaign, is seen as the underdog in the primary – notwithstanding an 11th hour endorsement Sunday from former 1st Dist. GOP Rep. Wayne Gilchrest.

Gilchrest was ousted by Harris in the 2008 primary; Gilchrest later swung his support behind Kratovil, who narrowly defeated Harris in the 2008 general election..

Although Harris has criticized Kratovil for reliance on “inside the Beltway special interests,” and Kratovil has run TV ads boasting of his record of independence from his party’s legislative agenda, both men have benefited in recent weeks from contributions made by some key inside-the-Beltway players.

Harris last week took in $9,800 – four contributions of $2,400 each – from officials of the Washington-based Carlyle Group. Under federal law, contributions from individuals are currently limited to $2,400 per election, with the primary and general considered to be separate elections.

The Carlyle Group is one of the nation’s largest and best-known private equity firms. The four Carlyle Group officials who donated to Harris – Peter Clare, Francis Finelli, Ian Fujiyama and Allan Holt – are involved with managing the firm’s holdings in the defense, aerospace and technology sectors, according to Carlyle’s Web site.

For his part, Kratovil recently attracted contributions from officials of several of the capital’s major lobbying/consulting firms. These include $1,000 each from R. Scott Pastrick, a former treasurer of the Democratic National Committee who now heads Burson Marsteller, a public relations company; Oscar Ramirez of the Podesta Group, a lobbying firm; and Anthony Harrington, an Easton resident who is chief executive officer of Stonebridge International, a consulting firm whose principals include former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Sen. Warren Rudman, R-N.H.

Kratovil also reported receiving two $5,000 contributions last Friday from the American Federation of Teachers’ PAC. That total of $10,000 represents the maximum that a PAC can donate to a member of Congress during any two-year election cycle.

In addition, Kratovil last week received a contribution of $1,500 from the Philadelphia-based Comcast Corp. PAC, bringing the total he has received from the Comcast committee to the legal maximum of $10,000. According to figures compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, Comcast has donated a total of $1.4 million to federal candidates during 2009-2010, at a time when it is lobbying hard for federal approval of its proposed acquisition of the NBC television network.

Closer to home, Kratovil received a $1,000 contribution from Glenn Weinberg, a vice president of the Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. The Cordish enterprise is currently seeking passage of a referendum on the November ballot in Anne Arundel County allowing construction of a slots parlor at the Arundel Mills shopping mall.

[UPDATE: Kratovil’s congressional press secretary, Kevin Lawlor, said Kratovil has not taken a public stance on the Comcast/NBC merger. While final approval of the deal is up to the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department, some members of Congress have chosen to comment publicly in an effort to sway regulators at those agencies.

Lawlor also said that Kratovil has not taken a position on the referendum on whether to allow a slots casino at the Arundel Mills mall. While Kratovil represents a portion of Anne Arundel County, the mall itself is just outside the 1st District. In 2008, when a statewide referendum on whether to allow casino gambling in Maryland was approved, Kratovil “basically abstained” from that debate on the grounds that it was up to state and local jurisdictions rather than federal officials to determine how best to proceed, Lawlor added.]

Meanwhile, Harris – an anesthesiologist by profession – continues to benefit significantly from out-of-state contributions from medical interests. Non-Maryland physicians donated a total of $6,400 in individual contributions to Harris in recent weeks, on top of nearly $25,000 in similar contributions that Harris received in July and August. A couple of medical PACs chipped in another $1,000 each last week.

There are a couple of well-known Maryland names on the latest filings. Chicken magnate Jim Perdue, head of the Salisbury-based Perdue Farms, gave $2,400 – the maximum an individual is allowed for the primary – to Harris.

In Kratovil’s camp is Mayo Shattuck, chief executive officer of Constellation Energy – the parent company of Baltimore Gas & Electric. Shattuck donated $1,000, while another $2,400 came from Jonathan Thayer, Constellation Energy’s chief financial officer.


Cecil County Republican Drama: Moving the Money Around and Around

September 7, 2010

  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:     https://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.


Dist. 36: Sossi Melts Hershey on Campaign $, GOP Primary Endorsement Tiff

September 6, 2010

  Incumbent Delegate Richard Sossi (R-36) is melting the campaign finances of his Republican primary challenger, Steve Hershey, who features a modified version of the chocolate bar in his campaign signs and ads.  But a last-minute flap over which candidate is endorsed by Robert Ehrlich, the expected Republican candidate for governor, has really heated things up.  

   Since no Democratic candidate has filed for the Queen Anne’s County seat in the 36th, the GOP primary will decide that race. (There are three Delegate seats in District 36 and one resident Delegate each from Queen Anne’s, Kent and Cecil Counties is  elected by voters in those counties, plus half of Caroline County.)

   Sossi also had no opposition in the GOP primary until a last minute challenge was filed by Stephen S. Hershey, Jr., of Queenstown. (See previous Cecil Times report on the contest here:  https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/07/28/36th-delegate-seat-with-gop-friends-like-this-who-needs-democrats/  )

   Sossi has been ahead in the campaign fundraising race by a better than 3-to-1 margin but in the final days leading up to the Sept. 14 primary, the contest has taken on a war of words twist.

    Hershey recently sent out a four-page flyer, citing his past state employment as a political appointee during the Ehrlich administration in Annapolis. The flyer seemed to suggest that Ehrlich, who is hugely popular among Republicans in his bid for another term as governor against incumbent Democrat Martin O’Malley, was endorsing Hershey for the Delegate’s seat.

 That made Sossi see red. Sossi had received permission from the Ehrlich campaign to post his own campaign signs in tandem with Ehrlich’s around the 36th District and Ehrlich had earlier endorsed incumbent Republicans seeking to retain their seats in the House of Delegates. (Hershey has been pairing his signs with those of Del. Michael Smigiel, R-36, and Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-36. Hershey was the campaign treasurer for Pipkin’s failed bid for Congress two years ago.)

  So Sossi took to his Facebook page (  http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/richard.sossi?v=wall&ref=mf  ) and he wrote on his “wall” about the “endorsement” flap:  “Tis the election season. Because  a very slick mailer, albeit misleading and specifically not approved, implied endorsement of my primary opponent, the Ehrlich campaign has taken the extraordinary step of approving a press release reaffirming his endorsement of my election.”

   In the press release, supplied by the Sossi campaign, Ehrlich “reaffirmed” his support of Sossi: “Dick Sossi has a track record of fighting for our constituents and I look forward to once again working with Dick to return Maryland to a sound financial footing and to getting our fellow Marylanders back to work.”   The press release also quoted Ehrlich as saying, “”There are some folks that talk the talk, but Dick Sossi walks the walk.” 

  In the latest Sept. 3 campaign finance reports to the State Board of Elections, Hershey does not include costs related to the controversial flyer. In his previous report, Hershey does include  $850 in expenses, paid to a Georgia company, to set up his website, www.hersheyfordelegate.com . However, that site does not comply with Maryland elections law requirements for an “authority” tagline, stating the name of the campaign treasurer. His website has a box, stating “Paid for by Friends of Steve Hershey” but does not include the authority line or treasurer’s name.

   Hershey’s campaign has been largely financed by a $10,000 loan he made to his own campaign, with just $942 in individual contributions, including several from family members. His latest Sept. 3 report listed $2,018 in expenses for printing yard signs and tee shirts but did not cover costs of a flyer mailing by a direct mail operation. Hershey’s report showed $$7,702 cash on hand for the final days of the primary campaign.

   Meanwhile, Sossi still had $36,345 cash on hand, after a year-long fundraising push and spending for campaign ads, printing, signs and mailings.  Most of the contributions to his campaign have been relatively small and based within the district. But in the most recent report, he received a $1,000 donation from the Maryland Realtors Political Action Committee. 

   Sossi’s report showed $1,815 for mailings by a direct mail business, which he said covered two mailings to district residents: one to newly registered Republicans in the district and another to senior citizens.

   Cecil Times has called Hershey for comment and will update this report upon his response.

UPDATE: In the final days before the primary election, Hershey has sent out a slick four-page flyer, with pictures of Sossi purporting to show him nodding off or sleeping in the House chamber and accusing him of “sleeping on the job.”  The Hershey attack flyer asserts “only your vote will wake Sossi up.”  If the pictures were taken on the House floor, the angle is such that they would have had to have been taken by another Delegate or a Delegate’s legislative aide, since average citizens are not allowed on the floor. The flyer does not state a date or time when the pictures were shot, but the House often holds late into the night sessions.

   Reaction to the flyer in the District has been swift and angry. On his Facebook page,    http://www.facebook.com/richard.sossi      Sossi received support from Republicans and citizens who denounced the attack as “dishonest” and “slime.”  Sossi called the attack a “dirty tricks smear campaign” and said constituents had expressed “disgust both with my opponent and his puppet-master.”

   In case there was any doubt, the “sleep” flyer from Hershey was followed up by a separate flyer mailed to District residents by Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36) declaring Pipkin’s endorsement of Hershey. The Pipkin flyer listed his own re-election campaign as the source of funds to pay for the mailing. (Pipkin is opposed in the Repubican primary by Donald Alcorn.)

   The Hershey “sleep” mailer appears to have been planned well in advance as a last-minute ploy and seems to explain what had been a puzzling buzzword of his campaign: “energetic.” Sossi has long been the most “energetic” Delegate in the 36th, keeping a grueling schedule of attending community events in the sprawling, four-county district. Hershey has claimed he is the more “energetic” candidate on his campaign materials. It now appears it was all stage-setting for his last-minute attack flyer on Sossi.


1st Dist. Congress Race: Harris Outraises Kratovil, but Incumbent has More Cash

September 3, 2010

( By Guest Blogger: Lou Peck, Contributing Editor, CongressDaily)

Seeking a rematch against Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil this year, Republican state Sen. Andrew Harris outraised the incumbent during July and August – but Kratovil still has more money in his campaign treasury, according to campaign finance reports filed in advance of the Sept. 14 Maryland primary.

According to reports filed late Thursday with the Federal Election Commission, Harris raised just over $172,000 in contributions during the period from July 1 through Aug. 25, in comparison with about $134,000 for Kratovil. In addition to the contributions, Harris loaned his campaign $20,000 during the latest reporting period.

But Kratovil – who narrowly defeated Harris in the 1st District in 2008 and is considered one of the nation’s most vulnerable members of Congress in this year’s election — had almost $1.35 million in the bank as of the end of the filing period,  in contrast to about $945,000 for Harris.

Businessman Rob Fisher, who is opposing Harris in this month’s GOP primary, reported just $410 in contributions during the latest filing period. But Fisher reported spending almost $219,000 during July and August, while Harris spent $145,000 on his campaign.

Fisher is largely self-funding his campaign: He has invested $475,000 of his own money to date, including a $60,000 loan during the latest filing period. He had about $80,000 in his campaign treasury as of the Aug. 25 filing deadline.

Fisher, widely seen as an underdog in the primary race, tried to raise his visibility with an ad that ran on Baltimore TV stations throughout much of August. Harris, apparently conserving his resources for the general election, has yet to run broadcast TV advertising.

Kratovil, who is unopposed in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, went on television this week with a widely noticed ad that downplays both his status as a Democrat and an incumbent legislator. Lettering that appears at the bottom of the screen identifies him as a “former Eastern Shore prosecutor” rather than a member of Congress. He also boasts of having voted against healthcare reform legislation that President Obama and Democratic congressional leaders regard as their signature achievement over the past two years.

Throughout the current 2009-2010 election cycle, Harris has raised a total of $1.65 million, which is approximately $250,000 less than the $1.9 million taken in by the Kratovil campaign.

In terms of outside donations, Harris reports that about 85 percent of his funds have come from individual contributors, with the balance coming from political action committees, or PACs. Kratovil, on the other hand, has raised a slight majority of his donations during this election cycle – 53 percent – from PACs and other political committees.

In a dig at Kratovil’s fundraising patterns, Harris declared in a press release: “Maryland’s First District is ready for a new Congressman, one who doesn’t receive most of his money from inside the Beltway special interests.”

But while he is drawing primarily on individual donors, Harris is relying heavily on out- of- state fundraising from one group – his fellow anesthesiologists.

Harris, a physician by profession, is an anesthesiologist associated with the Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore and in the past year has worked part-time at the hospital in Salisbury, on the Shore. He received just under $124,000 in itemized individual contributions during the latest reporting period, and at least 20 percent of this money — $24,172 – came from non-Maryland residents who are physicians, with most of the donors in that group identifying themselves as anesthesiologists.

In addition, a national committee representing anesthesiologists has begun broadcasting ads for Harris on Baltimore radio stations.

Meanwhile, several Cecil County residents contributed to Harris during July and August. E. Ralph Hostetter of North East, retired publisher of the Cecil Whig, donated $1,000; Carol Hunter, of Rising Sun, whose family owns the well known auction barn, $250; and real estate broker Patrick Ulrich of Elkton, $20 (Ulrich has donated a total of $800 to Harris in the course of the campaign).

Also, David K. Williams of Chesapeake City – who operates the Williams Family Auto Mall – donated $500, while another family member, Nancy Williams of Elkton, gave $1,000.

Kratovil received $100 from Charlestown Mayor Robert Gell, the retired president of Cecil College; $100 from Jobeth Bowers of North East, a law office employee who is currently a candidate for Cecil County’s Democratic Central Committee; and $50 from Sue Fuhrmann, an Elkton-based retiree.

One well-known Maryland name on Kratovil’s latest list of donors is Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, a wealthy Baltimore attorney,who gave $2,300.


36th Delegate Seat: With GOP Friends Like This, Who Needs Democrats?

July 28, 2010

   Queen Anne’s County Democrats have taken a pass on fielding a candidate for that county’s resident Delegate in the 36th District but incumbent Republican Richard Sossi got a last-minute challenge from an unexpected source: the former campaign treasurer for fellow 36th District Republican Sen. E.J. Pipkin’s failed race for Congress two years ago.

   Stephen S. Hershey, Jr. of Queenstown, an unsuccessful 2002 candidate for Queen Anne’s County commissioner and a political appointee in former Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s administration, filed his candidacy for the Delegate seat on July 6, the last day to file. No Democrat filed by that deadline to seek that party’s nomination for the seat and the county’s Democratic Central Committee had until July 21 to appoint a candidate to run.  But state election records show no such candidate was put forward.

   Hershey, a commercial real estate executive, served as an assistant secretary of the state Department of Planning and also as an assistant secretary in charge of state property management in the Department of Natural Resources in the Ehrlich administration. The Baltimore Sun reported at the time that Hershey was one of three “political appointees'” named by Ehrlich to newly created top positions at the planning agency. ( http://www.latimes.com/features/bal-jobs061603,0,5461236,full.story )

   In the 2008 election season, Hershey served as the campaign treasurer for E.J. Pipkin’s failed attempt to obtain the Republican nomination for the First District Congressional seat.  Federal Election Commission records show that Hershey, as treasurer, was cited for failure to file a required campaign finance report for the Pipkin campaign account and the campaign was fined $250 in September, 2009.

   In an interview with The Cecil Times, Hershey said he “had a lot of conversations,” including with Pipkin, about filing in the GOP primary for the House of Delegates seat. Since there was a period of uncertainty over Pipkin’s plans and whether he would run for his Senate seat again, “there were a number of us discussing the Delegate’s seat,” Hershey said. (If Pipkin had given up his Senate seat to run for another office, possibly state Comptroller, Sossi was expected to seek the Senate seat and give up his House seat.)

  Pipkin filed for re-election to his Senate seat on June 30, a week before Hershey filed for the Delegate’s race. Sossi filed for re-election to his House seat nearly a month before Hershey filed.

  “I think the timing was still correct” to run for the Delegate’s seat, Hershey said, adding that “most people I talked to about it” did not oppose his getting into the race. ( He did not speak to Sossi before filing.)

   “Everyone who knows me knows I’m a hard worker,” Hershey said.

    Hershey, 46, a native of Bowie, MD, has lived in Queenstown for more than ten years. He graduated from Catholic University and holds an MBA degree from George Washington University. He has been active in Queen Anne’s County GOP groups, including the Republican Central Committee and the county’s Republican Club. He has also done volunteer work and coached youth football.

   State campaign finance records show he donated $500 to Ehrlich’s gubernatorial campaign in 2006, a modest amount to have been rewarded with a plum assistant secretary’s job paying more than $74,000. Hershey said he worked hard as a volunteer for Ehrlich’s campaign. The state records also show Hershey donated $300 to Pipkin’s 2006 Senate re-election campaign. He has also made donations to the county Republican Central Committee but not to Sossi’s campaigns.

    Sossi, who has been aggressively fund-raising for more than a year in anticipation of a possible state Senate seat run, is well-positioned financially for a re-election bid  to the House and the fact that Democrats chose not to challenge him means he can aim most of his considerable warchest at Hershey in the GOP primary.   

     Sossi didn’t seem particularly concerned about Hershey’s late entry into the primary, telling The Cecil Times, “Well, he paid his filing fee, that’s his right.”  But, Sossi added, “I still haven’t heard why is he really running.”

   However, the political signs going up all over the 36th District might tell the tale.  In southern Cecil County, individual Hershey signs have been posted in clusters with joint  signs touting the candidacy of Pipkin and his comrade-in-GOP-arms, Del. Michael Smigiel, R-36. Our spies in Kent and Queen Anne’s counties tell us the same thing is going on there. Hershey’s small signs are brown and look like the candy bar of the same name, but with a few modifications to probably keep the trademark lawyers at bay.

   Individual Sossi signs are showing up in the company of joint Ehrlich for Governor and Andy Harris for Congress signs in Kent and Queen Anne’s, our spies tell us.  

   Sossi has been carving out an increasingly independent course from the Pipkin-Smigiel duo. He refused to co-sponsor their attempt to impose from Annapolis a  mandated Cecil County property tax rate on the county commissioners.  The Pipkin-Smigiel legislation was killed in Annapolis– an embarassing outcome for local lawmakers’ sponsorship of a local bill– after the Cecil County Commissioners hired a lobbyist and commissioners personally appeared in Annapolis to oppose the Pipkin-Smigiel gambit.

 (On their own, the Cecil County Commissioners cut the local property tax rate and potential revenues to the county in the new Fiscal 2011 budget, cutting the past rate to the “constant yield” tax rate. But, to meet their bare bones budget, the Commissioners then cut popular services such as free recycling of plastic bottles and cans at the county landfill.  Smigiel and Pipkin have attacked the Cecil County Comissioners repeatedly on tax issues but have been notably silent on the recycling and trash “fee” increase imposed by the majority Republicans on the five-member county board. One Democrat opposed it and the other Democrat abstained.)

     Sossi was the top vote getter in the 2006 House of Delegates races in the district. Under the arcane system for voting in the district, three Delegates are elected but each must be a resident of Cecil, Kent OR Queen Anne’s Counties. Residents of each county, as well as three precincts in Caroline County, cast ballots for three Delegates to represent the District. (In Cecil County, about half of the county is in the district, including southern Cecil, Elkton and a few westward precincts.)

   Sossi  is a graduate of the University of Colorado and served five years in the U.S. Navy, including duty in Vietnam. He also served his country as a deputy branch chief of the super-secret National Security Agency and received advanced training in Chinese language studies and cryptology.  Before running for political office, he owned and operated a military antiques store.