In spite of all appearances, Democrats don’t really care about President Trump’s alleged affair with Stormy Daniels. Sure the salacious details and the painful daily drip of information compounded by Trump’s increasingly implausible denials make for a sordid and compelling media circus, but that’s not why Stormy Daniels is suddenly the darling of the left. There’s nothing illegal about an affair.
No, I think the Democrats’ interest in the l’affaire de Stormy stems from a newfound interest in Campaign Finance laws. Any money spent in order to influence the outcome of an election must be reported on the candidate’s campaign finance report. If what Daniels says is true, that her silence about the alleged affair was bought by the Trump campaign just prior to the election, a strong case can be made that not only did the omission of this payout constitute a violation of campaign finance laws, but the alleged amount of $130,000 exceeds political donation limits.
I have no brief for the Trump / Daniels affair. This will play out on the national stage regardless of what I may think about it.
My concerns are of a more local nature.
Campaign finance reports are all about transparency. Transparency is word a lot of politicians like to throw around to ingratiate themselves with voters. Campaign finance reports are the first indication of a politician’s (or political movement’s) commitment to transparency. They allow voters to “follow the money” and are a public accounting of who has given money to help elect a particular candidate or promote a particular agenda. They are publicly available, either online, or in the case of local municipal races, upon request from County Voter Services (and if you want copies, there is a fee). Campaign finance reports are a valuable source of information both for what they report, and often times, for what they don’t report.
Links for relevant documentation have been provided at the end of each section.
A laughable affadavit
Our first story begins with Voter Services over two years ago, following the 2015 election. I had heard that a Republican Committeeman had given money to Democrat John Pearson. For you non-politicos out there, the one unbreakable rule for political committee people is that they cannot support a candidate from a Party other than their own (and depending upon who this committeeperson is, and how much the County chairman needs his donations, its sometimes more of a guideline than a rule).
In any event, sometime in mid-2016, I requested John Pearson’s campaign finance reports to see if he had reported a donation from this Republican committeeman, only to be told that no such reports existed for candidate John Pearson in the 2015 election. The task slipped from my ‘to do’ list for several months, but, as I am a person of a tenacious nature, loose ends eventually catch up to me and the reports were requested again in the May of 2017 and July of 2017 with the same result from Voter Services: no such reports exist.
When pressed as to why not, since John Pearson was clearly a candidate for Township Supervisor in 2015, and had spent more than $250 on his campaign, Voter Services replied that John Pearson had “filled out his waiver,” which is an affidavit affirming that the candidate is not going to spend more than $250 during the election cycle and subsequently, it absolved him from campaign finance reporting. Their work was done.
I was incredulous and more than a little irritated: If all it takes to get you out of filling out those tedious campaign finance reports is lying on an affidavit about how much money you intend to spend on your campaign, why wouldn’t everyone do it, since there is apparently no enforcement mechanism in place to make sure that candidates are being transparent?
Instead of getting discouraged by Voter Services’ DMV-level customer service, their evasive responses only made me more determined to get to the bottom of this issue.
John Pearson purchased yard signs, mailers, balloons, chip clips, and at least five big vinyl signs for his run for Township Supervisor in 2015 against Al Vagnozzi. Citing these expenditures, I asked for proof that Pearson had been fined for not submitting campaign finance reports when not only had he had clearly spent over $250, but I’m not sure how he could honestly sign an affidavit promising that he was going to keep his campaign expenditures under $250 when he knew he had to face a Republican opponent (Al Vagnozzi) in the fall.
Voter Services incorrectly told me that if I wanted documentation of a fine, that I should file a Right to Know request or RTK, which, effectively bought them another 30 days without having to supply an answer. Unsurprisingly, my RTK was denied.
At this point, I’m feeling like a little conspiracy of obfuscation is going on, so I consulted with an attorney, who informed me that Voter Services had no right to direct me to file an RTK and that, in keeping with the theory of transparency behind the law, campaign finance records are supposed to be available upon request. I filed a complaint against Voter Services with the County and, together with my running mate, appeared in front of the County Election Board and, armed with photographic evidence of these campaign expenditures, demanded answers to this issue. At that meeting, Commissioner Ken Lawrence, the Chairman of the Election Board, promised to look into the matter and get a resolution. When I pressed him on a time frame, he promised to call me before the end of the day and let me know how the matter would be resolved.
Commissioner Lawrence did call me that evening and promised an investigation by County Detectives. This was later confirmed via email by Karley Sisler, the Director of Voter Services. I have no idea of the timing of this investigation, nor have I been able to get documentation as my request for this documentation has been denied.
In spite of admitting to the White Springs HOA not only that he was under investigation, but why, John Pearson cut a video bemoaning the ugliness of politics and asking “Does this feel like a hometown campaign to you?” Like all Fresh Perspectives campaign videos, except for the one positive video, this video has been taken down and is no longer available. Maybe you saw it, though. Maybe it was texted directly to your phone.
For what it’s worth, this last election never felt like a “home town” election to me either. The level of hate, lies, animosity and just downright dirty dealings that were flung against me during the last two years of my term seemed all out of proportion with a Township Supervisor position, but that’s a story for another time.
The question comes down to this: did John Pearson, who ran for Township Supervisor six times, REALLY have no idea of how campaign finance laws work? Or did he willfully sign an affidavit with no intention of abiding by its terms of keeping his expenditures under $250? In either case, the righteous indignation in the video is a bit over-the-top and I wonder how many takes they had to do until he could actually read his cue cards with a bit of emotion.
This past week, I finally got some measure of closure. Pearson submitted two after-the-fact 2015 campaign finance reports on December 28, 2017 and was fined $500 for lateness (I also got a copy of the check). The reports list zero donations and is still missing several expenditures for balloons, chip clips (the chip clips alone cost his 2017 campaign $672) and vinyl signs.
The report has every appearance of a hastily scribbled out box-checking exercise that he completed to fulfill his absolute bare minimum obligation to the law. Regarding his promise of transparency to his constituents, he has failed mightily.
Little slush funds everywhere
When I went to pick up my long awaited Pearson reports, I also asked for the general election reports for Higgins, Calci and Pearson for UPT (“HCP”). All of the reports were available to me on April 3 except for HCP’s annual report due 12/31/17. In lieu of that, the County gave me the letter notifying the HCP campaign committee treasurer of the past due reports and the fine due.
The next day I received an email from Voter Services informing me that the annual report for HCP had —coincidentally!—just been received, as well as payment for their fine. I received those reports and a copy of the check (by my request) on 4/5.
The campaign finance documentation for the 2017 HCP campaign is noteworthy mostly for what is missing.
The Democrats held several campaign events at local venues and advertised that refreshments would be served at each event. There are no expenses listed for these events except for “picnic food” for the June 3 picnic at the John Pearson’s bar, the Fitzwater Station.
Notably, one of these events was held at Barrister’s Bagels, which is owned by Joe Welsh, the newly elected district justice for district for 38-1-19.
Regardless, none of these venues allow random folks to hold events there free of charge, let alone with refreshments supplied by the venue.
I get that these Democrat business owners are doing favors for their fellow Democrats. But, again, the whole point of campaign finance laws is transparency: who is donating dollars and services to the cause of getting a candidate elected and how much are they donating? These events should have been listed as “in-kind” donations, which are services that have been donated but have a monetary value. The treasurer correctly included Helene Calci’s services as a graphic designer as an in-kind donation to the campaign while Laurie Higgins and her family got reimbursed for every penny they put towards the election.
Why didn’t the events at the Towne Center Bookstore, Limerick Bowl, Barrister’s Bagels or The Fitzwater Station merit an in-kind donation entry on the campaign’s reports?
By all appearances, these Democrat-owned businesses act as little slush funds for Democrat candidates to rotate amongst themselves. This practice is decidedly not transparent.
The fine levied against HCP for filing their campaign finance reports late was paid out of campaign funds. This is strictly forbidden and it is noted, in bold italics, on the notice of fine sent by Voter Services: I will be following up with Voter Services on the disposition of this issue later this week.
As a side note, a few weeks ago, we noted the endangered “livliehood” (sic) of Upper Providence Tax Collector, Julie Mullin, due to her wide-eyed and purely altruistic involvement in politics. Our tax collector has lamented on Facebook about having to use her own “out-of-pocket” funds to perform her exhaustive service to the public, all while she’s trying to put two kids through college. As a Republican Committee woman, do you think she knows that the children she’s working so hard to support collectively gave $500 to the Higgins, Calci and Pearson campaign?
Upper Providence Worst
When she is not opening envelopes, the Upper Providence Tax collector is very busy indeed. Up until he took his hack job with Josh Shapiro, Julie Mullin was the campaign treasurer for former state representative Mike Vereb. She is also the treasurer for Montgomery County Republican Women’s Leadership, a position took on at the beginning of last year after joining the organization just a few months prior. For some strange reason, none of the long-standing members of MCRWL can explain how exactly she landed in that position.
Mullin was also instrumental in establishing the political action committee, Upper Providence First. She, along with John Pearson, Jim White, and Bill Kasper, was a passionate advocate for expanding the Upper Providence Board of Supervisors from three to five members and she served as treasurer for that PAC. She still runs Upper Providence First’s faux community Facebook page.
It was unsurprising to me that the campaign finance reports for Upper Providence First were also missing some expenses. As the group was outwardly hostile to me, I filed an RTK for the “vouchers,” which are essentially all of the receipts of the campaign’s expenditures. Upon receiving these receipts, via email, I was told by Mullin that I should have just asked her directly for them. I responded that yes, in retrospect, that probably would have been the best course of action, so while we have this dialog open, can you confirm I have received everything? Are you sure there is nothing more? To this request, I received a response from the PAC chairman, Jim White, who rather ungraciously told me to take my petty requests and file another RTK.
My concern was that there were no expenditures listed for Election Day: hundreds of four-color glossy, double sided handouts, five 3’ x 5’ vinyl signs, and buttons for all of the Upper Providence First poll workers.
Why were these expenditures omitted? Why were they a secret? When I brought these concerns to the Upper Providence Republican Committee Municipal Leader, the answer he got from Mullin and White was that the print shop they were using to print the November 2016 Election Day handouts was “holding back” the invoice pending a “huge campaign for Township Supervisor” in the spring of 2017. While this excuse doesn’t come close to passing the smell test, it does have the virtue of exposing the motivations behind the expansion of the board of supervisors.
On May 16, 2017, Mullin filed an additional campaign finance report for Upper Providence First showing a balance on hand of $991.34 and an unpaid expense of $1,690.70 for postcards and banners due to Work House Signs of Pottstown. To my knowledge, this bill remains unpaid.
Interestingly, the printer who printed the Upper Providence First mailer (which was identical to the Election Day handout, above) was Unlimited Graphics, out of Trappe. Why wouldn’t Upper Providence First use the same printer for handouts as they used for mailers? Does Work House Signs even do paper printing? It does not appear so. Here is the “About us” from their website:
We are a full service sign company serving the tri-state area. We specialize in indoor signage, vehicle wraps & lettering, dimensional signage, outdoor displays and a wide range of custom options for your next project. We are confident that our representatives can assist you with your marketing efforts, from vehicle wraps to trade show advertising, banner stands, plaques and custom exterior signage – our business is to promote your business.
I’m not sure there are any small printers in the area willing to let a $1,690 bill ride indefinitely, but let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Work House Signs is the one printer in the United States who really doesn’t need money. Why wouldn’t Upper Providence First take the $991 on account and at least pay down the outstanding expense? Why were the members of Upper Providence First unwilling to provide me with all of the expenditures, if not as part of the original RTK, then as part of my subsequent request when they told me to just ask them directly? Why was there even a need to file an additional report?
As the elected Upper Providence Tax Collector, Julie Mullin is responsible for processing literally tens of millions of your tax dollars, yet it seems she cannot manage to file a straightforward campaign finance report or account for all of the expenditures for her extracurricular political interests. Were the original reports compiled mistakenly, or were they willfully misrepresentative of the PAC’s finances? Either way, the answer raises some disturbing questions about competency and transparency.
Maybe you don’t care about campaign finance, and that’s fine. Then ignore the Stormy Daniels story, because that’s the only pertinent issue in that whole mess.
Maybe you think this is all petty and nitpicky, and that’s fine too. Just know that if you are prone to complaining about money in politics, there really is nobody minding the store, especially on the local level. Sure, they’ll fine the Candidate if they don’t receive his report, but nobody is really looking at those reports to make sure that the reporting is honest.
That’s up to you.