Two years ago, I posted about local campaign finance reports and the shenanigans surrounding them. None of the questions I raised in that post were ever satisfactorily answered.
In that post, I noted John Pearson had not filed any campaign expense reports for his 2015 election spending. And how, when he finally did fill them out and paid the associated fine, they still weren’t correct.
I noted irregularities with the Higgins-Calci-Pearson campaign and how they illegally paid their fine for those irregularities.
I noted our Upper Providence Tax Collector and Republican Committee woman, Julie Mullin, had children in college who each wrote a check for $250 to the Higgins-Calci-Pearson campaign. Mullin did not donate herself or else she would have been ejected from the Republican Committee (again) for aiding Democrats in an election (again).
But none of those lingering questions are why we are revisiting local campaign financing.
As part of that post, I also wrote about missing expenses on the Upper Providence
First Worst 2016 campaign finance reports.
And that’s what we’re going to look at.
Because now I have more questions on those reports that are even more troubling.
Note: For our purposes here, and because this involves some actions of questionable legality, I am going to forgo the “Upper Providence
First Worst” literary conceit I have consistently employed in the Scrap in the past. Rest assured, it is certainly implied.
A Brief Refresher on Upper Providence First
The history of the five-member board effort by Upper Providence First is already well-trod territory for your Humble Blogress, and we will not revisit that effort at this time. The campaign was characterized by dishonest, yet effective attacks against the sitting Board of Supervisors and the Township in general. The people behind that effort and messaging are still very much involved in Upper Providence politics and it’s important that they are recognized:
In addition to the elected position she holds as Upper Providence Tax Collector, Julie Mullin is the treasurer of Upper Providence First, and as such, she is the person responsible for paying their bills and filling out all of the campaign finance reports for that political action committee, or PAC. Mullin is also running unopposed for re-election to her third term this November. In fact, it’s interesting to note that Mullin has never had a Democrat challenger for her election to a sweet, sweet six-figure part-time job. Ever. Gentle Readers, if you are questioning why no Democrats are ever interested in this position, especially after they made such a business of getting a do-nothing auditor elected two years ago, then you are asking the right questions.
The president of the Upper Providence First is Jim White. You may remember White as the failed half of the White/Yeager Republican primary campaign for Upper Providence Supervisor this year. You may also remember that in spite of the fact that the implementation of the five member board is his only noteworthy political accomplishment, White never once mentioned spearheading Upper Providence First during his campaign.
Julie Mullin doesn’t advertise her leadership role in this effort anymore either. In fact, the Upper Providence First Facebook page that Mullin and White run anonymously has since conveniently morphed into a faux community Facebook page (read more about that HERE.) And also conveniently, it’s the only community Facebook page that offers anonymous political endorsements.
It’s no coincidence that the day Tom Yeager launched his solo campaign for Supervisor, Jim White and Julie Mullin simultaneously announced their support of him in a three way-coordinated Facebook post.
As a professional political cynic, because of the folks involved, I would not be surprised to see the same anti-Township, anti-incumbent, wholly fabricated rhetoric that was used to sow distrust by Upper Providence First on behalf of the five member board effort to be employed again on behalf of the Yeager campaign.
You heard it here first, folks. Now let’s move on.
Dark Money in Local Politics
After the May primary this year, I pulled the campaign finance reports for the White/Yeager campaign for Township Supervisor. I was actually stunned to see a $500 donation from Upper Providence First to the White/Yeager campaign. I had assumed that since the mission of Upper Providence First was accomplished almost five years ago, they would have paid their unpaid bills, and the financial arm of the organization would have been unwound.
My bad for not following up.
I hadn’t pulled an Upper Providence First campaign finance report since mid-2017, so, curious as to what else they had been involved in during the intervening years, I pulled every single report that Upper Providence First has ever filed.
Imagine my surprise when I found out that the rather significant unpaid bill of $1690.70 dating back to January 2017 not only remains unpaid to this day, but that instead of paying it, or paying even a portion of it, Upper Providence First treasurer, Tax Collector Julie Mullin, has been donating the PAC’s remaining money to influence the last three municipal elections.
So here is the story, which is convoluted only because it is meant to be so; you can’t play games with campaign finance reports and campaign dollars if you are being 100% straightforward, so try to follow along.
I’ve posted a helpful spreadsheet near the end of this post to summarizing the data contained in the campaign finance reports and illustrating the salient dates and events. There are also links to all of the campaign finance reports included below.
As mentioned previously, back on April 2018, I posted this blog about campaign finance shenanigans. I examined the Upper Providence First Campaign Finance reports as part of that blog.
In early 2017, I had pulled the Upper Providence First campaign finance statements up to and including the year end 12/31/16 report. Upon evaluating them, I discovered that there were significant amount of missing Election Day expenses, specifically: the hundreds of four-color glossy 4” x 8” handouts they gave to voters, the five giant vinyl banners they had at every polling place, and the buttons they had made up for all of their poll workers.
So on 3/12/17, I filed an RTK at the Montgomery County Open Records Office for vouchers from Upper Providence First. This request was filed under Pennsylvania’s Open Records law to provide me with all receipts from the Upper Providence First campaign.
The only receipt I got was this one (below), for Unlimited Graphics in the amount of $1,881.91, which was already listed on their campaign finance report, and it was for the mailing they had done before the election, not the election day expenses I was looking for.
The subsequent email exchange, which involves members of the Upper Providence Republican Committee, is below. Some names and email addresses have been redacted by Your Humble Blogress.
According to the letter of the law, since she only reported one expense on the report, Julie Mullin only had to provide one receipt.
Then it gets interesting.
I later pulled the 5/17/17 report, filed after my RTK request, for dates 1/1/17 through 5/1/17, and suddenly, another expense shows up for an invoice dated 1/4/17. This expense was from Work House Signs in Pottstown and was in the amount of $1,690.70.
Because the stated date of the Work House Signs invoice was after 12/31/16, it could be construed that the expense fell outside the scope of my official RTK request. But my RTK request was for ALL expenses incurred during the period ending 12/31/16. Since Upper Providence First’s election issue had been decided on 11/8/16, whatever expenses were incurred with Work Horse Signs (and I suspect it was the vinyl signs and election day handouts I was looking for) were without a doubt incurred before 12/31/16 and therefore covered by my RTK, yet omitted by Mullin and White in their response to it.
The kindest thing anyone could say about this was that it was a mistake. But was it? Could anyone realistically just FORGET about what was effectively half of the campaign’s total expenditures?
Could someone like Julie Mullin, who was State Rep Mike Vereb’s campaign treasurer for years, and through whose hands literally millions of Upper Providence tax dollars pass every year, be this sloppy by accident?
And if it wasn’t a mistake, WHY was it deliberately omitted from the response to my RTK?
The date of the Work Horse Signs invoice, which we only know because it is listed by Julie Mullin on the Upper Providence First campaign finance report, clearly shows that Julie Mullin had possession of this invoice at the end of March 2017 when I filed my RTK request. And in spite of my follow up email inquiry asking if there was anything else to disclose, she did not provide it to me, choosing instead to hide it from the Right to Know Request.
This $1,690.70 invoice remains unpaid to this day.
And it is listed on each and every one of the sixteen campaign finance reports that Julie Mullin has filed for Upper Providence First since 2017, so there is no chance that she has just forgotten about it.
I drove out to Work House Signs over the past summer to ask them about this unpaid bill, but no one was in the office. Work House Signs operates out of a storefront in a tiny retail strip shopping center in Pottstown, and they look like they specialize in vinyl banners and other types of signs (hence their name, Work House Signs). Maybe they also print four color glossy 4” x 8” cardstock handouts, too, but if so, it’s not on their list of products:
A call was also placed to Work House Signs and a message left on voice mail. That message was never returned.
Are there small mom and pop print shops out there that can afford to eat a $1,670.90 expense? Especially after a year and a half of COVID related shutdowns?
Apparently, there is at least one.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing of all in this whole issue is that Upper Providence First had $991.34 on hand in January 2017, after the 2016 election when the five-member board was passed. Did their treasurer, Upper Providence Tax Collector, Julie Mullin pay at least pay a portion of the bill?
No. She did not.
In fact, instead of paying Work House Signs, she made undisclosed political contributions of $200 in the 11/7/17 election and $100 in the 11/5/19 election. For the 5/7/21 primary this year, Upper Providence First donated $500 to Friends of White and Yeager, leaving the PAC with a meager $141.34 left in their coffers as of June 7. 2021.
Julie Mullin has never paid a dime of the $1,690.70 invoice to Work House Signs.
Here is a summary of the Upper Providence First campaign finance reports. The $1,690.70 invoice appears on 1/4/17 according to Mullin’s own reporting. And it never goes away.
The actual campaign finance reports are linked below. Many of these campaign finance reports are notarized by Mullin’s mother, Kandy Heckman.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Funds that should have been used to pay a legitimate vendor have instead been used to influence election outcomes in our township. As treasurer of Upper Providence First, Julie Mullin, along with PAC President Jim White, are ultimately responsible for how the PAC’s funds are spent.
There is nothing wrong with elected officials participating in the political process. But fiduciary responsibility is another matter, especially when the handling of one’s political fiduciary responsibilities raises troubling questions about how one’s elected fiduciary responsibilities are handled and millions of Upper Providence taxpayer dollars are in question.
Why has our Tax Collector, Julie Mullin, misdirected Upper Providence First campaign funds for four and a half years?
Should our Tax Collector, Julie Mullin, whose first fiduciary duty is to the Township she was elected to serve, simultaneously be holding fiduciary positions in political PACs that are formed specifically to influence our Township’s government while she is an elected official?
How can our Tax Collector, Julie Mullin, who hasn’t paid the bills directly associated with her political agenda, be trusted with the millions of Upper Providence tax dollars flowing through her taxpayer-funded office?
How do we know the Tax Collector Julie Mullin’s books don’t contain similar errors or omissions? When was the last time an independent audit of the Tax Collector’s office was performed?
What are the penalties for non-compliance with a Right to Know request?
And finally: When will Work House Signs get paid?