Sen. Pipkin’s “War” on Cecil County, GOP, and Political Integrity
At âCecil Nightâ in Annapolis a few months ago. Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36) tried to convince some local business leaders that there really wasnât a âSmipkinâ political machine, led by him and Del. Michael Smigiel, and that they really had no interest in controlling Cecil County government. If only that were true.
The massive Pipkin-financed smear campaign launched in the past week, with multiple robocalls and glossy flyers with one bogus or distorted claim after anotherâincluding accusing the strait-laced Tari Moore and Robert Hodge of smoking illegal drugsâshow clearly that there is a Smipkin âwar on Cecil County.â And it is war about control, power and trying to crush perceived âenemiesâ even if they are members of your own political party.
The negative campaign is mostly financed by Pipkinâs campaign committee, âFriends of E.J. Pipkin, which is itself mostly financed by special interest Political Action Committees and out-of-county donors, according to state election records. Many of those donors would be surprised that some of their contributions to a state Senator– who is the top ranking Republican in the state Senate, Minority Leader, and has been mentioned for possible statewide office in 2014âare instead being funneled to negative attacks on local Republicans in Cecil County Council and County Executive contests.
The Pipkin war has already triggered outrage on social media and an on-site demonstration on Saturday at the entrance to the Patriotâs Glen community in Elkton where Pipkin lives. According to some participants, they assembled peacefully to wave home-made signs until Elkton police were called and ordered them off the sidewalks adjacent to the development to a site across the street.
Among the signs were one featuring a picture of Pipkin with the words, âBig Money, Big Bully, Big Liesâand too many annoying phone calls to your house.â
Even if Pipkinâs war does not succeed in Tuesdayâs Republican primary election, it nevertheless has created a poisoned political atmosphere in the countyâthe better to deter qualified, educated and civic-minded individuals from ever wanting to run for public office here in the future. And the better to intimidate the worthy and reward the ill-educated, fearful or empty vessels who can be controlled from Smipkinland.
The war is primarily aimed at Moore, a candidate for county executive, and Hodge who is seeking re-election to his District 5 seat. The two Republicans have had the temerity to disagree with Pipkin and Smigiel on some issues and vote against the âThree Amigosâ voting majority of the current Board of Commissioners. That bloc consists of Commissioners James Mullin (R-1) and Michael Dunn (R-3) and, usually, Diana Broomell (R-4) who occasionally strays and has to be pulled back in line, especially on appointments to volunteer boards and commissions where the Smipkins have pursued revenge against individuals perceived as âenemiesâ from past political disagreements.
A second front in the âwarâ was opened up by Smigiel surrogates late last week in a particularly sneaky and sleazy attack against Judge Keith Baynes, who is defending his Circuit Court seat in this yearâs elections. Smigiel refused to go through the independent legal vetting process that Baynes and Judge Jane Cairns Murray went through before they were appointed to the court by the governor.
Instead, Smigiel filed as a political candidate and is trying to reap the rewards of a smoke and smear campaign through a long-time donor and ally, who organized a last-minute Political Action Committee and purported concerned parents group to do the dirty work on Facebook and a multi-page glossy attack mailer. (Weâll be filing another report on the court election separately.) We canât wait to find out, eventually, where the money for that PAC campaign really came from but weâll have to wait for months if they obey state campaign finance reporting law or perhaps years if they follow the example of their late-filing pal, Smigiel.
The costs of the E.J. Pipkin war against Moore and Hodge go far beyond the printing, postage and robocall bills he is footing in a campaign to control the new Charter government of Cecil County. There is a high cost in political capital but Pipkin apparently is gambling he will winâor he doesnât care because heâs already looking beyond the county to possible higher office in 2014.
Redistricting also puts fewer Cecil County voters in the four-county 36th District, where Pipkin has never had to run county-wide in the first place. His strength has always been in his former homebase in Republican-dominated Queen Anneâs county and GOP-heavy Caroline County is a bigger chunk of the electorate in the redrawn district. In the grand scheme of Pipkinâs political ambitions, Cecil County GOP voters apparently donât matter.
The âFriends of E.J. Pipkinâ campaign account listed a $49,028 cash balance on the most recently filed annual report covering 2011 and early January 2012, filed 1/18/12, according to state Board of Elections online records. We wonât know how much the negative campaign blitz in Cecil County cost for quite some time: since he is not a candidate this year, his next annual report will not have to be filed until January, 2013.
Robocalls are fairy cheap, especially to a narrow subset of Republican voters in Cecil County, and it would be possible to run such a call for just a few hundred dollars. So for three robocalls, the tab could be as little as $900.
Printing costs are another story, and the glossy mailers and their postage arenât cheap to produce. Ironically, the one mailer in which Pipkin does a âpositiveâ endorsement of his hand-picked candidates lists authority lines showing that the individual candidatesâ campaign funds footed the bill.
Unlike Pipkinâs account, the individual candidates will be required to account for their donations and expenditures in a pre-general election report due 10/26/11– if they obey the law. Thatâs a long time to keep voters in the dark about the money trail.
Pipkinâs use of his âFriendsâ account for political communications in opposition to candidates who are not rivals in his own election contest raises questions under state election laws, which specify that such opposition political communications should be made through a Political Action Committee or a registered opposition committee entity.
The initial Pipkin-financed robocall, which was a so-called âpush poll,â probably would skirt by the rules since a politician can use campaign funds to conduct polling in his district. However, a âpush pollâ is not considered a legitimate survey by professional pollsters, and usually any responses are not even tallied, because the intent is actually to influence listeners. For example, âif you knew Candidate X beat his wife and kicked his dog and cheated on his taxes, would you vote for him?â is a classic example of a push poll question.
In one of the ironies of the Pipkin war, most of his campaign money comes from business interests. Cecil County business groups, especially the new Cecil Business Leaders for Better Government PAC, have endorsed Hodge and Moore, as well as Dr. Alan McCarthy, who is running to unseat Smipkin yes-man Mullin in District 1. Mullin has been scrambling for campaign funds so far, while his âallyâ is dumping thousands upon thousands into the negative campaign against Hodge and Moore.
Howâs that loyalty thing working for you, Jim? Praying for a Smigiel court seat win so you can get appointed to his Delegate seat? Donât bet on it: state law requires GOP Central Committee review in all four counties of the district and the Smipkins only truly control the Cecil Countyâs GOP committee. After Republicans in other counties see whatâs been happening here, there could be a different result.