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Sen. Pipkin’s “War” on Cecil County, GOP, and Political Integrity

April 1, 2012
By Nancy Schwerzler

Commentary and Analysis

At “Cecil Night” in Annapolis a few months ago. Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36) tried to convince some local business leaders that there really wasn’t a “Smipkin” 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 another—including accusing the strait-laced Tari Moore and Robert Hodge of smoking illegal drugs—show clearly that there is a Smipkin “war on Cecil County.” And it is war about control, power and trying to crush perceived “enemies” even if they are members of your own political party.

The negative campaign is mostly financed by Pipkin’s campaign committee, “Friends 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 2014—are 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 Patriot’s 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, “Big Money, Big Bully, Big Lies—and too many annoying phone calls to your house.”

Even if Pipkin’s war does not succeed in Tuesday’s Republican primary election, it nevertheless has created a poisoned political atmosphere in the county—the 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 “Three Amigos” 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 “enemies” from past political disagreements.

A second front in the “war” 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 year’s 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. (We’ll be filing another report on the court election separately.) We can’t wait to find out, eventually, where the money for that PAC campaign really came from but we’ll 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 win—or he doesn’t care because he’s 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 Anne’s county and GOP-heavy Caroline County is a bigger chunk of the electorate in the redrawn district. In the grand scheme of Pipkin’s political ambitions, Cecil County GOP voters apparently don’t matter.

The “Friends of E.J. Pipkin” 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 won’t 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 aren’t cheap to produce. Ironically, the one mailer in which Pipkin does a “positive” endorsement of his hand-picked candidates lists authority lines showing that the individual candidates’ campaign funds footed the bill.

Unlike Pipkin’s 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. That’s a long time to keep voters in the dark about the money trail.

Pipkin’s use of his ‘Friends’ 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 ‘push poll,’ probably would skirt by the rules since a politician can use campaign funds to conduct polling in his district. However, a ‘push poll’ 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, “if you knew Candidate X beat his wife and kicked his dog and cheated on his taxes, would you vote for him?” 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 “ally” is dumping thousands upon thousands into the negative campaign against Hodge and Moore.

How’s that loyalty thing working for you, Jim? Praying for a Smigiel court seat win so you can get appointed to his Delegate seat? Don’t 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 County’s GOP committee. After Republicans in other counties see what’s been happening here, there could be a different result.

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6 Responses to Sen. Pipkin’s “War” on Cecil County, GOP, and Political Integrity

  1. Rick O'Shea on April 2, 2012 at 8:22 am

    According to the Cecil Whig (4/2/2012 p. A6) “Delegate” Smigiel notified the Liquor Board that he could not attend the violation hearing of law his client Bittersweet GC “because of his obligations as a state delegate in Annapolis”. He reportedly showed up in Elkton the same day when his Smipkin Machine-Mate Pipkin was upset at citizens protesting his sleazy ethics. The original hearing was re-scheduled to an unusual Saturday session to accomodate Smigiel. And Smigiel wants to be a Judge?

  2. Jon on April 2, 2012 at 9:36 am

    It was not peacefully at all. Sorry that is a lie!! My daughter couldn’t even leave the neighbor hood at all. They were blocking the exit of the neighbor hood. And waving there signs. And sure was nice of them to post the Senators home address on there website page! Sorry but you don’t bring that into our neighbor hood at ALL!

    • Mick on April 3, 2012 at 1:28 pm

      Am I supposed to be sorry that you and your child got a first hand glimpse of the First Amendment in action?

      The Smipkin machine with their operatives on the County Commissioners and the RCC are really destructive folks from the “I have mine, how ’bout you, Jack?” culture that has resulted in the “no growth” crowd overtaking the Republican Party. Of course, no growth really means anti-family/anti-job/anti-sustainable economy…

  3. Jackie Gregory on April 2, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    We have photos which show exactly where we stood and that we never blocked anyone or anything. In fact, we received a lot of thumbs up from people going down the road. If we had been blocking any exit, we would have been arrested, since that is illegal.

    We were asked to move to the other side of the street by police, since we did not have a town permit, and unbeknownst to us, one side of the road is in town limits, and one side is not. We immediately complied and finished our protest without any incident. There was a reporter there. We called other reporters. If there had been any wrongdoing, don’t you think there would have been an issue with the police? Do you think we would have called the media to report on the event?

    Based on the hundreds of cars that passed by us in those two hours, there are plenty of witnesses that can testify that you are completely lying. But your tactic is an old one. When you don’t like the message, attack the messenger and try to take attention away from the message.

  4. Jackie Gregory on April 2, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    Also Jon, the Senator’s address was never posted on our website. Please provide the link if you have any evidence of that. Just another false accusation.

    • Rick O'Shea on April 3, 2012 at 6:48 am

      Was Pipkin there? What time did Smigiel appear?

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