Cecil (Politics) Chatter: Secret PAC $ Pursued by State; Moore Returns to GOP Fold; Early Filers in Local Contests
State Threatens Criminal Case against PAC that Paid for other PACâs Anti-Baynes Flyer
Even more than a year after the last election, one of the deepest secrets of the local campaign seasonâwho really paid for a vicious attack flyer against Cecil County Judge Keith Baynesâis still a secret. But the State Board of Elections has threatened criminal action against leaders of a political action committee (PAC) that has refused to file any required financial disclosure reports.
The tawdry tale involved a flyer accusing Baynes of being soft on pedophile cases and was published under the authority line of a PAC called âProtect Cecilâs Children.â But that PAC was really primarily financed by yet another PACââRepublicans of Cecil County,â that has not filed required reports to the state elections board.
Both PACs were organized by individuals with longstanding political ties to Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36), who was resoundingly defeated when he ran in 2012 for a Circuit Court judgeship.
Judicial candidates run on a non-partisan basis in the primaries of both the Democratic and Republican parties. Baynes, a Republican, and Jane C. Murray, a Democrat, had been appointed to fill two Circuit Court vacancies and under state law were required to stand for election in 2012. Both Baynes and Murray had gone through a rigorous vetting process by a judicial nominating panel and interviews with the governor and his staff. But Smigiel avoided that process and instead decided to run for election against the sitting judges, hoping to get one of their seats. But he lost decisively in both the Democratic and Republican primaries.
In the final days of the campaign, the âProtectâ PAC circulated a flyer attacking Baynes. The âProtectâ PAC was organized by Robert Gorman, a longtime Smigiel political ally. According to finance reports filed with the Board of Elections, the âProtectâ PAC said it spent $3,750 to print and distribute the flyer, with $300 in donations coming from Gorman.
But the bulk of the cost was paid from a $3,450 donation to the âProtectâ PAC that came from âRepublicans of Cecil County,â a PAC organized by Lisa Conley and her daughter Meagan Schwartz. Conley is a longtime political ally of Smigiel. Smigiel represented Meagan Schwartz in a 2012 criminal case in which she received supervised probation on one count and multiple other charges were not pursued.
The âRepublicans of Cecil Countyâ PAC did not file three required financial disclosure reports with the State Board of Elections which should have shown where that PAC got the money it then handed over to Gormanâs âProtectâ PAC. (Both Conley and Gorman voiced robocalls against county Councilor Robert Hodge and County Executive Tari Moore in the 2012 elections, and those calls stated they were paid for by the campaign committee of former state Sen. E.J. Pipkin, a longtime Smigiel political ally.)
But now the State Board of Elections sent two âshow cause orderâ letters to Conley and Schwartz in late August, ordering them to file three required financial disclosure formsâthat were due on 10/26/12, 11/27/12 and 1/16/13âand to pay a total of $750 in fines for failing to file the reports in a timely fashion. The state order gave them 30 days to pay the fines and file the reports, or face legal and financial consequences.
State election board campaign finance records show the Conley/Schwartz PAC has still not filed the required reports and the fines levied against them are still unpaid.
In its order, the state Board warned that failure to comply could be âreferred to the proper prosecuting authorityâ and âcould result in the imposition of a fine of up to $1,000 and imprisonment for up to one yearâ for each failure to file a required report. Under state law, election law violations are handled by the independent State Prosecutor.
A spokeswoman for the state Board of Elections in Annapolis told Cecil Times on Monday that the Republicans of Cecil County PAC has not filed any response to the âshow cause orderâ and that the next step will be a referral to the State Prosecutor. However, that referral has not yet been made, the spokeswoman said.
Meanwhile, Gormanâs âProtectâ PAC got a âshow cause orderâ of its own from the elections board on 12/4/13, demanding the overdue payment of a $10 fine for filing its 2013 campaign finance report a day late.
The Conley/Schwartz PAC used a nameâs-almost-the-same tactic, adding âcountyâ to its moniker. Another local PACâRepublicans of Cecilâis unrelated to their group, but it was active in the 2010 election campaigns to support other candidates endorsed by the old Smipkin political machine.
During the 2012 judicial campaign, the âProtectâ PACâs allegations were challenged by the mother of a child who was the victim of a pedophile. She strongly commended Baynes for his tough prosecution of the case while he was an assistant Stateâs Attorney, and she criticized Smigiel for his defense representation of the criminal defendant. The defendant was ultimately sentenced to more than 30 years in prison.
County Exec Tari Moore Returns to GOP Fold; Smigiel Fumes at County Claim for $40K in Legal Fees
Cecil County Executive Tari Moore has returned to the Republican Party fold, shifting her political affiliation from âunaffiliatedâ back to her GOP roots. She changed her party affiliation online several weeks ago, after the expiration of a deadline for filing an appeal of a losing lawsuit by Del. Michael Smigiel. Smigiel had challenged her original shift from Republican to âunaffiliatedâ just before she was sworn in as county executive.
âIt feels good to be home,â Moore told Cecil Times in a recent interview.
Moore had shifted her longstanding alliance with the Republicans so as to give the new County Council the authority to pick her successor for her old District 2 County Commissioner seat that, upon the onset of Charter government, became a Council seat. If she had remained a Republican at the time she resigned from the legislative body to assume her new post, the countyâs Republican Central Committee would have had the power to submit a list of three names to the Council, which would be bound to choose one of those names.
As it turned out, the County Council deadlocked, 2-2, even on how to begin a deliberation process of its own, and under the Charter, Moore was then empowered to pick her own replacement. She chose Joyce Bowlsbey, a Republican and longtime community volunteer and civic group leader.
The current GOP Central Committee is dominated by allies of the old Smipkin political machine, and its remaining leader, Del. Michael Smigiel, R-36, filed a lawsuit to try to block Bowlsbeyâs appointment and force the GOP committee back into the power brokerâs seat. But a Circuit Court judge dismissed Smigielâs suit 10/8/13, saying that his case had âno support whatsoeverâ in the law and noting that Smigiel hadnât even bothered to file court papers responding to the countyâs legal arguments.
So the county then came back in early November with a motion to seek court âsanctionsâ against Smigiel and reimbursement of nearly $40,000 in county legal expenses for what it said was a âbad faithâ lawsuit.
[SEE previous Cecil Times report on the countyâs motion to require Smigiel to reimburse local taxpayers the nearly $40,000 spent by the county on its legal defense against Smigielâs lawsuit:
Faced with the prospect of having to open his own wallet to reimburse taxpayers, Smigiel filed a response in late November, saying it was the county that was acting in âbad faithâ in trying to silence critics by forcing him to cough up the costs of the legal case. His brief is long on politics and short on legal argument, and even goes so far as to launch an undocumented attack on an un-named member of Congressâapparently US Rep. Andy Harris (R-1).
Smigiel asserts: âThere are allegations that involve the inappropriate funding by a United States Congressman of the campaigns of the Defendant Moore and her ticket of Councilman [Robert] Hodge and Councilman [Alan] McCarthy.â Campaign finance reports filed by all three county officials have shown no financial contributions or âfundingâ from a member of Congress.
Harris, the only Republican in the stateâs congressional delegation, verbally endorsed Moore, Hodge and McCarthy. In his recent failed bid to get appointed to the state Senate seat vacated by his old political pal E.J. Pipkin, Smigiel attacked Harris and claimed he had actively campaigned against Smigiel with local GOP Central Committees in the 36th District– an accusation that Harris and multiple local GOP committee members denied.
Smigiel, showing that spell-check is not his friend, wrote that his lawsuit was âfiled as a result of the unprec3edetned [sic] political actions of Defendant Moore in attempting to consolidate political power all in the County Executive.â
And he claimed that just because he didnât file any responses to the countyâs legal briefs in the original lawsuit, the county erroneously claims he âdid nothingâ to pursue his case. âThe Plaintiff has no obligation to answer the Motions to dismiss in a manner or time which suits the Defendant,â he said.
In the courtâs ruling, the judge noted that Smigiel had filed no responses even after being given an extended period of time to do so and after the county withdrew its request for an in person hearing in court on the case. Once the hearing was called off, the court was only left with both sidesâ legal filings on which to make a decision, and Smigiel had filed no arguments or briefs after his initial 1/14/13 lawsuit.
If the legal back and forth goes to an open court hearing on whether to sanction Smigiel and force him to pay the countyâs legal fees, getting a seat to hear the arguments could be the hottest ticket in Elkton for many a year.
Bowlsbey Makes Council Run Official; Incumbents Lowe, Rollins, Nickle File for Re-election
Cecil County Councilor Joyce Bowlsbey (R-2) has formally filed for election to her seat in 2014, standing before the voters to ratify her occupancy of the seat to which she was appointed last January by County Executive Tari Moore.
Bowlsbey announced her intention to seek election to her Council seat in late September, at a gathering of the Cecil Business Leaders for Better Government in Chesapeake City. [See Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2013/09/cecil-county-councilor-joyce-bowlsbey-announces-election-run-for-district-2-seat-in-2014-appointee-to-face-voters/ ] But she made it official by filing her candidacy papers on 11/26/13 with the state Board of Elections.
Although 2014 will be the first time Bowlsbey faces the voters in her own election campaign, she is a veteran of past political frays. In particular, she led a successful effort to convince county voters to approve a shift from the County Commissioner form of government to Charter. That momentous political change was ratified by voters overwhelmingly in 2010, after decades of failed efforts in the past to alter the countyâs form of government.
Bowlsbey is not the only incumbent to toss a hat into the political ring early in the 2014 campaign season.
Circuit Court Clerk Derrick W. Lowe, a Republican, filed for re-election on 7/30/13. Lowe, a lawyer, won an upset victory four years ago against the longtime Democratic incumbent, William Brueckman, who had held the post since 1994.
The only Democrat to hold on to a seat contested four years ago, Allyn âLynâ Price Nickle, the countyâs Register of Wills, filed for re-election 9/6/13. Nickle, who in the past had won overwhelming voter support, had a tough race four years ago and narrowly held on to her post. It was a strong Republican year, and the countyâs voter registration has since shifted to a slight GOP majority. So itâs not surprising that she is getting an early start on her campaign.
And first-term Stateâs Attorney E.D. Ellis Rollins III, a Republican, filed for re-election on 11/22/13. Rollins had previously sought a Circuit Court judgeship but did not get an appointment to either of two past vacancies. When the state approved creation of a new fourth Circuit Court judgeship in Cecil County and applications were taken for an appointment this year, Rollins did not put his name into the mix this time.
Brenda Sexton, a domestic law master, was recently appointed to the new court slot by Gov. Martin OâMalley and she will have to stand for election in 2014 to hold on to her seat. Rollinsâ filing for re-election to the Stateâs Attorney post indicates he wonât be challenging her for a court seat next year.
Under a change in state election law, adopted by the General Assembly in the final days of this yearâs legislative session, the deadline for candidates to file for office in the political primaries was moved up to Tuesday, 2/25/14. So that means there is not much time left for aspiring candidates to make their decisions on whether to run and assemble their campaign committees and requisite paperwork.
In addition, campaign treasurers will have a lot more paperwork to file under the new election law changes. In a recent notice to existing campaign committees, the state Board of Elections said campaign committees will have to file an annual report due 4/15/14; two pre-primary financial reports, due 5/27/14 and 6/13/14; two pre-general election reports, due 8/26/14 and 10/24/14; and a post-general election report due 11/21/14.
Additional rules and paperwork requirements will be put in place in 2015, after the current election cycle.