CECIL (Politics) CHATTER: Tilghman TV Ads; PAC Still Hides $ Used to Attack Judge
CONGRESS RACE TAKES TO AIRWWAVES
The longshot candidacy of Bill Tilghman, a Democrat running in November against incumbent Republican Rep. Andy Harris (R-1), recently took an expensive gamble: buying about a week’s worth of heavy saturation over-the-air television ads in Baltimore and Salisbury.
The ad, entitled “Any Good Idea,” promotes Tilghman’s message that he is not a partisan ideologue and is willing to listen to ideas from all sides of the political spectrum. It’s a message that has been used successfully in other districts around the nation where so-called “Blue Dog Democrats”—moderates or fiscal conservatives—have overcome more conservative Republican opponents.
It is also a strategy that helped former Rep. Frank Kratovil, a Democrat who briefly held the District 1 congressional seat, until he fell to the conservative Harris. But since Kratovil’s tenure, the district has been re-drawn to make it even more heavily Republican in voter registration, with the result that the gerrymandered district became the repository for the geographic bulk of the state’s GOP voters and Harris the only Republican in the state’s Congressional delegation.
“The problem in Washington is no one listens to one another,” the ad begins. Tilghman, who is a retired lawyer whose family roots on the Eastern Shore span generations, then says that he believes the district’s representative in Washington should “take the best ideas from both parties.”
“Democrats are right about investing in our schools and making college more affordable,” Tilghman says, over images of students. And “Republicans are right about being fiscally responsible and paying down our debt so we don’t mortgage our kids’ futures,” as the image of a child putting coins into a piggybank is displayed.
“I’ll support any good idea that makes America a better place no matter where it comes from,” he concludes.
While not mentioning Harris, the ad comes at a time when the Republican has received criticism for his intervention in the District of Columbia’s locally-passed law to decriminalize marijuana usage. (A decriminalization law for small amounts of pot possession passed the Maryland General Assembly earlier this year and takes effect this fall.) Harris used procedural provisions of congressional oversight of the District to try to overturn the local law.
But local prosecutors said the Harris effort would actually negate all DC drug laws and local lawmakers called for a boycott of Maryland beach resorts in Harris’ district. Some DC residents showed up at Harris’ office in Washington to demand he expedite repairs of city streets since he seemed to want to control local issues, and suggested he should pay more attention to his own congressional district’s needs.
Harris, who is a physician, had only minor opposition in his party primary and is sitting on a healthy campaign warchest for the November election, fueled in large measure by Political Action Committee (PAC) donations from medical and health care groups around the nation. His most recent 6/30/14 filing with the Federal Election Commission showed he had cash-on-hand of $727,958. That leaves plenty of money for his own ads later in the campaign, and in the past Harris has not hesitated to take to the airwaves as election day draws near.
In contrast, Tilghman waged an expensive campaign to win the Democratic primary against Kent County physician John LaFerla.
Tilghman’s most recent FEC filing shows him spending $288,762 on the primary contest, with just $6,701 cash on hand for the fall campaign. Much of his campaign has been self-financed, with reports showing over $117,000 from his own pocket.
That’s why the new saturation TV ads were a particularly expensive gamble. Rather than purchase much cheaper ads running on local cable TV services in the far-flung First District or on satellite TV services, the Tilghman ads went into a heavy rotation on the three Baltimore over-the-air stations’ local newscasts—as well as appearing during entertainment programs such as the Maury Povich and Rachel Ray talk shows.
Asked about the ads, and the target audience, the Tilghman campaign responded in a statement: “Our message of seeking the best of both parties and being willing to consider any good idea, no matter where it comes from, is intended to appeal to voters of all ages and is not based on party labels.” The campaign said the ads were running for about a week on over-the-air channels in Baltimore and on the Salisbury TV station.
Tilghman’s ad is posted on Youtube here:
[UPDATE: The Tilghman campaign announced Wednesday that Patricia Folk, a longtime member of the Democratic Central Committee and civic volunteer in Cecil County, has been named his campaign chair in Cecil County. Folk said Tilghman was "a different kind of candidate" and would restore the tradition of having a "moderate in Congress" represent the First District.]
PAC STILL KEEPS SECRET $ SOURCE, DESPITE STATE PROBE
It’s been two years since a clandestine local Political Action Committee (PAC) apparently transferred thousands of dollars to another PAC to finance attack flyers against Circuit Court Judge Keith Baynes, who nevertheless defeated Del. Michael Smigiel in a 2012 judicial election. But even with state prosecutors breathing down their necks, the original source of the money is still a secret despite some new campaign finance report filings.
The Republicans of Cecil County PAC had never filed any campaign finance reports since it was created on 4/2/12, with Meagan Schwartz as the chairperson and her mother, Lisa Schwartz Conley, as the treasurer. Conley is a long-time active supporter of Smigiel’s political campaigns and she voiced robocalls, paid for by the “Smipkin” political organization, against local Republican candidates opposed by the Smipkin group (consisting of Smigiel and former Sen. E.J. Pipkin) in 2012. Smigiel represented Schwartz in a criminal court case in 2012.
Four cases of “failure to file” required campaign finance statements were referred by the elections board to the Office of the State Prosecutor, which enforces state election laws and is also an independent agency empowered to investigate political corruption statewide. The elections board sent a “show cause” letter to Schwartz and Conley, warning that “a conviction for failure to officially file the report could result in the imposition of a fine up to $1,000 and imprisonment up to one year” for each violation.
The State Prosecutor has a longstanding policy of not commenting on pending investigations or even acknowledging it is conducting an investigation. However, in campaign finance cases, the state Board of Elections publicly discloses it has referred a violation to the Prosecutor for investigation.
Recently, on 6/20/14, the Republicans of Cecil County PAC suddenly filed with the state affidavits for reports that were originally due on 11/27/12; 1/16/13; and 1/15/14. The affidavits assert that the PAC neither received contributions nor spent over $1,000 and checked a box on the form claiming that nothing over $1,000 had been raised or spent “since the inception of the campaign finance entity…” (Total donations or spending under $1,000 does not have to be spelled out in detail but once that threshold is crossed full disclosure is required.)
But there is still a glaring omission: the absence of any filing for the key “pre-general election” report that was due on 10/26/12. That is the timeframe in which another PAC—“Protect Cecil’s Children”– reported to the state that it received $3,450 on 6/25/12 from the Conley/Schwartz Republicans of Cecil County PAC.
The “Protect” PAC was organized by Robert Gorman, another longtime Smigiel political ally who also voiced robocalls for the Smipkins attacking Republican candidates in County Council and County Executive 2012 races. Gorman’s PAC spent $3,750 on a direct mail advertising flyer attacking Judge Baynes—with $3,450 of the cost coming from the Conley/Schwartz PAC and Gorman contributing $350, according to campaign finance reports filed by the “Protect” PAC.
Since the “Protect” PAC has disclosed it got that much money from the Republicans of Cecil County PAC, it calls into question why the latter checked the box on its recent belated filings that it had not raised or spent over the $1,000 level since its creation.
Meanwhile, the Republicans of Cecil County PAC still has not paid $1,000 in fines imposed by the state elections board for its failure to file its finance reports in a timely fashion. (Those civil fines are separate from any penalties that might result from the prosecutor’s inquiries.)
Bottom line: more than two years later– and even after Smigiel’s political career is in tatters after his June GOP primary defeat for re-election to his state Delegate seat– the public STILL does not know who really provided the original money that was funneled through two PACs to finance what was a particularly sleazy attack mailer against a respected local jurist and which was aimed at helping Smigiel in that race.
Justice delayed, justice denied?