Mrs. Hornberger County Exec Campaign Hits Husband’s Political Pals for $; Biggest Donors, Bucks, Benefit from Kevin Hornberger Political Pressure

May 7, 2020

A CECIL TIMES Special Report

Danielle Hornberger, wife of state Del. Kevin Hornberger, has raised more than $50,000 for her campaign for Cecil County Executive in the June Republican primary, relying heavily on her husband’s political contacts and campaign funds. And in her most recently reported donations, half of the money came from Port Deposit landowners who her husband backed in a land dispute with the state.

The donations this year to Mrs. Hornberger by Gabrielle (Gaby) Buck, of Mount. Ararat Farm in Port Deposit, included a $5,500 donation on 2/10/2020, a $500 donation on 2/25/2020 and a $500 donation on 1/25/2020, according to the state elections database. That total– $6,500—exceeds the state’s legal $6,000 limit for donations by an individual to a single candidate’s campaign in a two-year election cycle.

In addition, her Mount Ararat Farm business, as well as a family member, donated even more to Mrs. Hornberger. Frank Buck, of Port Deposit, donated the maximum $6,000 on 2/6/2020. Her Mt Ararat Farms LLC donated $2,000 on 2/4/2020 and $1,000 on 2/11/2020. In total, Buck personal and business donations to Mrs. Hornberger amounted to $15,500. That figure is more than half of all contributions and event ticket purchases reported by the campaign in its latest report to the state.

Mrs. Hornberger’s campaign reports also show heavy reliance on current or former state lawmakers and donors from outside Cecil County, including some who have also been substantial donors to her husband’s House of Delegates campaigns. And her husband himself has tapped his campaign accounts to support his wife’s novice political run.

Mrs. Hornberger’s campaign has also relied heavily on joint sign postings and mailed flyers linking her to US Rep. Andy Harris (R-1) and his campaign for re-election this year to his House seat. But the value of the Harris-related support has not been calculated or reported on her finance reports to date. She only lists a $1,000 donation in April from Harris, tallying it as a personal donation but listing the post office box he uses for his federal campaign committee account rather than a home address. By including the money as a personal donation, it is buried in a long list of smaller contributions rather than standing out on the report’s separate listing of political committee transfers.

Mrs. Hornberger has held a part-time job with Harris, working as a constituent services representative for his local Bel Air office. She frequently appears at local events to hand out proclamations and congratulatory messages from Harris.

The joint campaign communications, which also tie Harris and Hornberger to County Council member Jackie Gregory (R-5) who is seeking re-election, are not listed as specified under state election law for a “slate” of candidates, who jointly share costs of a combined campaign and must formally register and report joint campaign spending and activities.

In addition, her campaign reports fail to take into account the value of a private poll, apparently commissioned by Dirk Haire, chairman of the state Republican Party, and given to her several months ago. The poll information, which had a major margin of error, was circulated from Haire’s personal business email account, not the official state GOP party account, sources told CECIL TIMES. Mrs. Hornberger touted the “poll” on her campaign social media pages as showing her as only slightly behind incumbent County Executive Alan McCarthy, a Republican she is challenging in the June party primary election.

Not calculating the “value” of the private poll could put the Hornberger campaign in conflict with a state Board of Elections (BOE) rule enacted last year that requires disclosure of the source of funds used for such a private poll and accounting for the financial value to a campaign that receives such information. There have already been BOE concerns about another private “poll” in the Cecil County executive race. [SEE previous CECIL TIMES report here: ]

In her most recent campaign finance report, filed 4/28/2020, Mrs. Hornberger reported donations, raffle and event ticket purchases totaling $30,554, on top of her earlier finance report, filed in January, which listed $13,996 in contributions—for a total to date of $44,550.

In addition, her husband, Kevin Hornberger, spent $4,895 so far, taken from his own state Delegate political campaign account, to purchase billboards and campaign materials for his wife, listing it as an “in kind donation”—which is listed separately from the direct contributions line on the state report and less visible than direct donations on the report. All told, from direct donations, political committee transfers and “in kind” donations, Danielle Hornberger has raised a total of $50,645 for her campaign.

Going into the final weeks of the campaign before the June 2 primary, Mrs. Hornberger has $31,228 remaining in her campaign warchest, after spending for the usual campaign printing, yard signs and event expenses.

She has received substantial campaign donations transferred from other politician’s campaign accounts, primarily Republican colleagues of her husband in the General Assembly, including Del. Sid Saab, $1,000, from Anne Arundel County; Del. Jason Buckel, $500, from Allegany county; Herb McMillan, $500, a longtime Republican delegate from Anne Arundel county who left office in 2019; Del. Rick Metzgar, $200, representing the Essex area in Baltimore County; Del .Haven Shoemaker, $100, from Carroll County; Del.-Lauren Arikan, $100, a new delegate from Dist. 7 and a ticket-mate with Del. Kathy Szeliga, who has endorsed Hornberger.

In addition, Mrs. Hornberger received a $50 personal donation from Wendell Beitzel, a former Western Maryland Delegate who served with her husband in Annapolis and who has actively solicited donations for Mrs. Hornberger in statewide political circles, sources said.

Mrs. Hornberger also tapped into her husband’s network of large business donors in the state, including-Briarcliff Apartments East Limited, of Cockeysville, in Baltimore County. That entity gave her $2,000 on 11/12/2019, after earlier giving Kevin Hornberger three donations totaling $4,600 in his past campaigns. The apartment complex, whose principals are active in state political circles and own other major real estate ventures, is located on 38 acres and is valued at over $69 million by state property assessors.

Among her local donors are businesses and well- known individuals throughout Cecil County. Donors include Crouch Funeral Home of North East, $1,000; Rod Heinze, of Elkton, who works for Kevin Hornberger in his Delegate office, $1,000; Jason Howard, of Chesapeake City, $1,000; Dr.-Rich Szumel, senior executive of ChristianaCare/Union Hospital, $500; and Tinamarie Reamey, an Earleville real estate agent, $500.

Meanwhile, the saga of Mrs. Hornberger’s largest donor entities, the Buck family and business interests, is a convoluted tale of her husband’s political pressure tactics against a key state agency, a much-beloved but now-deceased state Senator who opposed Kevin Hornberger’s actions, and the tactics of wealthy interests to push the political levers of power.

Gaby Buck has been embroiled in a fight with the state over the future of the Donaldson Brown Center in Port Deposit, which was built by her grandfather, who essentially donated the property to the state of Maryland (in return for a $1 payment). The 25-room mansion that sits on 23 acres overlooking the Susquehanna River has been used as a conference center, supported by a maintenance endowment provided by Donaldson Brown. But the aging property requires more maintenance and re-building than can be paid for by the endowment. As a result, the state has long sought to sell the property to a private owner and found a purchaser who wanted to buy the property and renovate it into a luxury resort and conference center.

The sale was on the verge of receiving approval from the State Board of Public Works when Buck belatedly intervened, after previously declining to bid on the property which is adjacent to her own farm. She enlisted Kevin Hornberger to pressure the Board to kill the project or delay action, which it did twice without reaching any final decision on the issue.

Hornberger’s pressure on behalf of Buck was opposed by then Sen. Wayne Norman (R-35), who said the sale of the Center would get the land back on the Cecil County property tax rolls, create tourism jobs, and restore a local landmark to its glory. But the much beloved Norman died several months after the last postponement by the Board, and with no senior leader left to oppose him, Hornberger was able to push the sale off the Board agenda entirely. So now the Center remains state-owned, little used, and off the local property tax rolls.

[SEE Baltimore Sun account of the controversy: ]

The Bucks have also filed suit against Cecil County government in a zoning dispute, after the county held that Buck improperly built a motocross track on her farm in violation of zoning and environmental regulations and easements on the agricultural land. Buck has appealed to the state Court of Special Appeals, with county lawyers defending the county’s position.

It is unclear whether a new county executive could order withdrawal of the county’s legal defense in the court action at this stage, which could tilt the case toward the Bucks.

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