Monday, October 26, 2009

Comm'r Candidates Kwiatek & McNeill Hide Cunningham's $70k Contribution

Not very long ago, a candidate would never dream of asking an elected official or other candidate to dig into his own campaign fund for money. In these different times, office seekers felt they had an obligation to those financing their campaigns to restrict those funds only for their own political quests. In recent years, all that has changed, and it's now rather routine for candidates to give each other this monopoly money. Most of the time, it's pretty innocent. But when an elected official uses donated money to solidify and expand his power base, it's time to pay attention.


Campaign finance reports filed Friday reveal that Lehigh County Exec Don Cunningham is using his healthy, $700 thousand, campaign warchest to build his powerbase, stacking the Lehigh County Board of Commissioners. It's a political power play, although I'm sure he'd justify it as an attempt to make government more efficient. The downside is that, instead of an independent legislative body that asks questions and provides oversight, you end up with rubber stamps.

This year's rubber stamps are candidates Hillary Kwiatek, running against incumbent Glenn Eckhart in District 5; and Jeanne McNeill, running against Tom Creighton in District 1. They've been so excited to take Cunningham's money and help that they can't be bothered to follow election disclosure laws. Instead of informing the public, their filed campaign reports actually mislead them. Let me explain what happened.

This month, Kwiatek and McNeill sent out four, professionally prepared, 8 x 11 mailers each. One of Kwiatek's missives is a hit job against incumbent Glenn Eckhart, complete with grainy black and white photo. Take a gander.
Hillary Kwiatek Campaign Flyer



Sure, Kwitek's slam is inaccurate. Rather than being against police, Eckhart actually voted to increase the size of Salisbury's force 40% when he was a township supervisor. But hey, I admire the quality of the work.

Now two of these mailers for each candidate arrived before the Monday, October 19th cutoff for reporting campaign expenses. The third must have been in the mail because those pieces arrived on the 20th. The cost of all three mailers was obviously incurred before the cutoff date.

Where did Kwiatek and McNeill get the money? Campaign finance reports filed Friday, which covers the period between June 8 and October 19th, not only fail to answer that question, but are downright misleading.

McNeill reports receiving $8,900 and spending just $2,900, leaving her with approximately $6,000. Kwiatek is a mirror image. She pulled in $6,800 and spent only $3,000. They both report only one $250 donation from the Cunningham camp. (Their reports can be downloaded here). The cost of these mailers is reflected nowhere.

So who paid for these mailers? Cunningham. Let me tell you how I know.

Cunningham's campaign committee made two contributions to the Pennsylvania Democratic party on October 5 ($22,000) and October 9 ($50,000), totalling $72,000.00. The state party took that money and spent it for the following:

* Postage for Kwiatek mailing (10/16/09) $1,170.70.
* Postage for MacNeill mailing (10/16/09) $1,179.54.
* Payment to Gumbinner & Davies for Design, Print, Mail House for unspecified "Lehigh County Candidates" (10/16/09) $52,447.49.
* Postage-mailing for Don Conningham (10/15/09) $4,670.51.
* Postage-mailing for unspecified "Lehigh County Candidates" (10/13/09) $5,074.75.
* Postage-mailing for unspecified "Lehigh County Candidates" (10/6/09) $4,767.52
By October 19th, Cunningham had paid nearly $70,000 to promote Kwiatek and MacNeill.

Hillary Kwiatek was actually an active participant in this Cunningham-financed mail campaign. On her Facebook page, in a post entitled The Impact of Mail, Kwiatek muses "A candidate pores over her mail pieces making sure everything is accurate and reflects who she is as a candidate and then hopes for the best." She is very excited by how her "first mail piece" was received, noticing it has increrased traffic n the Internet. But she's not excited enough to tell her readers that Cunningham is paying for those mailers. She's not excited enough to include its cost on her finance report, as required by our election laws. Neither McNeill nor Kwiatek bother to tell you that County Executive Don Cunningham is trying to buy their election, to the tune of nearly $70,000 so far. Both attempt to mislead you into thinking he's only given them $250 apiece. If Kwiatek and MacNeill are this deceptive as candidates, what will happen when they're elected?

Summary:

* In early Oct. Don Cunningham’s campaign transferred $72,000 to the PA Democrat Committee.
* Through Oct. 24th, Kwiatek and McNeill have sent out 4 mailers each with a total combined cost of approximately $25,000.
* Two of the mailers for each candidate arrived before the Monday, October 19th cutoff for reporting campaign expenses and 1 for each candidate was in the mail at that point, arriving on Oct. 20th.
* Three of Kwiatek’s mailers and three of McNeill’s mailers list them as being paid for by the PA Democrat Committee.
* The three Kwiatek mailers that arrived (or were in the mail) before the 19th were all paid for by the PA Democrat Committee.
* The three McNeill mailers that arrived (or were in the mail) before the 19th were all paid for by the PA Democrat Committee.
* Kwiatek wrote on her Facebook page on Oct. 15th about reviewing the mailers and that the first had arrived, so she knew that they had been sent.
* The PA Democrat Committee reports spending $52,447.49 on Oct. 16th for “design, print and mail house” for “Lehigh County candidates”
* The PA Democrat Committee reports spending $1,170.70 (enough for 10,000 to 12,000 mailers) on Oct. 16th for postage on Kwiatek.
* The PA Democrat Committee reports spending $1,179.54 (enough for 10,000 to 12,000 mailers) on Oct. 16th for postage on McNeill.
* Neither Kwiatek nor McNeill reported any direct expenses or in-kind contributions on their campaign finance reports that reflect the money spent (design, production and postage) for their mailers that went out before the Oct. 19th cutoff. At a bare minimum the postage needed to be reported. Kwiatek, in particular, can not claim ignorance of the fact that the mailers had gone out since she talked about them at her Facebook site.

Update: Kwiatek Amends Report! In an email, Hillary Kwiatek announces that she has amended her report to reflect the state party's in-kind contributions. She claims she received that documentation on Friday, after her report had already been prepared, and opted to amend it today rather than wait for the next reporting period "in the interest of greater transparency."

Kwiatek adds, "I want to say in the strongest terms possible that I would never intentionally deceive or mis-report information on these reports. I take the oath my signature represents on those forms very seriously, and my integrity means a great deal to me. The fact of the matter is, I simply didn't have the documentation of these contributions when my treasurer and I completed my report. As you realize, you cannot document an in-kind contribution without the necessary information. Once I received the information, the report was amended in as quick a manner as I could manage, given my treasurer's work schedule and the like."

58 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is this the same McNeill who was a Township Executive and is working for Cunningham in Lehigh County?

That would be a bit embarassing.

Anonymous said...

Utterly amazing. Is this an offense that someone can be prosecuted for ?

eckville press said...

Crap!
We're screwed in the northern tier again.

Anon 12:41
That might be her spouse.

Anonymous said...

Great job Bernie! Thank you.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Is this the same McNeill who was a Township Executive and is working for Cunningham in Lehigh County?"

That would be her husband.

"Is this an offense that someone can be prosecuted for?"

There is nothing unethical, or even improper, about Cunningham's contributions to the state Dems, which enables the use of a mailing permit that saves considerable money.

There is something unethical, and improper, about the failure by both Kwiatek and MacNeil to report all this work, in which they were clearly personally involved. Those pictures did not take themselves, and F/B reveals just how closely Kwiatek worked on this.

The whole point of election laws is to allow the public to follow the money and determine who is funding whom. Kwiatek and McNeill had an obligation to reveal the work done by the state Dems on their behalf as in-kind contributions. Their failure to do that is misleading and defeats the transparency we are entitled to expect from our elected representatives. Kwiatek and MacNeill should be asked to amend their reports.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,

It would appear that these two candidates have been bought and paid for with Don’s (raised from outside the valley) campaign money.

Scott Armstrong

Chris Casey said...

we were talking about this yesterday, about how the money train was being channeled. I had an inkling this was the case. Cunningham gave a hell of a lot more money to the State Dem Committee than was being spent on his campaign, and VDSM compared it to legal money laundering.
I understand that don is helping lower candidates, and I, for one, am glad to see him do it. If Rendell's gang had done more of it in 2006 for Arch Follweiler at the State level, Arch might have beat Mantz.
But for the candidates not to report it, that is, to quote one of Ed Pawlowski's favorite TV words:

"DISINGENUOUS."

Anonymous said...

Is this lady candidate married to some wheeler-dealer?

Anonymous said...

Take them to court and the judge will rule that until they get a bill or some information from the State Democratic Party they do not have to include these mailers on their expense reports. They may know about them, but had nothing to do with their mailings.

Anonymous said...

the mailer about glenn is accurate. he voted against more funding for police in lehigh county. since he is running for county commissioner, his most recent vote on public safety is relevant. what he did in salisbury may also be accurate, but it doesnt tell us how he behaves on behalf of the county. there is nothing inaccurate about that. He just doesn't like the inconvenient truth that he makes decisions that make lehigh county less safe.

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the Lehigh Valley's and the Keystone State's version of Chicago Style politics, orchestrated by the "Don of Bethlehem".

Bernie, get ready for the Sopranos style threats of libel suits from "The Don". You'll be dealth with for sure for daring to shed the light of day on how this "rising star" of corruption really functions.

Anonymous said...

don has done nothing wrong, legally or ethically. the only people who don't like this are the people who couldn't generate don's support in the past or are now on the receiving end of don now.

sure it deserves attention, so naturally the mcall won't do anything about it, but considering how money flows in pa, this is nothing (b/c it truly is nothing).

and the candidates have nothing to report yet. most of these expenditures, like all 3rd party expenditures, get reported in post election reports.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"don has done nothing wrong, legally or ethically."

Agreed. I believe I make thiws point in the body of my post. The amount of money he is giving to two Comm'r candidates evinces his desire to stack the Comm'n in his favor, but that is his right.

"and the candidates have nothing to report yet. most of these expenditures, like all 3rd party expenditures, get reported in post election reports."

Disagreed. These expenditures are knmown now and were incurred during this reporting period. They were incurred early enough so that the candidates should have known about them. At the very least, the postage for the mailers should have been included. The reports submitted by Kwiatek and McNeill are therefore deceptive.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"the mailer about glenn is accurate. he voted against more funding for police in lehigh county."

The mailer is clearly inaccurate. It stated Glenn is "against more police," and that is simply untrue. he voted to increase Salisbury's force by 40%. He did boter against Cunningham's community policing propsal, and it is right to tag him on that point, but it is wrong to conclude Eckhart is therefore "against more police."

Anonymous said...

So let me get this straight. In a county that is spending millions more that it is taking in, Glenn Eckhart should have supported a ridiculous proposal for county government to fund a municipal responsibility?

What kind of sense does that make? The candidates trying to make that an issue should be ashamed of themselves and are obviously unqualified.

If the municipalities need the police (which is a municipal responsibility), why not let them do it with the money they have or (like the county) don't have.

Anonymous said...

belinski did the same thing in bethlehem for the past two elections. Didn't notice your in depth reporting on that! Why wouldn't Cunningham help these two. Their opponents have blocked everything he has done. What's the surprise here, that he's done what all politicians like belinski have been doing for years..

Anonymous said...

Yankees just bought another pennant. What's wrong with using the money when you have it..Sounds like sour grapes..

Anonymous said...

It stated Glenn is "against more police," and that is simply untrue.

Bernie, it's a reasonable conclusion based on Glenn's vote. This isn't a courtroom: rules of evidence and determination of fact are left to each individual to conclude. That's why we vote. This voter is convinced Glenn is against more police in our communities. Funny thing is that I didn't need a mailer to tell me that, but that is neither here nor there.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"belinski did the same thing in bethlehem for the past two elections"

She did, and I believe she amended her report. I also recall people were screaming bloody murder about it at the time. I probably should have covered it in more detail than I did because it is wrong.

But is moral equivalence a defense? If something is wrong, it is wrong. The fact the Belinski diod it is no excuse or justification for allowing it to continue.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Yankees just bought another pennant. What's wrong with using the money when you have it..Sounds like sour grapes.."

What's wrong is keeping the opublic in the dark. If we know what the Yankees are paying for Axelrod, we should know what Cunningham is paying for McNeill.

Anonymous said...

"The reports submitted by Kwiatek and McNeill are therefore deceptive."

Now, this is where rules of evidence do come into play: in order for them to have been deceptive, there would have to be evidence that they knew the expenses were incurred before the end of the reporting period. Given the nature of running these hyper-local campaigns, it is extremely likely that they did not know the expenses incurred or even the amount. Now, if the state committee sent them an invoice saying "here is how much we spent on your behalf," you have a claim. I doubt that happened, but if you can find me an email, memo or any other evidence to say the candidates knew the amount and the exact date of the mailing, then we will have to see if they file an amendment to their filing or include it on the final report. While it may be clear cut to you, state election cases do not support your assertion. Sorry. More of nothing.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Hillary Kwitaek's F/B meanderings are more than ample evidence that she knew exactly what was going on. She may not have had the big invoice (although it was posted early enough), but definitely should have had the post office expenses. Mail does not go out unless the postage is paid. Unless she is an idiot, she should know that. I know she is no idiot.

Anonymous said...

Bernie What is one the other side of that mailer? Where's the disclaimer?

Anonymous said...

That should be "on" not one

Anonymous said...

Bernie -

I think there is a bigger problem here than just campaign reports. It is one branch of county government trying to buy another branch and candidates who are willing to go along with it.

It may not be illegal, but it isn't right.

There is a reason that INDIVIDUALS run for these offices, and why there are different branches of county government.

Voters should run from ANYONE involved in undermining our form of government.

Bernie O'Hare said...

All the mailers have disclaimers indicating they are paid for by the Pa. Dem. Party.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"I think there is a bigger problem here than just campaign reports. It is one branch of county government trying to buy another branch and candidates who are willing to go along with it."

Rs like Dean Browning are also helping the R candidates. I can see the arguments about independence as well as efficiency. This is what I think - people have a right to know that Cunningham is trying to but Kwiatek's and McNeill's election. They have a right to know when the Rs do it, too, although there is no $700k warchest.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,
You must have spent hours gathering this information. Thank you for your efforts and for helping one voter decide who not to vote for this election.

Anonymous said...

now you are basing arguments on facebook mianderings... all while in another thread about hershman claiming that it might not be fair for nerl's words to be used against you.

typical lawyers

Marc Grammes said...

Bernie:
I believe Tom Creighton's recent mailer in the District One commissioner race had a disclaimer which indicated it was paid for by the State Republican Committee. Granted, the money is not coming from the County Executive, but has anyone checked the other recent financial statements for similar reporting practices?

Anonymous said...

Bernie, I agree that the Postmaster does not extend credit. Over the years, I have watched as every election year someone comes up with a new scheme to avoid explaining how his or her campaign is funded. Not that this tactic is a new one, but that is a lot of money. Seems to me that, at the very least, the mailer should read “Paid for by the PA Dem Party and Authorized by the Candidate.” Then it should have appeared on the candidate’s committee report as an in-kind contribution from the PA Dem Party.

That would be how it would be reported if everyone involved were interested in the public knowing who buys and pays for these candidates.

Anon 9:44: When you said “…then we will have to see if they file an amendment to their filing…” I have watched through the years as “amendments” have become a standard for circumventing Pennsylvania’s pitiful excuse for election laws. All too frequently, a candidate will intentionally neglect to report an expenditure, and only when caught will he or she file an amendment, and all is forgiven. This underhanded behavior requires some obsessively determined person to spend countless hours searching through expense reports in an attempt to see that everyone involved is playing by the rules.

Then that person needs to have a forum to inform the public when someone is cheating.

Thank you, Mr. O’Hare.

I continue to hope that one day a PA court will see the amendment excuse differently. Perhaps -- if there were clear evidence that the individual knew and sanctioned the expenditure during a reporting period but did not bother to report it -- something with a nice time/date stamp – like a facebook entry. I’m betting the PA Dem Party would not care to be accused of being partner to an inaccurate expense report.

Anonymous said...

Bernie-

That is damn fine reporting. Illegal or not, unethical or not, that is one hell of a job of ferreting that out for the voters to chew on before the election. Hopefully MCALL picks up on it.

Again, nice work.

Anonymous said...

A question: Is Jeanne McNeill the husband of Danny McNeill? The same Danny McNeille that was hired by Don Cunningham to be one of his aids, an Intermunicipal Coordinator.
And I thought that Mr Cunningham brags about reducting the size of government.
Mr Cunningham, pray tell, what does Danny McNeill do during his work week. Seems to spend a lot of time in restaurants, Oh yes he is an Intermunicipal Coordinator. When was this job created and who had the job before Danny McNeill.
Oh well just Cunningham politics.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, great post, kudos!

FYI, there is a 'candidate forum' with Cunningham and Ott this Thursday at Brookside Country Club in Macungie, the Chamber is putting it on. Might be interesting.


The Banker

Bernie O'Hare said...

"now you are basing arguments on facebook mianderings... all while in another thread about hershman claiming that it might not be fair for nerl's words to be used against you."

Au contraire. This post is beased on campaign mailings, the Pa Dem committee report, the reports filed by Kwiatek & McNeill, and a public entry by Kwiatek on F/B.

As far as Daryl Nerl's F/B entry is concerned, my only concern is for his privacy, not the substance of what he said. I let the comment stand, even though it was lifted from a private F/B account, and responded to it.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Marc Grammes, I doubt seriously that Tom Creighton has a $70k sugar daddy. Huis report, incidentally, is still unavailable. he claimed he mailed it on Thursday, but it must be coming on one of Sterling Raber's pigs.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"A question: Is Jeanne McNeill the husband of Danny McNeill?"

Yes. I may be mistaken, but do not believe McNeill works for LC at this juncture.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Banker, I doubt I'd be allowed inside brookside Country Club.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"the mailer about glenn is accurate. he voted against more funding for police in lehigh county. since he is running for county commissioner, his most recent vote on public safety is relevant. what he did in salisbury may also be accurate, but it doesnt tell us how he behaves on behalf of the county. there is nothing inaccurate about that. He just doesn't like the inconvenient truth that he makes decisions that make lehigh county less safe."

In addition to increasing the size of the Salisbury police by 40%, Echart voted FOR the regional crime center. He voted FOR the CODY COBRA, which enables police departments to talk to each other. So really, it is unfair to brand him as anti-police, although it was done quite professionally.

Anonymous said...

Bernie,
Speaking of pigs. Now, this is not what you think.
Years ago, we met a very $uccessful PA. hog farmer who told us no one in the Keystone state can just buy hogs to raise.
No one! You have to be "invited" in by a select group of farmers.
Have no idea if this is true or not but if it is true, sounds
like Russia to us. Maybe some one here can tell us if this is so.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I've just been informed that Dan McNeill indeed does work for LC.

Marc Grammes said...

Tom Creighton's second mailer was paid for by the Lehigh Valley Victory PAC. This is DEAN BROWNING,Republican Vice Chair of the Board of Commissioners! Finance reports show $2500 from Dean Browning, $5000 from Charles Browning of Tampa Florida, $5000 from the President of New World Aviation, and $2500 from the Controller of New World Aviation, Dean's employer. The balance is made up from the local Republican peowerbrokers like Bob Lovett, Dexter Baker, Bill Grube, and Attorney/Developer Robert Johnson.
So is Dean Browning trying to buy another vote on the Board? And $5000 coming from a Real estate developer in Florida with the last name of Browning? For a Lehigh county district commissioner's seat? WOW! Do you think Tom Creighton is independent enough to vote against a Dean Browning initiative with that level os support? THAT FRIENDS IS THE QUESTION OF THE DAY!

NLVlogic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NLVlogic said...

Tom Creighton . . . claimed he mailed it on Thursday

Campaign reports were due in the Office on Oct. 23, which was Friday. Today is the 26th.

Does the mail box rule apply? I don't think so. Do we have double candidate gaffs, that would be too funny.

BTW: Rumor is that Creighton's campaign has no money. There are few signs of Creighton out here, literally and figuratively.

Marc Grammes said...

I'm sorry Bernie. The correct name for the PAC is the Lehigh County Victory PAC, not the Lehigh Valley Victory PAC as stated in my previous comment. The information was obtained from the PA DOS website.

Marc Grammes said...

NV...I believe that if you mail it in, it has to be postmarked the previous day, so in that case, Tommy was within the guidelines.
Marc

NLVlogic said...

I believe that if you mail it in, it has to be postmarked the previous day

So now we have to petition the County to put the envelopes online too!

Boy, what troublemakers are us all.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"So is Dean Browning trying to buy another vote on the Board? "

Absolutely. I will post about it when I get Creighton's report.

Anonymous said...

"then we will have to see if they file an amendment to their filing or include it on the final report."

So, she amended it as you stated in your update. Will you now file a correction on your claim that she was "hiding" the contribution. If anything, she is being remarkably proactive in putting this info out as she knows about it.

this is a candidate that gets transparency and I would say proactively did what was necessary to be transparent. she could have sat on it for another week and then amended, but she did the responsible thing and did more.

NLVlogic said...

Creighton's report just hit the County website, and shows a mailing date of Oct 22, 2009. He indeed mailed it on time albeit via delivery by farm animals. Shows no money in his own right, expenditures spent on his behalf by two PACS.

Anonymous said...

Anon 352pm, unless she shows us proof that she started the amendment process prior to Bernie's blog, that she amended today isn't enough to prove anything. In fact, if she started the amendment process after this blog hit and she read or heard about it, then she's guilty of at least mismanagement and bad judgment if not malfeasance.

Short story - neither you nor I know why she amended today. And unfortunately I am sufficiently jaded by all politicians that I don't believe much of what any of them say.

The Banker

Anonymous said...

well banker, go file your complaints with the county elections office. as it stands, she is in good standing. it must be sad to doubt anybody's intent just b/c you are jaded.

Marc Grammes said...

Bernie:
While Dean Browning is definately spending money in the commissioner races, three republican commissioner candidates have reported the in kind contributions from the Browning for Commissioner committee and the Lehigh County Victory PAC in their most recent filings. Browning for Commissioner contributed $2327.50 for a mailer, and Lehigh County Victory PAC (largely Browning-related funding)
paid $1700.75 to three commissioners for postage. All transparent. All first amendment.I am not really a fan of this, but it is transparent and easy for all to see.

Marc said...

Bernie:
Actually Dean and the Victory PAC contributed the same amount to four commissioner candidates, not three:Creighton, Eckhart,Smith and Welsh. Total in kind services amount to a little over $16,000.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Marc, I'm writng a post about the Rs for tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Anon 721, you're right it is sad. And it's a bipartisan feeling, I really don't care if it's a D or R, if their lips are moving I assume they've got an agenda I don't know about.

Let's go with term limits and part-time legislators who have to hold a real job to live and have to earn their medical and retirement benefits in the private sector. Let's have legislators actually live in the world they regulate. Now that would be change I could believe in. What's going on now is just not good.

The Banker

Anonymous said...

Who care that Dan McNeill works for LC? When did it become wrong for two members of the same family to SERVE their community? I think we need more families like The McNeill's in LC.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:03, thats rich! But I like your style.