|Bethlehem Landfill in September|
At a time when pay-to-play has caught the attention of federal authorities in Allentown and Reading, and has even raised eyebrows in Bethlehem, IESI Corporation has quietly dumped $95,600 into the Lower Saucon Township Council race, according to campaign finance reports on file at the Northampton County elections office. Its goal is to remove landfill opponents Priscilla M deLeon and David Willard, who currently sit on Council. It is supporting incumbent Tom Maxfield and challenger Sandra Yerger.
Who is IESI Corporation? It's the owner of the Bethlehem Landfill located in Lower Saucon Township. But how much longer it stays there is unclear. It will reach capacity sometime next year. If the state grants permission to stack garbage on top of 29 acres at its 201-acre site, it can remain operational for another six years. But what then? IESI has purchased 83 acres on the western side of its property, and wants to use 58 acres for garbage. Its problem? Zoning. That would have to change from residential to light industrial, and the current Council is no hurry to grant this wish. In an effort to get a more complaint Council, IESI has inserted itself in the electoral process.
Three Council seats are up this year. Two are held by Priscilla deLeon and Dave Willard, Democrats who have tended to be anti-landfill. The third Council seat is held by Republican Tom Maxfield, who has generally been supportive. If deLeon and Willard can be knocked off by a slate of pro-landfill Council members, IESI would be that much closer to an expansion.
Before the primary election, the landfill contributed a total of $40,000 to a political action committee (PAC) calling itself Responsible Solutions for Pennsylvania. This PAC supported a slate consisting of Maxfield and two other pro-landfill Republicans, Bill Ross and Sandra Yerger. It funded robo calls, live calls, five mail pieces and the creation of a web page. It also paid somewhere around $13,000 to a Philadelphia law firm (Obermayer, Rebmann, Maxwell and Hippel) who took care of filing the pre- and post-primary election reports.
ban on corporate contributions fell by the wayside because the contributions are "independent expenditures."
The Supreme Court's ruling in Citizen's United prevents any restriction on independent political spending. .
When the dust had settled on the primary, two of the three members of this slate had won. Sandra Yerger had 468 votes, and Maxfield garnered 441 votes. But Bill Ross, the third member of this slate only attracted 345 votes and lost out to Republican Donna Louder, who is anti landfill.
IESI spent $31.90 for every vote cast in support of the pro-landfill candidates.
deLeon (487 votes) and Willard (382 votes) captured the Democratic nod, along with Gary Gorman.(323 votes).
Now new campaign flyers are out, directly paid for by the landfill, promoting Yerger and Maxfield pro-landfill team. Campaign finance reports just filed in the elections office indicate that IESI has directly spent $55,100 for polling, research, canvassing door-to-door, and the purchase. It is using Mercury LLC, which bills itself as a "high-stakes public strategy firm" with "extensive must-win campaign experience."
As of the second Friday before election day, IESI has spent $95,600 in what increasingly appears to be an effort to buy an election. Whateverit spends between now and election day mist be reported in what are called 24-hour reports.
deLeon, Willard and Louder have formed their own bipartisan anti-landfill team. "We've spent hundreds," laughed deLeon. Their finance reports pale in comparison, and most of their small sums come from family and friends Whether this trio can win against vast amounts of corporate money remains to be seen in what appears to be a David v.Goliath race
deleon and Willard decided against teaming up with Democrat Gorman because his wife Cathy is the Township's Finance Director.