House Incumbents Spending Taxpayer $$’s To Fend Off Primary Challengers?

Filed in Delaware by on August 13, 2014

It sure looks that way. Both Valerie Longhurst and Dennis E. Williams have sent out official House correspondence to their districts that are little more than taxpayer-funded campaign pieces. There may well be others who have done the same.

The supposed deniability comes in that these are allegedly legislative updates to constituents. They are sent on their personal House letterhead, in House envelopes, and likely through state mail. And they are prepared in-house by state employees on state time. They tout the alleged accomplishments of the legislators, and, as campaign pieces are prone to do, try to mislead voters on issues where the incumbents are vulnerable. Oh, and so far, they’ve only been sent out by incumbent House members facing primaries.

When I worked in the Senate, we were forbidden from doing this. During the brief time that I worked for the House, then-Speaker Terry Spence allowed us to send such mailings. Of course, it’s likely not coincidence that this policy was set during the election season that the Rethugs were desperately trying to hold onto their majority, and if they did it, he had to let us do it. Truth be told, most of July and August were spent on preparing and sending these mailings.

Only one person can authorize such mailings: The Speaker of the House. It’s likely legal, as the General Assembly routinely exempts itself from laws that apply to everyone else. In fact, apparently it’s technically legal to send out these sorts of mailings up to 35 days prior to an election. But I submit that it’s a wasteful misuse of taxpayer funds.

Isn’t it enough that incumbents can generally out-raise their opponents using legal means? Why should taxpayers have their money wasted in ensuring that vulnerable incumbents like Valerie Longhurst and Dennis Williams are propped up? The answer is that they shouldn’t.

I’ve seen both of the pieces. Please allow me to point out some of the rhetorical bullshit that You the Taxpayers have funded. From Val Longhurst:

“Our roads took a serious beating during this harsh winter. Repairing roads in our community is a top priority.  With a number of repaving projects planned for 2014, I am constantly trying to allocate limited resources to the the areas of greatest need.”

Nowhere in the letter does Longhurst mention that the resources are limited due in part to her loud public refusal (as the House Majority Leader)  to even consider a gas tax increase. Fortunately for Longhurst, however, whatever limited resources the state has to work with does not infringe on her ability to send out campaign material at the state’s expense.

My favorite misrepresentation in Longhurst’s piece is this one:

I was proud to support the following bills:

Minimum Wage Increase (SB 6): Gives minimum wage workers a much-needed and much deserved increase  by boosting the minimum wage from $7.25/hour to $8.25/hour…

Not only did Valerie Longhurst do nothing to push for a minimum wage increase, she buried the bill in her own House Administration Committee until she and Governor Markell were able to weaken, emasculate actually, the bill. Yes, she voted yes, along with virtually everybody else, once the bill was emasculated, but a much stronger bill would easily have passed the General Assembly if not for Longhurst’s running of interference for Gov. Markell. Valerie Longhurst cost minimum wage workers the increase they really deserved. That’s the truth, and it’s been chronicled on Delaware Liberal. What Longhurst wrote in her letter is (a) dishonest, (b) deceptive, and (c) paid for by the taxpayers. Does that seem right to you?

Rep. Dennis E. Williams took it a step further. Not only did he send out a letter on his House stationery in his House envelopes touting his alleged legislative achievements, he also sent a glossy palm card adorned with his campaign logo (twice) in the same envelope. You know, one of those ‘Useful Phone Number‘ lists. “Not Printed At Taxpayers Expense”, the disclaimer disclaims. And it’s correct. It was only mailed and prepared at taxpayer expense.

BTW, both Williams and Longhurst claim credit for ‘campaign finance reform’. Here’s how Williams described this accomplishment:

*Campaign Finance Reform-Overhaul the Department of Elections, election law and campaign finance, and strengthening the state Public Integrity Commission.

You see, because nothing defines public integrity quite like enabling legislators to send out ‘non-political’ political mailings on the public’s dime. I told you that this supposed campaign reform package was BS, this is the inevitable first example of it. Taking credit for reform while leaving the taxpayers to pick up the tab for touting this phony reform.

Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, Valerie Longhurst, and Dennis E. Williams have abused their oaths of office by using taxpayer money to fund their (caucus’) reelection efforts. While there may be others (Reps. Barbieri, Kim Williams, Miro, Peterman, and Blakey face primary challenges, although Kim Williams has already made clear that she did not send such a mailing), they would only add to the stench of your tax dollars going up in smoke to protect the careers of middling politicians. If you’ve received a mailing from any of these legislators, send me a copy ASAP. I’ll be happy to give them Dishonorable Mention. They’ve earned it.

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  1. Oops, forgot to mention. Longhurst and D. Williams voted for Schwartzkopf for Speaker, with Williams’ last-minute decision sealing the deal for Pete. Which is an important subtext to this entire election.

  2. HoHum says:

    I know for fact that Kim Williams has not and will not send such a letter. In a conversation with her, she said she feels it would not be right to send a piece out on Legislative letterhead to tout her accomplishments (of which there were many) at taxpayers expense. Her moral compass is definitely pointed in the right direction.

    As for Longhurst and Dennis E, I would expect no less. Their sense of entitlement knows no boundary. Longhurst is sitting on a nice chunk of change in her campaign account. She could well afford to pay her own way. Oh, but wait, she would have to do the work. It seems to me that a County Exec was indicted for using government employees on government time not so long ago for political campaigns. Can we see some of that in this situation?

  3. While the practice appears, against any notion of common sense, to be legal, it’s a blatant misuse of state money and resources.

    Wonder if we’ll hear anything from the people involved…or their constituents.

    I hope so.

  4. Jason330 says:

    Cathcart used to send out his “newsletter” just in time to remind everyone that an election was coming up. I think he paid for it though.

  5. Many senators do this as well. The difference, and it’s a big one, is that the campaigns pay for them and they are not sent out on official letterhead. They are clearly campaign lit pieces and labeled as such. That’s the difference and the issue. We’re all paying to help reelect Val Longhurst and Dennis Williams. That’s just wrong.

  6. cassandra_m says:

    Has anyone asked the DOE to look into this?

  7. So how much taxpayer money does this end up costing? Not that an amount makes a difference, but are we talking thousands of dollars, a few hundred?

  8. “We’re all paying to help reelect Val Longhurst and Dennis Williams” ………….to ensure Pete Schwartzkopf has the votes’ he’s counted that will reelect him as Speaker. I believe Jason Hortiz has made such a promise too even though Pete denied he asked for it.

    http://www.delawaregrapevine.com/8-14dewilliams.asp

    Celia Cohen has written about the Williams piece and, while Dennis refused to comment, Pete jumped in as surrogate and revealed his hand –

    Under the circumstances, the last thing Williams needed was a self-inflicted wound.
    Matthews, the primary opponent, was the first to flag the mailing. His campaign manager contacted Elaine Manlove, the election commissioner, last week to ask her to look into it. The Republicans quickly followed with a request of their own.
    “We just don’t think that is a representation of good government. This is not going to win or lose an election, but I wouldn’t do it,” Matthews said.
    As of Tuesday, the election commissioner’s office had not issued a ruling.
    Williams himself was incommunicado. He said by e-mail he would be available Tuesday afternoon to discuss the mailing, but he decided later he would rather not.
    Pete Schwartzkopf, the Democratic speaker, stepped up to defend Williams.
    “I just don’t think it’s much of anything,” Schwartzkopf said.
    Under House rules, the members generally are allowed to send mass mailings prepared by the staff into their districts, although they have to reimburse the state for it, Schwartzkopf said.
    Schwartzkopf did not know the size or the cost of Williams’ mailing, but he did clear up the mystery about why not everyone got the contact card. There were only 200 copies available to distribute, so some people got them and some did not, although how it was determined he could not say.
    Nor did Schwartzkopf consider the contact card to be political in nature.
    Well, it sure is now.

  9. AQC says:

    Mike Barbieri will be sending one out on his campaign letterhead at his campaign’s expense.

  10. While it would be hard to get a cost, here are the elements involved:

    Caucus employees preparing these pieces on state time. Perhaps that’s why the House D’s have not one, but TWO, former press guys working for them. That doesn’t even include the time taken for folding, stuffing and sealing. Do they bring in per diems to do this?

    Letterhead & envelopes.

    Postage and/or, if the mailing goes through the state mailroom, the time spent by that staff to prepare campaign lit for mailing.

    Keep in mind that not only does this represent a cost to the state, it represents SAVINGS to the respective campaigns of the incumbents.

    BTW, not surprised that Kim Williams and Mike Barbieri don’t do this. (A) They have consciences; and (B) don’t think they supported Schwartzkopf.

  11. Mike says:

    Oh my god we must have run out of things to bitch about.

  12. DAE says:

    Where did you get that the minimum wage bill lay in House Administration? Just checking the bill on delaware legs shows that SB 6 was NEVER assigned to that committee. It was introduced in the House and assigned to the Economic Development committee.

  13. Oops, you’re right. Leadership assigned the bill to Econ. Development, where it languished until the bill was emasculated.

    The bill was originally assigned to the Senate Labor Committee. Once it passed the Senate, the logical assignment would have been to the House Labor Committee, where it would have moved straight to the floor. Instead, Schwartzkopf and Longhurst sent it to a less amenable committee, where it sat until public pressure forced them to act. Remember the mea culpas from Andria Bennett and Bryon Short?

    As to the emasculation of the bill, try this on for size:

    The amount of the increase was reduced.

    The automatic cost-of-living increase was removed.

    The effective date was pushed back a year.

    For Longhurst to now claim that she fought for this bill is nonsense. She worked against it, using her leadership position to do so, until public pressure proved too intense. Oh, and even then, leadership made sure that the committee chair not follow through on his intent to restore the automatic COLA increase.

  14. Jason330 says:

    @nancy

    I guess the speakership is really fucking valuable (important?) to Pete Schwartzkopf because he seems to filter every goddam thing through his vote tally.

  15. BTW, the bill passed the Senate and was assigned to House committee on March 28, 2013.

    It was not released from committee until Jan. 28, 2014. You will recall that the $10.10 movement was taking hold nationally, but, thanks to the Governor, the Chamber, and their Democratic legislative enablers, not in Delaware.

    This is one of the more overlooked leadership powers–the ability to derail or slow down legislation via committee assignment. The House leaders did the same thing by assigning the death penalty repeal bill to an unfavorable committee.

  16. DAE says:

    I was merely trying to point out that you posted false information. It’s a simple task to go onto the website and double check the accuracy of your statements before they are published. I never defended her actions (nor did I condemn them).

  17. No, you’re right. I sometimes depend on my memory more than a 63-year-old should.

    Especially since I previously wrote about how the bill got slow-walked:

    http://www.delawareliberal.net/2013/12/06/delaware-house-of-representatives-to-consider-minimum-wage-in-2014/

    http://www.delawareliberal.net/2013/05/14/general-assembly-post-game-wrap-uppre-game-show-tues-may-14-2013/

    I confused it with the other bills that got buried in the House Administration Committee. The hazards of being both the writer and the editor. Point taken.

  18. JRem513 says:

    El Som- quick point of clarification, please. In the letters or on the frequent number cards, are the words “vote for me” or “support me” or “consider me” anywhere in the mailing? How about any mention of the primary or general election- are the dates, times, or polling locations mentioned or listed whatsoever? Based on the grapevine coverage, your post, and various other FB posts I’ve come across regarding this mailing, the answer to all of the above is no. So it seems that all of this manufactured drama is in response to elected officials taking the time to update their constituents on what was accomplished during this legislative session and information about road projects currently underway or about to begin in their communities? I’m honestly failing to see the harm there. I personally appreciate any elected official who takes the time to keep me informed of what I might have missed while I was working, raising my children, and living my life that often makes it difficult to stay on top of these things. The only thing that I’ve read which made me take pause was Dennis Williams listing his website and alternate email address on his frequent number cards- and even that seems thin when you ponder it for a minute. Wow- you mean he provided multiple ways to contact him- somebody lock him up and throw away the key! Sure- is the timing somewhat unfortunate? Perhaps, however if my legislator is planning to take the time to give me a legislative update, I can see where they’d probably want to do so AFTER recessing, as you’ve (El Som) frequently maintained that legislation is shepherded through the process in those final days of June. As such, I would imagine waiting until after the legislation in it’s final form (amended and/or substituted) and has passed both chambers before sharing that info with your constituents is certainly reasonable, as well as less confusing to the average resident who may be confused about what the status of a bill may be at any given point throughout the process prior to it’s passage.

    Dennis Willliams reminds me of that socially awkward, gangly boy everyone knew in high school. He’s a little odd, doesn’t really fit in with any clique, and never seems to have a lot of friends. But we aren’t in high school anymore- and I have to say this seems more like an attempt to take an easy shot at a rep who isn’t known for his fiery comebacks (see John Kowalko for easy comparison). I appreciated the dog bill he sponsored this year, as well as his bill that would have increased reporting for campaign finance reports. That bill failed to go anywhere and if memory serves received minimal coverage on this site- however is arguably one of the better reform measures I recall reading about this session.

    And final point- Dennis Williams has taken the unpopular position in opposition to the casinos. I would imagine that’s not helped him make friends, especially considering two of the largest lobbying firms in the state represent that industry. Even though it would be easier just to fall in line like so many of his colleagues, it doesn’t appear that he’s willing to do so. Can anyone here tell me where Sean Matthews is on this issue? What will we find when his campaign finance report is made available? If he is flush with money from the gambling industry, will any of you ask him what that means if he’s elected to office?

  19. cassandra_m says:

    Sean Matthews’s campaign finance report is already up on the web NOW and it is pretty laughable to claim that he is flush with gambling industry money.

  20. JRem: Oh, please. ‘…tak(ing) the time to keep me informed of what I might have missed while I was working, raising my children, and living my life that often makes it difficult to stay on top of these things’. Really? And the ONLY legislators currently taking the time to ‘inform’ are those in competitive primaries? Must be coincidence. Except it’s not. It’s a taxpayer-funded attempt to help reelect these guys.

    Now, go back and read my post. Do you see the names ‘Sean Matthews’ or ‘James Burton’ anywhere in the post? No you do not. (BTW, why don’t you go back two years and read what I wrote about the first match-up, because I’m hardly in the bag for Matthews.) Because, to me, the issue is the misuse of taxpayer dollars for political purposes. I mean, let’s not be disingenuous here. They obviously weren’t going to put ‘vote for me’ on those pieces because that would be a clear violation of election law. I never raised the issue of legality. My point, which is hardly obtuse, is that we as taxpayers should not pay for these thinly-veiled political mailings. There’s a reason why senators can’t do it. The House should follow their lead. Oh, and reimburse the taxpayers.

  21. Earl Jaques says:

    Just for the record, I also produce an end of session newsletter to my constituents. It’s printed and mailed by Print-N-Press, located in Newport and paid by me with non-taxpayer funds. I use the letter to keep my constituents abreast of significant legislation passed this session including any that I was the prime sponsor. I also include a list of projects that was completed this year in the district. Finally, I also include important contact information for various state agencies and non-profit organizations. Comments from my constituents indicate that this is a service that they very much appreciate!

  22. Which is the way it should be.

  23. John Kowalko says:

    I too send out an informative “legislative update” with issues and policies I sponsored along with issue and policies of importance to my constituents and all Delawareans that we passed or should support. I send out important contact info for all people including a detailed guideline to ensure that seniors (who often do not dialogue by email but are most appreciative of “hard-mail” pieces) are aware of the senior state property tax deduction and detailed instructions in how to apply amongst other important programs that affect and are available to everyone. I also detail projects in the district and issues of importance to the district and state along with pictures of graduating students, couples who have had to good fortune to reach a milestone wedding anniversary and (my favorite this past year) Kitty Reynolds celebrating her 105th birthday with a Bing’s cake that I brought her. It is detailed, informative and (some say) entertaining. It is created by me with help from BGI Solutions, who also do the printing and provide for the mailing to all households, regardless of political persuasion in my 25th District and is payed for out of my campaign funds to the tune of almost $5000. It is the most useful piece of constituent information and dialogue that reaches all of the residents in my district. It keeps them up to date and they love it and respond, often by hard mail, to the questionnaire and suggestion piece at the end in numbers that regularly top 300 to 400. There is not one dollar of taxpayer money spent on it. The edict imposed by the prior Speaker of the House Bob Gilligan was that under no circumstances was there to be a mass mailing of a legislative update (especially for political recognition) at taxpayer expense and even in the selective mailings that he permitted there would never be an integration of campaign funded printings accompanying a taxpayer funded printed stationary in a taxpayer funded envelope with taxpayer funded postage.

    John Kowalko

  24. Doesn’t look like the current speaker adheres to the same rules. That was legislative letterhead, legislative envelopes, no ‘not paid for by the taxpayer’ disclaimer.

    Which is the issue. Taxpayers shouldn’t pay for this stuff, and the fact that the ones being sent out from the House are on behalf of those facing primaries in a couple of weeks is, in my opinion, unethical and a waste of taxpayers money.

    Oh, and there is no ‘suggestion’ element on the pieces sent out by Longhurst and Williams. So, they don’t offer the chance for feedback to their constituents.

    BTW, any feedback from Williams, Longhurst or Schwartzkopf yet?

  25. fjones57 says:

    Dennis E. Williams is a loser. Most people in his district have no idea who he is. Total joke.