Posted: Nov. 1, 2007
POLITICAL TRICK OR TREAT
By Celia Cohen
The Republicans took trick-or-treat into the special legislative election this Halloween season.
They parlayed a loophole in the campaign finance law into a masquerade that hides a full view of the money their side is taking in and spending for the election Saturday to replace state Sen. James T. Vaughn Sr., a Clayton Democrat who died last month.
The campaigns for Democrat Bruce C. Ennis, a state representative from Smyrna, and Republican Joanne M. Christian, the Appoquinimink school board president from Townsend, filed their financial reports earlier this week for their race in the 14th Senatorial District, which straddles the New Castle County and Kent County line.
The reports appear to show Ennis with a solid advantage. He collected about $43,000 and had close to $17,000 left, while Christian raised about $27,000, including a $5,000 loan from the candidate herself, and spent all but $11,000 of it. The actual financial situation could be quite different, however.
“Friends of Joanne Christian” is not the only organization in this race with good things to say about her and rotten things to say about Ennis.
At least three fliers have come from a political action committee calling itself “DCCC,” and the anti-Ennis tone of the pieces makes clear that it is not the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee absent-mindedly straying into local politics where it does not belong.
It is the “Delaware Coordinated Campaign Committee,” its start-up paperwork filed last month with the state elections commissioner by David M. Burris, who recently resigned as the Sussex County Republican chair and functions as a campaign adviser to Christian.
Under state law, PACs do not have to file financial reports in advance of special elections the way candidates do. It means that the names of people contributing to the DCCC, how much they are contributing and how much the DCCC is spending do not have to be made public until the next regularly-scheduled reporting date at the end of the year.
Whatever is happening with the DCCC is staying with the DCCC.
“On Sunday I’ll tell you anything you want to know,” quipped state Sen. Charles L. Copeland, the Republican minority leader who is orchestrating much of the race. He added, “It’s a legitimate PAC. I’m not involved in it.”
Burris did not respond to a telephone message inquiring about the DCCC.
The campaign finance law is supposed to open a window on campaign financing, not pull a curtain. The mysterious working of the DCCC, legal as it is, is enough to raise the possibility that the law ought to be changed, so PACs disclose their involvement in special elections in a timely manner.
“It’s probably something we should take a look at,” said Elaine Manlove, the state elections commissioner. “If there’s a special election like this, then the accountability doesn’t come until the election is over.”
Funny thing about the DCCC. In one of its fliers it came out for “open government,” which it insisted Christian would support but Ennis would not. It seems odd for the DCCC to want to get to “open government” through secret campaign spending.