Posted: March 13, 2014


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Valerie Longhurst, the House Democratic majority leader, nearly did herself in.

Longhurst was the prime sponsor of a new law to turn up the pressure on candidates to get them to file their campaign finance reports on time, like $50-a-day fines if they did not file.

So guess whose report was not in?

There was a simple reason for it. State election officials are implementing a new e-filing system, and it kicked out a slew of reports that had technical glitches, Longhurst's among them.

Not only is Longhurst the personification of the new filing law, but also the personification of the new filing system. The political gods always did have an interesting sense of humor.

"I wrote the bill on the fines!" Longhurst said.

Longhurst finally did get her campaign finance report filed, about two weeks late. It showed a robust $35,000 in her account to defend against a Democratic primary opponent and a Republican candidate also running in the Bear-Delaware City district she has represented for 10 years.

Election officials are aware of the complications of the new e-filing system. They are so aware that the filing deadline for the 2013 campaign finance reports was extended from Jan. 20 to Feb. 20.

Still, they also have to enforce the new filing law, which was enacted in 2012. It orders non-filers to be fined $50 a day and to be reported to the attorney general after 30 days. Failure to file is a misdemeanor, punishable by as much as a year in prison and a $2,300 fine.

Elaine Manlove, the election commissioner, said candidates who are working with her office to get their reports in are not being fined, but there are about 80 campaigns that are accumulating fines.

Some campaigns appear to be defunct -- Citizens for Korn, anyone? -- but a lot of them are active.

Like the campaigns of three legislators who voted "yes" to impose the $50-a-day fine, namely Stephanie Bolden and Larry Mitchell, both Democratic representatives, and Gerald Hocker, a Republican senator, as well as Andria Bennett, a Democratic representative who was not elected until after the law was adopted.

Hocker could not be contacted for an explanation, but the rest offered one.

Bennett says she is struggling with the new system and expects to sit down shortly with election officials in their office so they can help her file.

Mitchell says his treasurer moved away without filing the report or letting Mitchell know it was not filed, but the treasurer promised to get it in.

"I'm just going to pay what I have to pay," Mitchell said.

Bolden pleaded a burst pipe in her townhouse.

"I'm very organized. I have everything in files. I can't find anything. It's wet!" Boulden said.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night are supposed to keep campaign finance reports from being filed, but a burst pipe sounds like a pretty good excuse.

# # #

A lot of polarizing legislation -- taxes, gay marriage, background checks for private gun sales and so on -- has gone through the Delaware General Assembly, just about always on a party line vote.

It stands out whenever somebody breaks ranks. The latest to do so was Steve Smyk, a first-term Republican representative from Sussex County.

Smyk was the only Republican to vote "yes" when the House of Representatives passed a bill increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.25 an hour and sent it on to the governor, who signed it into law.

Smyk says he polled more than 50 businesses in and around his district, and 90 percent of them said they did not care if the minimum wage went up.

"Really, a dollar. Is it going to make a big difference?" Smyk said.

So there it is, Smyk resorting to the oldest line in politics. My constituents made me do it!