Friends of Cecil County Charter, an organized political group supporting the ballot effort to alter the form of local government recently launched a billboard campaign urging voters to support the initiative. As a result Someone Noticed started receiving posts saying highway signs displaying the official county seal were financed by public funds. Rather than permit those unverified remarks to appear on the weblog Someone Noticed has been working to verify the reports. Now that we’ve finished that initial task and since rumors about this are widespread we’re posting our news story.
We began looking into things by speaking with Craig Whiteford, the county budget director. Once Craig heard the query, he said he was sure public funds weren’t used for the campaign, but he’d check into it to verify his information. Within minutes, the finance officer called back to say they’d had other calls about this so he didn’t have much work to do as the administration already checked on the matter. The county hadn’t paid for the pro-charter advertising drive.
Someone Noticed next spoke with Joyce Bowlsbey, a representative of the group playing an active role in county politics as voters get ready to head to the polls in November. A large part of the revenue came about because the County Department of Economic Development arranged for the nonprofit registered with the Maryland Board of Elections as an issues committee to conduct a tour for BRAC workers considering the area as a place to relocate, we were informed.
As the deadline for the New Jersey workers to finish the transition neared, there was a need to accommodate two tours at once at the end of August. Economic Development didn’t have the resources to accommodate both groups, the spokesperson for Economic Development advised. Army regulations require local governments or nonprofits to host tours as a builder or real estate firm isn’t allowed to directly sponsor the hosted marketing effort. The spokesperson continued saying, that the Friends of Charter was willing to do the tour as they were available on a short notice. Plus, they were acquainted with the county and thus able to facilitate a guided trip around the area as Economic Development sought to influence the relocation decision of the North Jersey residents.
The first financial report due at the Board of Elections for registered issues committees is October 8th, so the state doesn’t have any data yet. However, the committee provided a summary of its receipts and expenditures through Sept. 27. The “See Cecil Bus Trip” generated $8,900 in cash receipts and had expenses of $940 for the bus rental as well as $1,172.81 for the luncheon. The profit on this, the major Friends’ fundraiser, was $6,787.19.
Billboards average around $2,200, depending on location, so the group had other sources of revenue. After expenses the Scheneckenberger fundraiser generated $720, a trunk raffle $180 and individual donations $1,570. This report also shows in-kind donations for advertising of $2,110 and $1,200 for billboard. The summary report is attached as the first filing from the Friends of Cecil County Charter is due on Oct 8, 2010, we were informed by the State Elections Board.
But back to the question of who is bankrolling this advertising campaign. There was no direct outlay of cash from the county. The largest source of cash receipts ($8,900 out of total cash receipts of $11,930) came from revenue generated by conducting one of two bus tours the Department of Economic development hosted. After expenses the group seeking to sway citizens on one of the most important political questions they will consider, how Cecil County will be governed, had profits of $6,787 to aid in influencing the outcome of the ballot question.