Voters in Lower Merion may have been confused by a recent mailing by a conservative group describing itself as “Friends of Lower Merion Schools”. It features pictures of Gary Friedlander, Christina Fink and Michael Adler, describing them as “the team democrats can trust.” These candidates are registered Republicans. They filed, ran and prevailed in the Republican primary. In fact, Michael Adler is a Republican Committeeperson in Ward 14-2 and the address given for the seemingly nonpartisan “Friends of Lower Merion Schools” is 90 Cricket Avenue in Ardmore, which is the address of the Republican Committee of Lower Merion and Narberth.
If they were really a team that people in our school district could trust, why are they going to great lengths to disguise their political affiliations.
A similar situation is arising in Lower Merion Ward 7 where Andrew Karasik is trying, again, to unseat incumbent Board President Liz Rogan. In the absence of the sort of Sore-loser law in Pennsylvania as is common in most states, Karasik is still in the running having garnered 98 write-in votes placed on the empty Republican Primary ballot.
Republican voters in Ward 7 recently received a postcard “Authorized by the Republican Committee of Lower Merion and Narberth” (RCLMN) telling GOP voters to vote for Andrew Karasik for Lower Merion Ward 7 Commissioner in the General Election this Tuesday, November 3rd.
So, what’s the issue?
According to state law (PA Code Section 1638, Sub-section a, 2), the postcard’s attribution would be sufficient if sent by a candidate or candidate’s committee, but falls short for any other entity. Required, but missing is a statement that the postcard was authorized by the candidate or candidate’s committee. If it was authorized by the RCLMN, who paid for it?
According to reputable Republican party sources, the RCLMN did not authorize the mailing as that would run afoul of Party guidelines preventing open support in the General Election for a candidate not registered as a Republican. So, who paid for the mailing and who is responsible to meet the legal requirements? Possibilities include Ward 7 Republican committee-persons, Karasik’s campaign, or someone else entirely.
This is not the first time proper attribution has been missing from campaign advertising supporting the Karasik candidacy. Mr. Karasik’s recent loss to incumbent Commissioner Liz Rogan during the bruising Democratic primary battle was funded by-and-large by a single Ward 12 Merion resident, Robert Marmon. According to campaign finance reports filed in Norristown for the primary, Marmon contributed $15,000 of the $16,565 raised by the Friends of Andrew Karasik campaign. Marmon also spent over $33,000 in additional independent expenditures on behalf of Karasik and a challenger to incumbent Democratic Commissioner George Manos. (Disclaimer: Joe Magid, one of the authors of this article, is married to Commissioner Rogan.)
Included in that $33,000 was payment for a billboard on City Avenue that lacked the legally required disclaimer stating who authorized and paid for the billboard. Once made aware of the lapse, Mr. Marmon had the sign revised to add the required language.
Many readers may wonder, why does any of this matter? The reason relates to openness and transparency. At the end of the summer, Karasik sent a letter to Ward Democrats confirming that he is still a Democrat despite the aforementioned postcard sent to Ward 7 Republicans. Now, voters won’t know who paid for that postcard until 30-day post-Election campaign finance reports are filed with Montgomery County.
Issues around openness and transparency, wealthy individuals single-handedly propping up candidates and deteriorating Republican Party discipline, de rigueur in state and national politics, are now apparently seeping into local politics as well. Given the dysfunction afflicting state and national governing bodies, one wonders if similar turmoil will infect the Lower Merion Board of Commissioners should Karasik succeed in his second bite at the apple.
Disclaimer: Dan Loeb is Democratic Committeeperson in Ward 14-2 where he serves alongside Republican Committeeperson Michael Adler.