Editor's Note: This story has been updated. A previous version of this article stated that the Cumberland County Republican Committee was not charged rent for it's previous office space on Stover Drive. A closer review of the committee's campaign finance reports shows intermittent rent payments of varying values for the Stover Drive location going back to at least 2000, at a lower and less frequent cost than currently. Payments for current the Millennium Way property appear in late 2014, according to those records, not 2015 as previously stated. A previous version also gave the committee's fundraising total for 2017-18 as $55,953. It was $50 higher, $56,003. The Sentinel regrets the errors.
The chair of the Cumberland County Republican Committee, state Rep. Greg Rothman, is coming under fire from within his own party in a schism that could have wide-ranging implications going into the 2020 election.
Local GOP leaders have cited concern about Rothman’s conduct and the potential fallout from it, particularly Rothman’s use of county campaign funds to have the committee rent a headquarters office in a building that he partially owns.
Rothman, who was recently named chair of the state House Republican Campaign Committee, has also come under scrutiny for focusing the county committee’s 2019 election efforts almost exclusively on Silver Spring Township’s municipal races, where Rothman has business interests.
The contention comes at a time when the county GOP is trying to stem its loss of electoral ground in preparation for 2020, where Cumberland County is expected to be a battleground of national importance.
As of this writing, it is possible that the GOP has lost its outright majority of registered voters in the county for the first time in decades. Numbers from the Pennsylvania Department of State, as of Monday, show 86,601 registered Republicans out of a total of 173,018 registered voters in the county — a margin of 184 voters before the GOP loses party-line dominance.
Concerns about Rothman’s ability to maintain the party’s base date to 2014, when the Cumberland County Republican Committee’s campaign finance filings began showing $1,000 monthly payments to Millennium Real Estate Partners LLC.
Rothman’s financial interest disclosures, on file with the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission, indicate that he holds a 50 percent stake in Millennium Real Estate LLC.
The address listed for the LLC on all of the documents is the same as RSR Realtors, Rothman’s real estate company. An RSR leasing sign, with Rothman’s name and phone number on it, sits outside the LLC’s property at 2250 Millennium Way in Hampden Township, where the committee’s headquarters is located.
Prior to the fall of 2014, the committee’s headquarters was listed as 8 Stover Drive in Middlesex Township, a space within the Tuckey Cos.’ complex that the committee appears to have occupied at a lower cost, according to it's campaign finance history.
“I would say there is concern,” Bruce McLanahan, the deputy chair of the committee, said when asked about Rothman’s decision to move the committee headquarters.
“I was appointed deputy chair of the Cumberland County GOP in the fall of 2017,” McLanahan said. “It wasn’t until recently that I was made aware that there were substantial rent payments being made to an LLC that is owned by the chairman.”
Several other people closely involved in midstate Republican politics confirmed concern over the situation, particularly given that office space does not appear to be widely used.
Rothman did not responded to multiple phone calls and text messages from The Sentinel this week as of this edition.
The GOP committee’s website describes the location as a “headquarters and victory center” that “has no routine scheduled office hours.” The headquarters office is almost entirely unmarked. The sign for the Millennium Way office park does not include any committee signage; signs inside the lobby of the building point visitors to other medical and professional offices but indicate nothing about the existence of the county Republican headquarters.
The only sign identifying the committee is on a door located off of a maintenance access stairway, with a “vote Republican” sign taped to a second interior entrance off a separate office suite.
The space itself is slightly over 400 square feet covered with aging green carpet. Folding tables are the only furniture in the space, and the room is littered with old campaign flyers, posters and yard signs.
Campaign committees often lease offices, and it’s not necessarily uncommon for them to rent space from someone involved in the campaign. But the limited utility of the space, and its relatively high rental cost, raises questions, GOP insiders said.
In 2017 and 2018 combined, the county GOP committee raised $56,003, according to its campaign finance filings. Almost half of that, $25,000 was used to pay rent to Millennium Real Estate during the two-year period (it is unclear if a month of back payment from the previous year was included, or if Rothman mistakenly paid himself for an extra month).
A decade earlier, in 2007, the committee brought in $76,895 in a single year, and showed 11 rent payments of $900. In 2010, the committee was only charged for two months of rent.
“There have been a good number of people who have expressed concerns about the fact that the party has no money whatsoever to support and promote its ticket of countywide candidates,” said county commissioner Gary Eichelberger, who is seeking re-election as a Republican this year.
Eichelberger said he hopes Rothman will soon step down from his chairmanship.
“He’s not totally oblivious to the fact that there are a great number of people who are concerned about the lack of leadership within the Cumberland County Republican Committee right now,” Eichelberger said.
Eichelberger and others cited the inability of the committee, under Rothman, to prevent the atrophy of the GOP’s registration advantage while simultaneously putting a great deal of time and money into electoral contests that promise little in the way of strategic return. This year, under Rothman’s guidance, the committee has spent significantly on local races in Silver Spring Township, while ignoring races considered to be of larger importance to the GOP.
The committee has financed at least three Silver Spring Township-wide mailers so far this primary season to support township supervisor candidates Bob Walker and Sam Herbert, as well as Jessica Silcox and Jevon Ford, the committee’s endorsed candidates for Silver Spring Township’s seats on the Cumberland Valley School Board.
Although other higher-profile GOP endorsees — such as the county commissioners, district attorney and superior court judges — are listed on the backs of the mailers in small print, the majority of the space is devoted to the Silver Spring Township races.
The committee has also exclusively financed yard signs for the two sets of candidates, including the dozens of large plywood billboards for the Walker-Herbert ticket that line the Carlisle Pike.
Silcox and Ford are the only two candidates running, Republican or Democratic, for the two CV school board seats, and both candidates are cross-filed.
The Silver Spring Township supervisors’ race is a four-way primary for two seats, but both are guaranteed for the GOP in November given that no Democrats are running. In that race, the committee has endorsed Walker and Herbert over two long-time township Republican officials, incumbent supervisor Nancy Konhaus Griffie and township agricultural preservation board chair Laura Brown.
Konhaus Griffie told The Sentinel that she was not privy to any endorsement process for the Silver Spring supervisors. It was only after signs for the Walker-Herbert ticket began appearing that she said she became aware that the Rothman-led committee was backing a primary challenge against her, Konhaus Griffie said. The county committee has never made endorsements before in Silver Spring municipal races.
On Thursday, all four of the committee-supported candidates in Silver Spring Township submitted 24-hour campaign finance reports, which are required for contributions over $500, received after the final regular reporting deadline on May 10, according to the county’s election bureau. This includes in-kind contributions such as a candidate’s inclusion on signs and mailers.
Both school board candidates reported a value of $1,712.03 received from the county GOP committee, and both supervisors candidates reported $5,878.01 each, for a total of just over $15,000 spent by the committee on the Silver Spring municipal contests.
“There have been contributors who have stated to Greg that they will not contribute any more as long as the party is using its resources to sabotage other Republicans,” Eichelberger said, something that he says has been happening even before recent contention over the Silver Spring races.
Although Eichelberger and his fellow GOP incumbent in the commissioners’ race, Vince DiFilippo, are unopposed in the primary, others are not.
This includes a primary race for the statewide Superior Court, in which one of the Republican-endorsed candidates, Christylee Peck, is a Cumberland County judge. The GOP-preferred candidate for county District Attorney, Skip Ebert, faces a primary challenge from Jaime Keating, the former first assistant to Dave Freed, Ebert’s predecessor.
The committee’s May 10 campaign filing does not indicate any direct fundraising for Peck or Ebert. Ebert also filed a 24-hour report on Wednesday showing a value of $539.04 received from the committee.
Walker, a land use attorney and current CV school board member, represented the developer of a housing subdivision that was drawn into question last year with the school district’s attempted use of eminent domain over the historic McCormick Farm. Condemning and re-zoning the agricultural preserve, which Walker supported, would have made it easier for an access road to be built across the farmland to service the subdivision, something that Silver Spring Township said would be necessary for the housing development to be built out to its full extent.
RSR was the listing agent for the farm, whose owners had been looking to sell, albeit with a farmland preservation easement in place. Had the school board followed through on condemning the property, those development restrictions would have been voided.
Rothman’s financial and strategic indiscretions have further stressed an already challenging landscape for the GOP in Pennsylvania.
“I have heard nothing but grumbling and grousing about Greg Rothman,” said Charlie Gerow, a Republican strategist and a Cumberland County delegate to the state GOP committee.
Since the 2016 election, the GOP in Cumberland County has netted 1,279 registered voters, versus 2,557 additional Democrats and 2,217 new independent or third-party voters. But the county committee’s campaign finance filings show no expenditures for registration drives or community events that might be expected from a party facing numerical headwinds.
Rothman was also recently appointed to lead the state House Republican Campaign Committee, making him the face of fundraising for the Pennsylvania GOP’s fight to keep its legislative majority statewide in 2020.
At the same time, the county Republican committee will be expected to lead the ground game in Cumberland County for the re-election of U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, who beat his Democratic challenger by 2.5 points in 2018 after redistricting, spurred by the state Supreme Court’s gerrymandering decision, put Perry in a much more closely divided district than before.
Much of the pressure Perry is facing is attributable to the leftward shift in some of Cumberland County’s West Shore suburbs. Camp Hill, a traditionally Republican suburb that Rothman represents in the statehouse, turned against the GOP last year. Perry won Camp Hill’s precincts by 15 points in 2016 but lost the borough by 11 points in 2018.
That race might not get any easier in 2020, particularly with the likelihood that Democrats will concentrate on the race earlier in the election cycle than they did two years ago.
“I think there’s a lot of concern because the local party is going to be asked to defend Scott Perry’s congressional seat,” Gerow said. “That’s going to require incredibly much more organization, finance and esprit-de-corps than currently exists.”
albeit at a lower and less frequent cost than currently.