York County was awarded a new seat in the state House following the last census and redistricting adjustment. Its brand new representative will be sworn-in in January following the November election.
But the pristine seat is already being sullied with claims of an illegal smear campaign and political dirty tricks.
Welcome to Pennsylvania politics, Marc Woerner, a township supervisor in West Manheim Township and one of four Republican candidates who ran for the new 169th district in the May 20 primary.
Just days before the election, four negative campaign mailers targeting Woerner flooded Republican mailboxes. One of the mailings compared Woerner, a proud conservative endorsed by the very conservative Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, to President Barack Obama. Another superimposed Woerner’s face onto actor Jim Carrey’s body atop the movie poster “Liar Liar.”
“That one, my wife came up the stairs and said, ‘You’re gonna laugh about this,’ ” Woerner recalled Thursday afternoon. “Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a liar.”
But Woerner isn’t laughing. He believed he was going to win prior to the smear campaign. He finished third in a four-person race.
“Those mailers essentially cost me the election,” Woerner said.
The mailers were sent out by a group called “PA Taxpayers for Integrity,” an interesting name given the numerous outright lies in the glossies and the fact that it hadn’t registered with the Pennsylvania Department of State, according to spokesman Ron Ruman.
“Pennsylvania law says that if you’re going to spend money trying to influence an election you need to be registered,” Ruman explained, “so there’s a public record and folks can see who you are. That’s the law.”
So it’s clear that the law was broken by PA Taxpayers for Integrity because when they sent out the mailers they had not registered. Ruman says the Department of State is investigating and if it finds wrongdoing will turn evidence over to the York County DA or the state Attorney General.
“I call it a shadow group,” Woerner said. “I still stick to that because they’re operating in the shadows.”
But on Thursday afternoon, the group came out of the shadows. It officially registered and listed an address in Collegeville, a Philly suburb. It had a phone number, an email address and the name of a treasurer, Maria Cusick. David O’Connell was listed as its chairperson.
Abc27 called the phone number on the form, left a message and also sent an email, but received no response.
Woerner doesn’t know who’s behind the expensive negative ad campaign that he estimates cost at least $10,000, but he thinks he knows why.
“They know I’m not a party guy. I’m not gonna go along to get along. I’m gonna do the right thing and stick up for the taxpayers,” he said.
He does have his theories.
“I do believe it is the establishment Republicans in Harrisburg, or Philadelphia or whatever. Ten thousand dollars didn’t fall from the sky. The money came from somewhere,” he said.
Newest York Senator Scott Wagner feels bad for Woerner. Wagner is a wealthy businessman who was able to beat back an attack by the so-called establishment Republicans and become the first-ever write-in victor in the legislature. Woerner didn’t have enough time or enough money to beat back his attackers.
“Whoever sent those mailers out needs to be found and they need to be prosecuted,” a fired-up Wagner said recently.
Woerner knows politics can be rough-and-tumble, but he wants justice because the law was clearly broken and the election cannot be redone.
“If they’re allowed to get away with this, who’s the next candidate to get smeared?” Warner asked. “This is why good people don’t get into politics.”