Democratic Party files complaint over GOP-centered contributions

DOVER — The Delaware Democratic Party has filed a complaint with the Department of Elections alleging that “anti-worker dark money is trying to buy” state Senate seats.

In a release this week, the party accused businessman Chris Kenny of illegally coordinating with three Republican state senators and “single-handedly trying to buy the Delaware State Senate” for the GOP. Financial records show that, since the start of 2019, Mr. Kenny, his ShopRite supermarket chain and a free-market advocacy group he founded have contributed at least $437,000 combined to Republican campaigns and independent committees aimed at boosting GOP candidates.

His political action committee, named “A Better Delaware” after the organization formed last year, gave nearly $192,000 to a similarly named entity that spent the same amount on independent expenditures from August to mid-October, records show.

State law defines independent expenditures as contributions “made by any individual or other person (other than a candidate committee or a political party) expressly advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate, which is made without cooperation or consultation with any candidate, or any committee or agent of such candidate, and which is not made in concert with, or at the request or suggestion of, any candidate or any committee or agent of such candidate.”

The funding all went to support the campaigns of Cathy Cloutier, Anthony Delcollo and Dave Lawson, the three GOP senators facing opponents Nov. 3.

Democrats, who control the General Assembly, are gunning hard to flip at least one of those seats. District demographics make Sens. Delcollo and Cloutier more likely to be voted out than Sen. Lawson may be.

Delaware Democratic Party Chairman Erik Raser-Schramm claimed the senators are “knowingly outsourcing their campaign communications,” because the money spent by A Better Delaware PAC on their behalf far exceeds their own fundraising.

“A Better Delaware isn’t pro-business; it’s anti-worker,” Mr. Raser-Schramm said in a statement.

“It is a conservative organization that is desperate to thwart future increases to Delaware’s minimum wage, opposes expanded benefits like paid family leave, and in the state with the lowest tax burden in America, is an advocate for further tax breaks for wealthy corporations that would make it impossible to properly fund things like education reform. As they attempt to buy these three Senate seats, Delawareans should be concerned about the kind of legislation they’re buying in the process.”

Zoe Calloway, executive director of A Better Delaware, dismissed the Democratic request for an official ruling, saying: “ABD PAC abides by all rules and regulations and are engaging in the exact same free-speech activities that many similar groups that support Democratic candidates have engaged in and continue to engage in to this day. Their complaint is totally frivolous and wildly hypocritical.”

Democrats have benefited from PAC donations over the years, as well. A New Jersey-based PAC called “Building Stronger Communities” dropped almost $235,000 ahead of the 2018 election to help Democrats in five Senate races, for instance. That group was funded by an organization designed to promote the interests of the Laborers International Union of North America.

Complaints about possibly improper contributions are familiar around election season, although the Department of Elections rarely finds them substantive enough to warrant any sort of penalty.

Election Commissioner Anthony Albence did not reply to a request for comment.

Witzke’s week

Republican U.S. Senate nominee Lauren Witzke has had an interesting past week or so.

On Oct. 9, Grotto Pizza canceled a planned campaign event she was holding at one of its Wilmington-area restaurants.

Lauren Witzke

“Although we support our various perspectives, as a business, we believe in being politically neutral. We do not allow campaign events in any of our locations and do not support any specific candidates in any elections,” the company said in a statement.

“We request that all guests respect each other and trust we will all gather in kindness and acceptance at Grotto Pizza.”

Grotto has hosted political events at some of its restaurants prior to this election season, going back to at least 2014.

A petition calling for the company not to hold Ms. Witzke’s gathering garnered more than 50 signatures before Grotto announced its decision.

In other Witzke campaign activity, last weekend, her Twitter account was temporarily suspended for tweets implying that immigrants from developing countries are inherently inferior to Americans. The tweets received some national attention, drawing disapproval from a wide variety of advocates, Democratic politicians and others.

Ms. Witzke previously saw criticism from her own party for a Facebook post mocking the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She has also drawn harsh words from many for supporting the far-right group the Proud Boys and conducting an interview with the website VDare. The Southern Poverty Legal Center characterizes both as hate groups with strong white nationalist themes.

Recently, Ms. Witzke announced she has been endorsed by rock musician Ted Nugent, who in a statement praised her for “fighting for the traditional American family values that make America the last, best place, and the only place where We The People support Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness as individuals.”