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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Senator calls for DEFAC chair’s resignation over campaign contributions

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State Sen. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, on Monday called for the resignation of the chairman of a powerful state financial board, saying his campaign donations to only Democrats call into question the fairness of the board itself.

Hocker charged in a press release that Michael Houghton, chairman of the Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council, has donated thousands of dollars to Democrat candidates and political action committees. 

“DEFAC was set up to be a bipartisan, non-politically affiliated council that projects Delaware’s financial well-being,” Hocker said in the release. “Unfortunately, Mr. Houghton is a major contributor to both Democrat candidates and Democrat-affiliated political action committees.” 

 

Houghton said that while he has been an active Democrat for 30 years, “Being involved in Democratic politics has never impacted my objective and bipartisan role as chairman of DEFAC. … 

“Our role, and one I take very seriously, is providing fact-based information to the governor and the Legislature. And during my tenure, the veracity and accuracy of that information to my knowledge has not been questioned.”

Hocker’s press release cited Delaware Department of Elections records that said Houghton has given $3,500 to PAC302 and $10,000 payment to Facts Matter PAC. In addition, the release said, “Houghton has contributed thousands of dollars directly to Democrat candidates’ campaigns.“

PAC302 says it is set up to “provide financial support to Delaware Democrat candidates,” Hocker said. 

 

“Facts Matter PAC recently distributed highly misleading literature attacking a sitting Republican senator,” the press release said. 

That senator is State Sen. Anthony Delcollo, who is running against Democratic challenger Spiros Mantzavinos. Delcollo surprised the political world by beating former State Sen. President Pro Tem Patricia Blevins four years ago by 282 votes.

A recent postcard mailed to voters in the area depicted him as a Trump Republican, even though DelCollo has never styled himself that way and even voted for mail-in voting when it came up in the state Senate.

Efforts were unsuccessful to immediately reach DelCollo for comment.

 

“This routing of funds to partisan organizations and Democrat candidates calls into question DEFAC’s credibility, particularly during a time when we are to trust its financial projections during a global pandemic,” said Hocker, who is the minority leader in the state Senate, in his press release.

Hocker said he would be arguing the same thing if the council president was donating to only Republican campaigns.

“If they agreed to a bipartisan position and they gave that kind of money no matter what party, I would definitely be against it,” Hocker said.

 

“Houghton is certainly allowed to donate personal money to whatever and whomever he pleases, but he shouldn’t do so while chairing a bipartisan and apolitical committee,” Hocker said. “To restore faith in the Council’s work, Mr. Houghton should step down immediately. If not, Governor Carney must replace him.” 

A spokesman for Carney declined to comment on Hocker’s charges.

Houghton’s personal campaign contributions also were called into question two years ago when Republican Greg Lavelle questioned whether Houghton’s donations and work in political action committees with state Escheator Brenda Mayrack were conflicts of interest. Mayrack heads the Office of Unclaimed Property.

 

Mayrack’s office puts hundreds of millions of dollars into the state budget by tracking down money that should have come to people or companies in the state of Delaware, but was never collected by those people. Lavelle said that a big part of Houghton’s work as a lawyer was representing companies that Mayrack’s office was auditing, and that Mayrack shouldn’t be treasurer of those PACs as a state official.

Ultimately, the Delaware State Public Integrity Commission ruled that Houghton was not subject to the commission’s rules because he was appointed. It also ruled that Mayrack had not done anything wrong.

DEFAC was created by former Gov. Pete du Pont in 1977 to project Delaware’s annual revenue. The governor and state Legislature use those projections when determining state budgets and spending.

 

According to Houghton’s law firm biography, he is a member of the board of both the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation and Rockefeller Trust Company of Delaware, both founded by Republicans.

Houghton said he has donated to Republican candidates, but the vast majority of his donations have been to Democrats. 

The Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council draws from all over the Delaware community, Houghton said. Its members include active Democrats and Republicans, many of them state senators and representatives.

“We function collegially,” he said.

 

Houghton pointed out that when he served on an advisory panel along with Republicans including then-State Treasurer Ken Simpler, they recommended the creation of a budget-smoothing fund that set aside surplus money in good economic times to be used during bad ones. 

Carney created the fund by executive order, and the state drew heavily from its $170 million to weather revenue shortfalls created by the COVID-19 pandemic and not have to ravage the 2020-21 state budget.

“That’s the kind of work I’ve done as chair of DEFAC,” Houghton said. “And I think during a pandemic with a looming continued fiscal crisis, that’s my focus.

“My focus is to do my job and support the governor and the Legislature in helping the state get through our current and prospective fiscal challenges.”

 


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