A Sussex County campaign mailer deemed racist by Republican Party officials was financed with money from four prominent county figures.
Some political observers say the mailer is an example of a schism in the Sussex County GOP.
The mailer, which criticized Greg Fuller, a Republican candidate for register of wills, was organized by the 35th Representative District Conservative Committee.
According to recent campaign finance filings, between July 15 and July 29, the committee collected $17,500 in contributions from four people: Alex Pires, founder of Highway One Group; Chris Hudson of Hudson Management; developer Elmer Fannin and homebuilder Scott Dailey — who is running for re-election as Sussex County recorder of deeds — through Caleb Ventures LLC, a company he owns.
Pires donated $5,000; Hudson donated $5,000; Fannin donated $6,000 and Dailey donated $1,500.
The group used that money to fund two mailers: one that criticized Fuller and another in support of Fuller’s opponent, Candice Green Wilkinson, daughter of former register of wills and current county Councilwoman Cindy Green.
Dailey’s Caleb Ventures LLC also contributed $600 — the maximum amount allowed by law — to Green’s campaign.
Fannin donated $600 to Green’s campaign, and at least six of his family members also donated the maximum for a grand total of $3,600.
The 35th Representative District Conservative Committee’s financial report says the committee spent $17,150 in two separate transactions on July 19 and July 22. The money went to a Florida-based campaign consultant named Jon Coley, who produced the mailers.
Other than one payment to M&T Bank, the payments to Coley are the group’s only transactions during this election cycle.
Coley has done work for the Green family before.
In 2020, Green’s mother, Cindy Green, paid Coley $2,800 out of her County Council campaign account in two separate transactions. She also paid BullsEye Public Affairs, a company Coley owns, $2,172.62, according to a Department of Elections campaign finance report.
Keller Hopkins, who is running for Sussex County Council, paid Coley $750 in May 2022.
When asked for comment, Pires said, “No thank you, but thanks for calling” and ended the call. Pires was an Independent candidate for U.S. Senate in 2012. A lawyer, he is best known for owning beach entertainment venues and sponsoring music events in Sussex County.
Dailey said Caleb Ventures LLC is his company and he made the donation.
“I absolutely donated it,” Dailey said.
Although the financial report says his donation came in the same day the group paid for the mailer criticizing Fuller, Dailey said he didn’t know what the mailer would say and he’s not interested in negative campaign tactics.
“I don’t support, endorse or want anything to do with any kind of negative campaigning,” he said. “If that’s the way that first mailer is — it has certainly been perceived — I wasn’t privy to that, but I was privy to unapologetically supporting the Green family in that process.”
Dailey said he couldn’t comment on the content in the campaign mailer about Greg Fuller and that he had intended his donation to go to a pro-Green mailer, which the group also issued.
Marilyn Booker, chair of the Sussex County Republican Committee, called the mailer “unhelpful and racist” earlier this month because it targets Fuller, who is Black, but not fellow candidate Ellen Magee, who is white, even though both left the Democratic Party to become Republicans.
“That’s above my paygrade,” Dailey said. “I don’t support negative campaigning.”
Efforts were unsuccessful to reach Hudson or Fannin for comment Thursday.
Green denied that she had anything to do with the mailer.
“I saw it the same time that everyone else did,” she said. “As far as the people that supported it, they seemed to be supporting me and my candidacy, so they would support the facts getting out about my opponent, so that would be up to them to say about what they knew about the postcard or not.”
Asked whether she had spoken to Pires, Hudson, Fannin or Dailey about donating to the PAC or the language of the mailer, Green said no.
“They’re supporting me as a conservative candidate — keeping the fees and the taxes low,” she said. “I’ve been a lifelong Republican and they’re just very supportive of that.”
She said she isn’t sure why anybody would be willing to donate so much money to a campaign for an office with such little influence over county policy.
“I think it’s something they just believe strongly about — having committed conservatives in even the smallest office,” she said.
Asked whether she thinks the mailer was racist, Green said “It seemed to be factual.”
“I saw it at the same time as everyone else did and everything on there seemed to be accurate, so that would be the only comment that I would have about that.”
Efforts were unsuccessful to reach Fuller for comment Thursday.
Asked if she ever asked anyone to donate to the PAC or send the mailers, Green said, “absolutely not.”
“I knew nothing about them,” she said. “The first time I saw the one about me I was in tears because it just felt like I was being seen and supported by a certain group and it just meant a lot to me to see the support side of it as well.”
Green said she thinks the Sussex County Republican Committee wants Greg Fuller to win.
“I do think that the committee has a preferred candidate,” she said.
The race is not the only one in Sussex County drawing attention for its lack of conviviality.
Sparks are flying in the GOP primary race for the 5th District Sussex County Council seat.
The contest between incumbent Councilman John Rieley and his opponent, Planning and Zoning member Keller Hopkins, has attracted attention for its vitriol.
Hopkins — who has loaned more than $100,000 to his own campaign — has also purchased campaign services from Coley.
According to his most recent campaign finance report, Hopkins paid Coley $750 in May 2022.
Booker called on all candidates to run positive campaigns.
“The Sussex County Republican Committee does not support the level of thuggish behavior and bullying rhetoric that we have seen in some of the local primary races,” the county GOP chair said.
“We have not taken a position endorsing one candidate over another, but we will continue to call out those who persist in ugly, false accusations. We expect candidates to run on their experience, credentials and what they can do for the citizens of Sussex County.”
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