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The Phillips-Bering joint ticket spent more than three times what the Kuhn campaign did for the reporting period Jan. 1 to May 5 – and both campaigns on their own spent more than double the combined expenditures of all other campaigns for county commissioner.
LebTown reviewed the campaign finance reports for each campaign and committee involved in the Democratic and Republican primaries for Lebanon County commissioner. The municipal primary election will be held Tuesday, May 16.
This is the first election cycle for three of the four Republican candidates: Bill Bering Jr., who is running with incumbent Bob Phillips as a joint ticket; Mike Kuhn, an incumbent who was unanimously voted by the county judges to fill the unexpired term left vacant by Bill Ames’ death in 2021; and Sharon Zook. This is the fourth election cycle for Phillips as a candidate for commissioner.
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In what has proven to be a highly contested race on the Republican ticket, the Phillips-Bering campaign spent $134,044 from Jan. 1 through May 5 – a more than twentyfold increase over the $5,465 Bob Phillips spent over the same reporting period last time he ran for office in 2019 while seeking a third term as commissioner. (Phillips did not run as a joint ticket with the other Republican committee endorsee, Matt Shirk, in that election.)
Read More: Rhetoric heats up in GOP commissioner primary as party & PAC ads draw scrutiny
Kuhn reported expenditures of $39,337, while Zook spent $3,443. The combined expenditures of all three Democratic candidates was $13,427.
“Maybe because the competition is different,” said Phillips, when asked about the amount of money spent in this election cycle by the Phillips-Bering campaign. ”But also, you’re getting two candidates together, so when you take the money that we’ve invested and have in our campaign and have for two candidates, it (the expenditure) is not that far out of line.”
For historical context, in the 2011 Republican primary for commissioner, Phillips and Ames were both first-time candidates for the county’s top office, competing against a crowded field. According to a contemporary report by John Latimer in the Daily News, Phillips spent $43,500 on his primary campaign that year, with nearly $21,000 of those funds self-financed, while Ames spent nearly $60,000 of his own money on the primary campaign.
This cycle, Phillips contributed $35,000 to the campaign, while Bill and Mollie Bering contributed $55,050. Kuhn contributed $6,000 to his own campaign.
The Phillips-Bering campaign also received in-kind contributions from the Republican Party of Pennsylvania for campaign literature and postage that were valued at $28,207.24.
The largest individual campaign contributor to the Phillips-Bering campaign was Mike and Amy Long, who donated $6,500. (The campaign also spent $3,847.54 on consulting, campaign materials, and postcards through LN Consulting, Long’s political consulting firm.)
The lion’s share of spending by the Phillips-Bering campaign in 2023 was $70,000 for television ads, which have been running on local television stations since the beginning of the month. The ads were placed by conservative advertising agency The Strategy Group. Phillips said it was the first time he appeared in a televised political ad while campaigning for commissioner.
“Well, it was felt it would be a good investment to be able to get the message out that way,” said Phillips. “Other campaigns, in other previous races in Lebanon County have used that – I know that in terms of the Court of Common Pleas and so on.”
The second largest campaign expenditure by Phillips-Bering was a combined $47,500 donation to the Lebanon County Republican Committee (LCRC) made over three transactions in April.
“I’m not sure how that all breaks out, but I will say, it is traditional that the endorsed candidates and all of those running for office will support the party during a campaign, so that they can support through their mailers and their communications, they would support the candidates that are endorsed,” said Phillips. “I’ve been doing that since, you know, I began running for office – through the party, if I got endorsed then I was expected to, you know, I was asked to support – through my personal support – through the campaign.”
Bering echoed what Phillips said about the endorsed candidates providing funding to the local Republican committee.
“I did as candidates do, like they have in the past,” said Bering. “Bob had told me that over the past 12 years that he had to donate to the committee. So, we determined the amount we were able to send over to LCRC. What they do once they get it, that’s not my wheelhouse. You’ll have to ask Bill Bova.”
Bill Bova, LCRC chair, said he believes the two made that size of a donation because they want to see all of the committee’s endorsed candidates win their primary elections.
The campaign committee of Donna Long Brightbill, who is currently running for a judgeship on the Lebanon County Court of Common Pleas, also made a $50,000 donation to the party committee, split between a $19,000 donation on March 23 and a $31,000 donation on April 13.
By comparison, Phillips personally donated $100 to LCRC in the 2019 election cycle between Jan. 1 and the primary filing period that year. Bova attributed the lower donation by Phillips four years ago to the fact that that committee chairperson, unlike himself and his predecessor, did not make that requirement of endorsed candidates during his tenure.
Bova said that funding received goes to a variety of costs, including funds needed to run the committee and general voter outreach among expenditures.
LCRC’s largest expenditure over the period March 28 to May 1 was a combined $50,000 to the Republican Party of Pennsylvania split between two donations (LCRC also made a $25,000 donation to the Republican Party of Pennsylvania on March 23, which fell into an earlier reporting period). Over the same period of March 28 to May 1, LCRC spent more than $12,000 on “postage and mailing costs” through Communication Concepts, an Easton-based political consulting firm run by GOP strategist Tim Butler.
The Kuhn campaign’s largest expenditure was $32,340 to Churchill Strategies LLC, a strategy and communications firm run by Jeff Coleman, a former state representative with ties to the Commonwealth Foundation, a Harrisburg-based free-market think tank. Churchill was paid for campaign marketing, campaign marketing management, printing/postage services, and yard signs/shipping, according to Kuhn’s campaign finance report.
“I have worked on many campaigns, but didn’t have a lot of experience with mail pieces,” said Kuhn, when asked why he had hired a consulting firm. “My knowledge was putting together a piece. This firm had expertise in doing bulk mailings.”
Kuhn added he used their expertise on other campaign-related messaging as well.
“I would call them from time to time while we’re doing the mail piece,” said Kuhn. “They would draft something and we had a chance to review it and worked with them on the graphics, photography, imagery. We also used them to manage content on the website, what I would say is multi-media advice.”
The Kuhn campaign’s largest single contributor was Albert A. Alley, who donated $10,000.
According to campaign finance reports, as of May 5, the Kuhn campaign still had nearly $30,000 in untapped campaign funds.
The largest single contributor to Zook’s campaign was Gerard Petrozelli & Laura Castelli, who contributed $2,000. Zook’s largest expenditure was $1,862.27 to Messiah Press for printing and mailing.
On the Democratic side, no individual contributor exceeded $1,000. Of the three candidates – Diana Carpenter, Jo Ellen Litz, and Michael Schroeder – Litz spent the most on the primary campaign through May 5, with $7,801.43 in total expenditures.
Litz’s largest single expenditure was $4,307.46 to Kwik Quality for printing and postage. This is the seventh election cycle for Litz as a candidate for commissioner.
Schroeder spent $5,026.54, with the largest single expenditure of $2,480 going to the Pennsylvania Democrats for campaign literature.
Carpenter spent $702.87, with the largest single expenditure of $583.10 going to Imprint for campaign signs.
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The salary for the office of commissioner is $75,095.33 plus benefits, according to information provided by the county’s Human Resources department. Benefits for the part-time position include the county’s pension plan, 10 paid holidays, full medical benefits, and participation in the county’s life insurance program, which was introduced in 2023.
Here is a breakdown of what each candidate/committee raised by total amount, how much each candidate contributed to their own campaign, total in-kind contributions, and total expenditures.
Total Monetary Contributions and Receipts: $986
Personal Campaign Contributions: $0
Total In-Kind Contributions Received: $889.47
Total Expenditures: $7,801.43
Debt Reported: $10,945
Friends of Michael Schroeder
Total Monetary Contributions and Receipts: $9,795.66
Personal Campaign Contributions: $6,055.66
Total In-Kind Contributions Received: $2,372.76
Total Expenditures: $5,026.54
Debt Reported: $6,055.66
Friends of Diana Carpenter
Total Monetary Contributions and Receipts: $1,325
Personal Campaign Contributions: $0
Total In-Kind Contributions Received: $2,576.83
Total Expenditures: $702.87
Debt Reported: $0
Phillips Bering for Commissioner
Total Monetary Contributions and Receipts: $136,065
Personal Campaign Contributions:
- Bill and Mollie Bering – $55,050
- Bob Phillips – $35,000
Total In-Kind Contributions Received: $28,207.24
Total Expenditures: $134,044.80
Debt Reported: $0 (Under a separate still-active committee, Friends of Bob Phillips, $35,000 debt was reported from Phillips’ previous campaigns.)
Mike Kuhn for Lebanon County Commissioner
Total Monetary Contributions and Receipts: $68,720.84
Personal Campaign Contributions: $6,000
Total In-Kind Contributions Received: $9,401.23
Total Expenditures: $39,337.35
Debt Reported: $0
Total Monetary Contributions and Receipts: $3,600
Personal Campaign Contributions: $1,300
Total In-Kind Contributions Received: $17.23
Total Expenditures: $3,443.04
Debt Reported: $0
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Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated that the Phillips-Bering campaign began running television ads in late April. According to Casey Long, the ads actually began running May 3. We sincerely regret the error.