This story was updated on Nov. 14 with comment from Claude Phipps.
A suspicious Election Day raffle led Dauphin County sheriffs on Tuesday to the offices of a Harrisburg developer, who, along with the raffle organizer, now denies any collusion between the raffle and political campaigns.
Jeremy Hunter, a real estate developer with property holdings in Harrisburg, owns the 308 N. 2nd St. property where raffle workers reported to receive training and payment on Tuesday. The office was also command central for poll watchers and canvassers promoting two other campaigns in the city: that of Gloria Martin-Roberts, a write-in candidate for mayor, and Claude Phipps, the Republican candidate for a Magisterial District Judge seat in precinct 12-01-05.
Following reports that men were distributing raffle tickets and promotional flyers at polling stations on Tuesday, Dauphin County Judge Scott Evans issued an injunction against the materials, ordering their seizure from seven polling places across the city. The flyer said that voters who participated in Harrisburg’s mayoral race could enter a raffle to win a free iPhone, cash and a gift card.
Raffle materials, along with flyers promoting Martin-Roberts’ write-in campaign, were in Hunter’s office on Tuesday afternoon when county Sheriff Nicholas Chimienti arrived for an investigation.
The coexistence of the raffle materials and campaign operations in the office was sheer coincidence, Hunter said. He denied any intent by the campaign to influence voters by offering them the chance to win a free iPhone.
A bag of material obtained by a poll worker, shown to TheBurg yesterday, showed campaign flyers and raffle tickets intermingled. Kyle Myers, the York county resident who organized the raffle, acknowledged that at least one person he employed for the raffle also distributed campaign literature.
Hunter claims to have spent thousands of dollars on radio and print ads since the primary season attacking Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse. Papenfuse defeated Martin-Roberts in the Democratic primary in May and won a second term last night.
A self-described “anti-politics” guy, Hunter said he printed 40,000 anti-Papenfuse flyers prior to Tuesday’s general election. The flyers, which were distributed by canvassers and poll workers before and during Election Day, also promoted Martin-Roberts’ write-in campaign. Hunter said that he paid for the printing and distribution himself, acting of his own volition.
According to Hunter, his reputation as a self-financed political organizer led Myers to contact him about his own Election Day project.
“He came to me because he knew that I was spending money on literature in the city,” Hunter said. “He knew I had people to pass off material.”
Hunter said he agreed to help Myers hire people to promote the raffle at polls.
Myers claimed that his goal for the raffle was to encourage people to vote. But he could not explain why he chose to debut a voter turnout initiative in a city where most municipal races were uncontested, or why he chose to focus specifically on the mayoral election, where Papenfuse had the nominations of both major political parties.
Myers said he grew up in central Pennsylvania and lives in York County now, adding that he decided to run the raffle in Harrisburg because it is Pennsylvania’s capital city.
Funding for the raffle, including prize money and wages for people distributing tickets and promotional fliers, came from private sources, including Myers’ contacts in Harrisburg. He would not name any of his donors, but denied that any of them worked for campaigns.
Hunter would not say definitively if he thought the raffle would generate votes for Martin-Roberts, his candidate of choice. But he also blamed Martin-Roberts’ loss in the May primary on low voter turnout and believed that incentivizing voters would result in “more honest opinion” from voters.
“I told [the raffle organizers] I wanted as many people to come out as possible, because how do you know what people will do unless everyone comes?” Hunter said. “Last time, we lost by 500 votes because nobody came out. I agree the city needs a big turnout, so I agreed to let my office be used by raffle people.”
Hunter also denied that his office doubled as Martin-Roberts’ official campaign office, even though a woman working there on Tuesday told reporters it was. On Wednesday, Martin-Roberts volunteers waiting outside the office for payment said that the write-in candidate had not sanctioned the raffle.
In response to reports that raffle promoters were denied their pay on Tuesday evening, Hunter said that 50 people who worked out of the 2nd Street office were paid there that night. Hunter claims that he gave out more than $5,000 of his own money to poll watchers, canvassers and raffle workers who were waiting outside his office at 9 p.m. on Tuesday.
“It was chaos last night,” Hunter said. “Claude [Phipps’] people weren’t paid, ticket people weren’t paid. I was just handing out $50 bills like I was a McDonalds or something.”
In remarks on Friday, Nov. 10, Phipps denied ever working with Hunter on his campaign. Phipps said that he hired and paid all of his own staff, but Shymar McBride, his campaign manager, acknowledged that some Phipps staffers sought out additional work with Hunter in their off hours.
Myers pledged to personally pay everyone who was owed money by Thursday, Nov. 9. He also said he would compensate people who were underpaid on Tuesday night.
Six men from Bethesda Mission who were promised $10 an hour to work for Myers were not paid by Wednesday morning, according to Bill Christian, director of the men’s shelter. Myers said he plans to pay those men tonight.
Hunter says now that he wishes Myers hadn’t approached him with his Election Day project. He regrets that confusion in his office on Tuesday led to the perception of collusion between campaigns.
As for his part, Myers doesn’t think he’ll try a voter turnout raffle in another city. He said he’s “not passionate about politics,” but does want people to be informed and educated.
“Given the backlash from this, I’m not really sure we’ll repeat it in the future,” Myers said. “But the message of getting people to the polls is still a good message.”
Martin-Roberts did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.