A Harrisburg-area developer who reportedly spent thousands of dollars trying to influence Harrisburg’s mayoral race has not yet filed any of his expenses with the Dauphin County Board of Elections—but was denounced today by the write-in candidate he tried to promote.
Jeremy Hunter, a Camp Hill resident who wishes to buy and develop William Penn High School in Harrisburg, paid field workers last week to campaign for Gloria-Martin Roberts, a former city council member and mayoral candidate.
He reportedly disbursed $900 of wages to canvassers and poll workers through an associate late Tuesday, and he told TheBurg himself that he spent $5,000 that night paying canvassers, poll workers, and people who promoted an election day raffle.
He also said he spent $35,000 in the primary season on radio ads attacking Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse, who was reelected last week.
Pennsylvania campaign finance law allows individuals not associated with any campaign to make independent expenditures to influence the election of a candidate or ballot question.
Any independent election expenditure over $500 made between Tuesday, Oct. 25, and Wednesday, Nov. 8, must be reported to an Election Board within 24 hours. All independent expenditures during primaries must be reported in May.
Hunter said on Monday that his legal counsel did not inform him of any rules regarding independent election expenditures, and confirmed that he had not filed any reports with the Dauphin County Board of Elections.
He did, however, draw the ire of the candidate headlining his campaign.
Martin-Roberts denounced Hunter’s efforts in an interview with TheBurg on Monday, claiming she did not approve of any of the literature he circulated on her behalf. She said she took particular offense to a flier showing a raised fist — an emblem of the black power movement.
“I clearly told Jeremy, ‘do not distribute any of that information with my name on it,’” Martin-Roberts said. “He does not listen to anyone.”
The only action Martin-Roberts took before the general election, she said, was to film a video at the Voter Registration Office instructing people how to cast a write-in vote. The video was posted to her Facebook page.
Hunter told TheBurg last week that he printed 40,000 fliers denouncing Papenfuse and promoting Martin-Roberts before the Nov. 7 elections.
Hunter said that Martin-Roberts knew about his fliers, but claimed he acted “independently of everyone.” He said that he did not have the candidate’s permission but also claimed that she never forbade any aspect of the campaign.
He also recruited and paid scores of people to distribute the literature that Martin-Roberts said she rejected. One of them, Harrisburg resident Betty Wallace, helped assemble a team of canvassers and poll workers for the general election.
Wallace, who previously worked for Martin-Roberts’ primary campaign, added that Hunter did not give her an operating budget, but offered to pay each worker $120.
Elisha Thomas was hired by Wallace to be a poll watcher for Gloria Martin-Roberts. Thomas said she was paid $40, a fraction of what she was promised, by Hunter’s associate, Kyle Myers, on Tuesday night.
She and Wallace watched Myers distribute a total of $900 among more than 20 poll workers and canvassers before he ran out of money, they said. He issued the payments at 1941 Market St., in the offices of Magisterial District Judge candidate Claude Phipps, where some of the field organizers happened to be working.
Hunter told TheBurg he paid campaign canvassers and raffle workers in his office at 308 N. 2nd Street the same night.
“I probably paid out $5,000 of my own money and have it on record,” Hunter said on Wednesday. He claimed that he filmed every transaction he made that night, and had each person on camera state their name and the job they performed.
Wallace said she hired more than 30 people to canvass and work polls for the write-in campaign on Election Day. Hunter personally gave her $700 on Wednesday to pay her team, which Wallace said did not nearly cover everyone’s wages. That payment, which Hunter made on Nov. 8 and acknowledged in text messages shared with TheBurg, also falls within the 24-hour reporting period.
In a Nov. 9 text message sent to Wallace, Hunter claimed that he paid more than $8,000 in wages for canvassers and poll watchers since Nov. 7.
Wallace claimed that Hunter promised her $500 for field organizing; he said he never made that offer. She said she’s received countless phone calls this week from people claiming Hunter owes them money.
Hunter and Myers received criticism for delaying payments to the homeless shelter residents they recruited to hand out raffle tickets at polling places.
Myers claimed responsibility for the raffle, which offered voters the chance to win a free iPhone if they participated in Harrisburg’s mayoral election. He said it was meant to encourage voter turnout.
Hunter helped Myers recruit raffle workers but insisted that the raffle was separate from his own canvassing efforts. He admitted that running both projects out of his 2nd Street office created the perception of collusion between the raffle and the write-in campaign.
But Corby Chester, who was hired by Wallace as a Martin-Roberts canvasser, said that the bag of supplies he received on Election Day contained both campaign literature and raffle materials.
“Jeremy told us to give them out together,” Chester said. Hunter denied the allegation.
Chester, Wallace, and a canvasser named Roynel Reed all said that Hunter told them separately about his plans to develop the former William Penn High School campus in Harrisburg.
“He said he wanted to buy the high school, and Papenfuse is freezing him out,” Reed said.
Hunter told Burg reporters on two occasions that he wishes to buy the school and turn it into a “soft landing” campus for international students studying at American universities. On Wednesday, he said that he does not think Papenfuse supports his development projects.
Harrisburg School Board president Danielle Robinson confirmed that Hunter’s company, William Penn Holdings, expressed interest in the now-empty high school campus.
Dauphin County Property Investors, a subsidiary of William Penn Holdings, owns 14 properties in Harrisburg. DCPI purchased all of the properties at tax sale for prices ranging from $800 to $12,000.
Hunter said on Monday that he would call the county Board of Elections about his campaign expenditures. He also reported that he fired his legal counsel, who he confirmed was James Ellison, the former treasurer of Martin-Roberts’ primary campaign.
This story was updated to include the name of Hunter’s lawyer.