HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The Pennsylvania primary is less than three weeks away, and as the election gets closer, claims of campaign shenanigans increase.
This year is no different and the Dauphin County Commissioner race is in the thick of the tumult.
Four-term incumbent Democrat George Hartwick is being accused of wrongdoing. Dauphin County officials don’t seem to care, but his challenger Tom Connolly certainly does. Connolly recorded video of campaign signs in the back of Hartwick’s county-provided vehicle and of Hartwick placing those signs along a road in upper Dauphin County.
“It appears to me that car is actually a campaign car more so than a county-funded vehicle for county purposes,” said Connolly, who is a Swatara Township commissioner.
Connolly also showed a Harwick campaign commercial that the incumbent posted to social media. It was shot in his county office and has since been taken down.
“This is privilege and disregard for the rule of law,” Connolly huffed.
But it’s not a crime, insists Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo, who notes that the county has a policy that allows personal use of vehicles as long as those personal miles are properly documented for tax purposes.
The commercial was de minimis or of little value, Chardo said, and therefore not prosecutable.
But not everyone agrees with that assessment.
“Typically, the commission would advise the public official not to do that,” said Rob Caruso, executive director of the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission.
Caruso wouldn’t comment specifically on Hartwick’s case because it may end up in front of him but said that behavior is frowned upon.
“The impression that it creates for the public is that you’re using items paid for with public money for a private political campaign.”
“It’s wrong, yes,” Caruso said.
Hartwick released a statement.
“I have, and will continue, to comply with the county vehicle policy. I also removed the video from social media as soon as I was informed it was not in compliance with county policy. No taxpayer dollars were used in either case.”
But Hartwick’s car and his office are paid for by taxpayers.
It’s also worth noting that the commissioners’ office building is mere feet from the Dauphin County Courthouse where numerous public officials in recent years have been prosecuted, even jailed, for blurring the lines of campaigning on public time.
But Caruso knows far too many politicians have done far worse, so a lot of citizens will ask, “what’s the big deal about a car and a commercial?”
“I think, at times, we get a little too apathetic,” Caruso said with a sigh. “I think that, in turn, creates bigger problems down the road. The more apathy from the public, the more a public official will do to push the envelope that much farther.”
A different Dauphin County public official, who also gets a county-funded car, said he went to a fundraiser earlier this week, but he drove his county car home, parked it, and took his personal vehicle to the campaign function.