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A Long List of Deceptive and Divisive Campaign Tactics Used by Paul Martino’s Central Bucks School Board Candidates

If CB Forward candidates can't run an ethical campaign, how can voters trust them to lead the school district?
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

School board races have traditionally been a rather under-the-radar affair. Candidates talk to their neighbors and friends about their vision for the District, maybe knock some doors in their community, and then voters show up to make their decision at the polls on Election Day.

All that changed with the introduction of Martino and his slate of Moms for Liberty-aligned candidates in 2021. During the last election, Martino created smear sites, dropped ridiculous amounts of money, and sent flyers filled with misinformation.

Those of us who were involved in the 2021 election thought things couldn’t get any worse.

We were wrong. 

Since the primary election in March (when the Republican school board candidates vastly underperformed) the CBSD school board majority, Paul Martino, and the entire CB Forward Slate have broken every standard of decency and morality in an attempt to take over our District with their far-right agenda.

Let’s take a look at some of the most egregious actions taken by Martino and the CB Forward Candidates: Dana Hunter, Aarati Martino, Stephen Mass, Glenn Schloeffel, and Tony Arjona in their quest to win the 2023 election – by any means necessary.

Defamatory Websites 

A few months ago, a new PAC sprung up called Stop Bucks Extremism, run by DC consultants. This PAC created a smear website designed to destroy lives. Their defamatory claims about the Neighbors United candidates included such lies as “After all, these are the same people who want to teach 11-year-olds about eating feces and urinating on other people for sexual pleasure, amongst other things.”

Paul Martino, who originally denied any connection to Stop Bucks Extremism, later admitted that he was, in fact, the one who commissioned it and paid for it. yZolHXfMCoyI09Sx3zbdYyact9 cdYqfB1CzEeZzPS Lp3 - Bucks County Beacon - A Long List of Deceptive and Divisive Campaign Tactics Used by Paul Martino’s Central Bucks School Board Candidates

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Deceitful and Inflammatory Campaign Literature 

Cherry-picked graphic images from books meant only for older students who CHOOSE to read them were sent to homes across the district where many young children opened them without realizing what they contained. The mailers were so vastly inappropriate that Staples refused to continue printing them.

Other mailers sent to voters’ homes contained direct lies, fabricated emails, and unsubstantiated claims.

Unethical Use of Signs

Besides the Stop Bucks Extremism signs that are filled with misinformation, multitudes of hateful and defamatory signs have sprung up all across the District. Martino himself has admitted that many of these signs contain dangerous rhetoric. Yet, he continues to insist that they are beneficial to our District because it shows the “grassroots are activated.” Never mind Martino helped create this unhinged MAGA/Moms for Liberty political climate in the district. It’s hard to imagine how signs like this could do anything but hurt people.

- Bucks County Beacon - A Long List of Deceptive and Divisive Campaign Tactics Used by Paul Martino’s Central Bucks School Board Candidates

These signs have been illegally stapled to telephone polls, placed on private property, and used to block Neighbors United signs. When one man attempted to remove the illegal signs from his private property, CB Forward supporters took a photo of him and then Martino and his team shared it all over social media, claiming that the homeowner was at fault for removing signs on his private property.

An injunction has been filed to have the defamatory signs removed. State Sen. Steve Santarsiero, who chairs the Bucks County Democratic Committee stated, “We are seeking an injunction to have them removed because they clearly violate state law, which requires that they contain a disclaimer as to who paid for and authorized the signs. They do not have that.”

Martino’s slate is not only adding defamatory signs, they’re also removing Democrat ones. Multiple Neighbors United signs have been ripped out of the ground and stolen. AirTags have shown the signs being transported to local GOP homes and sometimes even as far away as Philadelphia. There have even been sightings of NU signs lying on the grass with the metal bars that hold them up severed.

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Using School Board Meetings and Taxpayer Money to Campaign

The most notable case of taxpayer money used to campaign occurred on April 20. That night, Republican candidate and current school board president, Dana Hunter held an unprecedented emergency special meeting. The meeting was billed as a presentation from the District’s lawyers about the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR’s) investigation that involved alleged discrimination of LBGTQ students.  The ACLU complaint that led to the investigation alleges a “toxic educational environment for LGBQT students that has been exacerbated by homophobic and transphobic actions and policies recently taken by the school board and upper-level administrators.”

 During this $1.4 million presentation, (approved by the Republican school board majority, paid for by taxpayers), Attorney Michael Rinaldi claimed that any wrongdoing by the district could be attributed to one person: Mr. Andrew Burgess, a respected Lenape Middle School teacher. 

Besides the fact that it was highly inappropriate to use a school board meeting and taxpayer money for what essentially amounted to a campaign stunt, the presentation was grossly inaccurate. Not only did Rinaldi neglect to speak with the aggrieved parents or student, not only did he and his team spend 4 hours interrogating Burgess in a forced interview (with no legal counsel provided)  but, as the ACLU attested, the very foundation of their presentation was just plain wrong. The central argument by lead attorney McSwain and his associate Rinaldi was that Burgess went against District policy and reported a case of discrimination against an LGBTQ student to the OCR instead of first reporting to his school’s principal. But, the policy Burgess supposedly violated was created one month AFTER the school district suspended him.

In August, the ACLU confirmed these inaccuracies in a new report. 

“Time and time again, the district’s attorneys and administrators went out of their way to sully the reputation of an upstanding, wonderful teacher,” said Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “They even went so far as to put on a show trial for the community in April, further damaging Andrew’s professional credibility. What they’ve done here is illegal retaliation. They were warned by the Office for Civil Rights not to retaliate against Andrew or anyone else who filed complaints, and they did it anyway, at the cost of over a million dollars to district taxpayers.”

This is only one example of how the District has used its platform and our taxpayer money to campaign for the CB Forward candidates. Dana Hunter and Dr. Lucabaugh have repeatedly used District emails and texts to spread misinformation and try to cast themselves in a more favorable light. 

Using Leaked Emails as Political Weapons

In March, I personally attended a school board meeting and witnessed a man with an illegal gun. I reported the gun to the school board. Shortly after this meeting (before any RTKs were filed), the man sent me a Cease and Desist saying that he knew that I was the one who reported him. A few months later, my actual email was shared on social media, along with vaguely threatening language about targeting me, which resulted in weeks of harassment. 

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Since the District had never responded to my concerns, I felt I had no choice but to make public comment about the incident to inform the CBSD community that sensitive private information was being leaked. Again, Mrs. Hunter and Dr. Lucabaugh ignored me. In frustration with the lack of support from our District’s leaders, I wrote an article in the Herald about the incident. Finally, I received a response: a letter from Superintendent Lucabaugh scolding me for my complaints. The private letter from Lucabaugh to me was leaked to Tricia Doebler, recent vice president of Moms for Liberty before I even read it. Doebler then shared it on social media where it became more fodder for harassment and intimidation.

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Mrs. Hunter then wrote her own Herald article in which she stated, “It was publicly known that the gentleman was never proven to have a gun and that he was banned from Central Bucks School Board meetings.”

Despite new information showing that Mrs. Hunter had been aware that local police determined that the man did, in fact, have an illegal gun at the school board meeting, she and School Board Vice President Mrs. Vlasbloom were spotted by multiple sources canvassing with the man in question. 

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My case is one of many accounts of the District using leaked emails as weapons against their perceived adversaries. Private emails of Rebecca Cartee-Haring’s that were not sent to anyone on CBSD servers and not obtainable through RTK were also leaked and shared on social media to be used for the CB Forward Candidates’ campaigns.  The Haring’s home address as well as their daughter’s name were not redacted, as they typically would be in emails received through RTK.

Denying their association with Moms For Liberty and other extremist groups

Moms For Liberty is an extremist group funded by right-wing billionaires in order to foster distrust in public education and promote far-right, conservative indoctrination. They’ve been accused of aggressive tactics and abusive behavior in almost every community that they’ve infiltrated. Rather than shying away from their aggressive reputation, they’ve embraced it. Their official Twitter account recently shared a meme of a mama bear wearing a Moms for Liberty T-shirt, covered in blood and surrounded by what appears to be dead LGBTQ children. 

- Bucks County Beacon - A Long List of Deceptive and Divisive Campaign Tactics Used by Paul Martino’s Central Bucks School Board Candidates

Tricia Doebler, who was the very vocal Vice President for the Bucks County Moms for Liberty chapter, claimed to have relinquished her position right before beginning work on the CB Forward campaign. However, Doebler continued to share Moms for Liberty posts and was pictured with DeSantis at the M4L convention in Philadelphia. 

Marion Mass (wife of current candidate Stephen Mass), also attended the Moms For Liberty conference and spoke highly of the members. Marion Mass has written many social posts on behalf of her husband. In fact, it often appears as though SHE is the one running for office.

Beyond these personal connections, every single one of the CB Forward candidates has been supported by Moms for Liberty. While candidates in other districts have rejected M4L’s public support, the CB Forward candidates gave no objection to it. In fact, two of the Forward Candidates, Aarati Martino and Glenn Scholeffel, participated in a voter guide published by the far right Pennsylvania Family Council, answering questions on similar topics as the Moms for Liberty questionnaire. This isn’t surprising considering that Paul Martino has publicly stated his anger about M4L’s negative reputation.  (Martino has many connections with extremists, including his close friendship with James O’Keefe, founder of the dangerous right-wing organization, Project Veritas.)

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But, it’s not just the association with Moms For Liberty that’s concerning. Dana Hunter has had an ongoing relationship with the Independence Law Center, a far right anti-LGBTQ organization. ILC has secretly written many of the discriminatory policies that Mrs. Hunter has pushed through the last few years including the book bans and removal of Pride flags. 

Making false claims about NU candidates

Martino and the CB Forward candidates have made multiple false claims about candidates on both social media and mailers. One of the most egregious lies has to do with the equal pay class action lawsuit against the district. There are 360 female teachers in CBSD who have filed a collective lawsuit with the district alleging that they were not paid as much as their male counterparts for the same work. 

None of the Neighbors United candidates have ever indicated that they would settle this case. In fact, Rick Haring has stated “If any decisions come to the board, I will ask hard questions and demand to see the facts, while making sure to respect our educators. My top priority will be to ensure that the board is making an informed and correct decision for the school district, the taxpayers, and the educational environment of the district.”

Haring’s wife, Becky Cartee-Haring, a CB teacher, has a separate lawsuit with the district which Haring has stated that he would unequivocally recuse himself from. 

The Martinos and other CB Forward candidates have also tried to misrepresent the burden that taxpayers would have to shoulder should teachers receive the pay that they were denied. PA has a law called Act One that prohibits school districts from raising taxes more than the Act One Index yearly. Historically, the Act One Index is around 3%. In order to raise taxes more than the Act One Index, school districts have to go to a voter referendum where voters decide. Despite these facts, the CB Forward candidates have put forth wildly inaccurate numbers about potential tax increases.

Because Haring is running against Aarati Martino (Paul Martino’s wife) the attacks against him have been particularly vicious. For months, the Martinos tried to paint Haring as a bully, citing Joan Natoli, former Lenape lacrosse coach as the primary “victim.” Natoli has often given public comments at school board meetings where she combines unsubstantiated accusations of  Rick with attacks on trans athletes. Emails have recently surfaced showing that Natoli was ACTUALLY the one banned from being near the girls’ lacrosse team due to her “inappropriate behavior,” casting even further doubt on her claims against Haring.

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Rick Haring is not the only candidate who has been targeted by Martino and the CB Forward Candidates. There have also been many false accusations made about Heather Reynolds, who is running for Region 2. Emails and photos have been doctored to claim that Reynolds is “anti-police”, when in fact she fully supports the SRO program and other measures to assure that our schools and children are safe. An image of Reynolds wearing a shirt that was photoshopped to say “All I want is equality and revenge” was also shared across social media, and Reynold’s private family photos with her children and their friends were taken and used multiple times in an attempt to defame her.

Martino and the CB Forward candidates have also gone after Karen Smith, claiming that she was responsible for the ACLU complaint and OCR investigation, when it was actually the District’s own misconduct that led to the investigation.

Targeting community members and paying people to dox them

Democrats who are outspoken about the abuses of the current school board majority are continually targeted and harassed, myself included. At the last school board meeting I attended, multiple speakers used their public comment time to call me a liar for privately reporting a gun to School Board leadership. When I protested, Mrs. Hunter threatened to have me removed. Mrs. Vlasbloom also participated in online harassment of me, repeatedly referring to me as “the screecher” for my public comments about sensitive information being leaked.  

Paul Martino, the primary funder of the CB Forward Slate and husband of Aarati Martino (Candidate for Region 6), used social media platforms to offer a $1,000 reward to anyone who could dox and target an X account who made posts that he found personally offensive. Martino’s X account was suspended until he removed the post. 

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Misleading Voters with Write-In Candidates and Photoshopped Endorsements

The CB Forward Candidates have employed several duplicitous maneuvers in order to mislead voters. One tactic they’ve used is photoshopping images of their own candidates onto endorsements given to Neighbors United candidates.

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In another defamatory and deceptive move, a fake affidavit was created to make it appear as though NU candidate Rick Haring was “confessing” to a long list of lies. The affidavit was “signed” by Rick and shared throughout social media.

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Recently, the CB Forward slate also sent out a mailer encouraging people to vote for former Democrat School Board Director, Tracy Suits, for office. Mrs. Suits is not eligible for any school board position this election nor does she have any desire to run. This was another attempt to confuse voters with misinformation instead of running on their own merits. At this point, it is questionable what merits these CB Forward candidates have…

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These are just a few of the long list of unethical and dangerous tactics used by the CB Forward Candidates. These tactics are not meant solely as an attempt to win, they are designed to hurt and divide our community. If we cannot trust these candidates to act with integrity while campaigning, how can we ever trust them to lead our District?

This November 7, let’s send a message that honesty and integrity still matter in our community, that we will not allow unethical campaign tactics in our elections, and that our District can not be bought by big-money people who don’t have our community’s best interests at heart.

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Lela Casey

Lela Casey has been writing professionally for over a decade. Her work has included entertainment journalism, scientific articles, and historical profiles. She has spent the last few years dedicated to making Bucks County a more tolerant, inclusive place for everyone.