Suspicious payments, undisclosed rental properties, campaign dirty tricks: Will controversies involving her husband impact Delaware Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long’s bid for governor?

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This reporting was supported by a statehouse coverage grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

When Delaware Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long bounded onstage in September to announce her candidacy for governor, she waved her closest ally and confidante onto the crowded platform.

A burly, bespectacled guy strode toward Hall-Long and the two shared a warm embrace. The man was Dana Long, the lieutenant governor’s husband of 36 years.

As Hall-Long sketched out her vision for making Delaware a better place to live, work, and raise a family, her husband — a former military man and her trusty campaign treasurer since she entered politics in 2000 — stood behind her, beaming with pride.

Trouble was brewing behind the scenes when Bethany Hall-Long declared her gubernatorial candidacy in September, with her husband Dana Long standing behind her. (Bethany Hall-Long’s campaign)

The official start of her long-anticipated gubernatorial bid in downtown Wilmington was a watershed day in the couple’s four-decade journey that began at a rural Sussex County high school, where the scholarly, athletic farm girl first fell for the older football player.

But while the duo aspiring to be Delaware’s first couple radiated optimism during Hall-Long’s Sept. 12 campaign kickoff, trouble that had been brewing for weeks was about to burst into public view.

Within days of her launch, Hall-Long abruptly suspended fundraising — including a major event that was to be hosted by staunch supporter Gov. John Carney — and announced “there may have been’’ campaign finance reporting issues she needed to address.

What the lieutenant governor didn’t reveal was that leaders and advisers on her fledgling team had been frustrated because Hall-Long had stalled in providing access to campaign bank accounts they needed to conduct a routine compliance check.

When she finally provided them, leaders were troubled to find several checks totaling more than $207,000 to Dana Long since 2016, even though he was never a paid campaign staffer.

They were equally disturbed that contrary to Delaware law, candidate Hall-Long and her husband/treasurer had never disclosed any of the $207,000 paid to him in the 13 campaign finance reports they filed during that seven-year period.

Hall-Long told her team the checks to Dana Long were repayments for loans that she — not her husband — had made to the campaigns. The loans she described, however, had not been recorded in the reports, though by law they should have been.

Hall-Long’s campaign and fundraising managers abruptly quit, as did several advisers, and advised her to end her candidacy. She initially said she would drop out, but changed her mind, several insiders have told WHYY News.

In November, Hall-Long attempted to quell the burgeoning scandal by amending seven years of campaign finance reports. The new filings showed $308,000 in loans from Hall-Long and $207,000 in repayments to herself — not her husband. “Bethany and her husband covered various campaign-related expenses using personal credit cards and loans that were not accurately reflected,” her campaign said.

Lt. Gov. Hall-Long’s amended campaign finance report from 2022, filed with the state Department of Elections in November, shows a $101,149.35 balance from loans that had not been previously reported. (State of Delaware)

A WHYY News investigation documented the turmoil inside her campaign and the still unanswered questions swirling around the couple and their handling of donations since 2016.

The $207,000 in previously unreported payments to Dana Long are not the first time, however, that the lieutenant governor’s husband has brought negative attention to or raised questions about Hall-Long’s campaigns, political machinations, and judgment in office.

Consider these scenarios that have unfolded in the last decade as Hall-Long rose to political prominence:

In 2014, Dana Long was arrested for theft a week before Election Day for stealing Republican campaign signs in the middle of the night. At the time his wife was in a tight, heated race with the GOP’s John Marino. The alleged crime was captured on video and posted to YouTube, and received news coverage across the nation and as far away as England. A week later, his wife squeaked to victory by 267 votes out of 12,193 cast.
During her 2016 race for lieutenant governor, when Dana Long was working as a New Castle County inspector of rent-subsidized Section 8 houses, an audiotape recording surfaced which revealed that during that 2014 race, he was accused of stealing the county’s list of Section 8 tenants, calling those in his wife’s district, and telling them to vote for her. Then-County Executive Tom Gordon said in the recording, secretly made by his top aide, that he couldn’t fire Long because he needed state Sen. Hall-Long’s help in stopping other state lawmakers from reducing the county’s share of real estate transfer taxes by up to $10 million.
In 2018, Long had to resign from the county job after he and Tanner Polce, the policy director for Lt. Gov. Hall-Long, formed a limited liability company and bought nine Section 8 homes he had been inspecting in Edgemoor Gardens. The gritty neighborhood of mostly subsidized rental units on the northern outskirts of Wilmington has long had “very high rates of vacancy, crime and blight,’’ the county said in a recent news release. A state law requires Hall-Long to report  her spouse’s landlord business in her annual financial reports, but she has never done so.

The controversies that have swirled around Long and his wife over the years illustrate how politics and government often operate in one of the nation’s smallest states. Politicians from President Joe Biden on down to small-town municipal leaders like to boast about the so-called “Delaware Way” of government, with officials rolling up their sleeves and reaching across ideological and party divides to accomplish what’s best for the state’s 1 million residents.

But the way Delaware operates has a seamier side, too. Nepotism is rampant, with many spouses and children of elected officials parlaying their family connections to find jobs, often within government, or trading on the politician’s power to pull levers within the system. Campaign finance and other required reports are often filled out incompletely or erroneously, regardless of the law.

Lt. Gov. Hall-Long and Dana Long would not agree to an interview for this story, in keeping with their posture during the nearly three months since she revealed her campaign reports had serious problems.

Instead, Hall-Long issued a statement to WHYY News through her campaign that makes it clear she wants voters and potential donors to disregard current and former issues involving her husband.

“My husband is a veteran, loving father, and caring husband,’’ her statement said. “He is not a candidate for governor, and rehashing these old rumors and stories that have already been addressed is distracting from what’s important in this election: working to move Delaware forward by lowering costs, expanding the workforce, and strengthening education.”

Bethany Hall-Long and Dana Long were all smiles at her September campaign kickoff. (Bethany Hall-Long campaign)

Hall-Long had apologized in November for sloppy campaign finance reporting, saying in a written statement that no wrongdoing was found by Summit CPA, the Middletown-area accounting firm her campaign hired to conduct what she said was an audit. “I regret the errors and confusion this has caused, although unintentionally done,” Hall-Long said.

In the weeks since, however, Hall-Long has ignored calls by government transparency advocates, state Republican Party chair Julianne Murray, and New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer — her opponent in the September Democratic gubernatorial primary — to release Summit CPA’s report. Summit CPA officials have not responded to requests from WHYY News for comment.

Meyer obliquely addressed the issues surrounding his primary foe and her husband.

“When I go to work each day both as county executive and running for governor, I know that I and my family are in this for public service and not self-service,” Meyer said. “And I think everyone who goes into this should be in it for that reason.”

New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, says he went into politics “for public service and not self-service.” (Matt Meyer campaign)

Samuel B. Hoff, professor emeritus of political science at Delaware State University and an observer of Delaware politics for more than three decades, says the issues revolving around the lieutenant governor’s husband and her campaigns are not trivial matters, and could influence voters as the public’s trust of government at the local and federal level continues to shrink.

Hoff said that while Hall-Long is a popular politician in a Democratic-dominated state, has twice won statewide office, and would be the state’s second woman governor, the “drip-drip of controversies,” especially the fresh one involving campaign finances, “isn’t healthy. It’s one of those demerits against her campaign.”

Hoff added that Dana Long’s “efforts on behalf of his wife have been counterproductive to the point where the worst-case scenario is that it will result in her loss.”

  • December 21, 2023
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