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Following an April 17 campaign event for Mike Kuhn at the Wetlands, Alex Kuhn – Mike Kuhn’s son – was caught removing signs for both the Kuhn and the Bering-Phillips campaigns from a neighboring property.
“He was acting to honor what he thought was the wishes of that property owner,” said Mike Kuhn in an interview with LebTown on Saturday.
As Alex Kuhn was removing the signs around 9 p.m. Monday, a man in camouflage jumped out of the bushes, according to the Kuhn campaign narrative, and approached Alex, who handed the Bering-Phillips campaign signs over to the incognito auteur.
Mike Kuhn said that it wasn’t immediately clear to Alex that the operative had been filming the incident, and that the operative did not identify himself. Kuhn said he learned of the incident that night. Kuhn said Alex handed over the signs immediately because he did not want to get involved. Kuhn said it was a brief encounter and the man almost grabbed the signs himself.
Kuhn said that Alex and he did not talk to the property owner directly, but they had been told the property owner granted permission for Kuhn campaign signs to be placed for the event, but didn’t want political signs on the property after the event was over.
LebTown was able to confirm the Kuhn campaign’s story with the property owner, who said that permission was given only to a Kuhn campaign volunteer to place signs during the campaign event, with the additional request that the signs be taken down after the event. The property owner observed on Tuesday that the signs were taken down and was happy with the outcome – and was not aware of any potential surveillance operation from the bushes until contacted by LebTown. LebTown is protecting the identity of the property owner out of respect for their privacy.
Kuhn stressed that there was no malice or intent of malice with Alex’s actions.
The context for the camouflaged man, and the fact that he had apparently been filming, did not become clear to Kuhn until Friday afternoon, after Bob Phillips invited Kuhn to the Steitz Club for a meeting. Kuhn said there was no pretext for the invitation other than that Phillips wanted to talk.
The Steitz Club is a private club in Lebanon. The meeting didn’t last longer than 15 minutes, said Kuhn.
Also attending the meeting was Phillips’ son-in-law, Ed Lynch, past chairman of the Lebanon County Republican Committee as well as former campaign manager/volunteer for Phillips.
Phillips said he was the messenger in the meeting, passing along what seems to be an apparent veiled threat to Kuhn that he should drop out of the race.
In a Facebook post after the meeting, the Kuhn campaign characterized the interaction as follows:
Commissioner Phillips also suggested that I should consider withdrawing from the May 16 Republican Primary, so that we might avoid the negative publicity that might be associated with this event.
Phillips acknowledged that a suggestion to drop out was conveyed, but said there was a miscommunication on whose behalf the message was delivered.
“Well, that was mentioned, but it was mentioned in the context of it was mentioned from Mr. Bering and I was sort of the messenger in this thing,” said Phillips, referring not to Bill Bering but Bill Bering Sr., whose involvement in the incident remains unclear.
Phillips said the message was meant to be: “Mr. Bering’s going to be pursuing this legally and this is just a heads up and he would just like to see you withdraw.”
Kuhn said Phillips informed him they were going to press charges. Kuhn said he doesn’t know whose idea it was that he should withdraw, but that it was shared as a suggestion with him.
“I can put two and two together,” said Kuhn. “I assume that if I were to agree to do that, maybe it would go away.”
Kuhn said he has not seen the video himself yet. LebTown has also not been able to obtain a copy of the footage.
Kuhn said he has not heard from either candidate Bill Bering or Bill Bering Sr.
Kuhn said his response at the meeting was that he’d have to give it some thought and seek counsel from his family, but he felt any decision to withdraw at the moment was the wrong thing to do.
“I said I’m not defending what may have happened there but I need to look into it,” said Kuhn.
Kuhn said he relayed to Phillips and Lynch that he felt backing out would be wrong thing to do for his supporters.
“Too many people that have invested their time, energy, and resources in supporting me,” said Kuhn.
In the interview on Saturday, Kuhn emphasized regret over the incident but said he would not be withdrawing.
“We acknowledge that he should not have touched their sign,” said Kuhn. “We apologize for that, but we’re moving on. The idea that I would withdraw from the race over that is an overreach.”
Phillips declined to discuss the specifics of the incident, such as if he knew how a camouflaged person came to be in the bushes that evening. Phillips said that he believed it was candidate Bill Bering who showed him the video the day after it was filmed.
“My goal was to give him a heads up because it was his son,” said Phillips. “My son-in-law went with me to meet with Mike as a courtesy and as a longtime friend.”
Phillips said that any further information should be obtained from the Bering family. “This is going to be a legal matter,” he said.
Bering declined to comment.
“I do understand you already spoke with Commissioner Phillips earlier,” said Bering in an email to LebTown. “My comments would be the same as his.”
After LebTown clarified that there were several questions only Bering or his father could answer, Bering again declined comment. Attempts to contact Bering Sr. were unsuccessful.
It’s not clear who was behind the apparent sting operation, which has been touted by the official Lebanon County Republican page. After the Kuhn campaign posted about the incident on Friday afternoon, the Lebanon County Republican page followed up not long after with its own spin.
The GOP post opened: “Unfortunately, due to the actions of a candidate for County Commissioner, Mike Kuhn, we feel obligated to alert you to their illegal behavior and dirty campaigning.” It goes on to reference the controversy a couple months ago involving a Facebook page for a Dan Bost campaign that was reutilized by Alex Kuhn for Mike Kuhn’s campaign without permission from Bost.
Read More: Mystery leaker pushes intra-party feud into spotlight; prelude to factious primary
The GOP Facebook post mentions the video of Alex Kuhn removing signs after the Wetlands event. It is not clear if the committee was responsible for coordinating the mystery surveiller.
Bob Phillips said the Facebook page is controlled by the Lebanon County Republican Committee, which is currently led by chairman Bill Bova. Bova was not immediately available for comment when contacted on Saturday.
The GOP post also references a Christi Gensler, who the committee alleges vandalized a campaign sign. Attempts to reach Gensler were not immediately successful. It’s not clear how the sign may have been vandalized, and no location of the incident was noted by the GOP in the Facebook’s post. Kuhn said Gensler is a supporter and carried one of his petitions, but is not officially part of the campaign committee.
The GOP post says that the committee identified Gensler by tracing her license plate. It is not clear how they would have done that legally; vehicle information is regulated in Pennsylvania by PennDOT, with a set of specific criteria that make a request legal and valid. It is uncertain if the committee used a law enforcement or other privileged database to obtain the vehicle ownership information.
The GOP Facebook post says: “This isn’t the way we conduct Republican campaigns in Lebanon County… this is the way elections are conducted by Democrats in Philadelphia.”
In fact, a very similar situation played out in the 2019 primary race, when Gordon Tomb, a volunteer for the late Bill Ames’ final campaign, was cited for removing signs from the entrance area of the Palmyra Walmart. Those charges stemmed from involvement by Mike Barley, a PAC operative employed by Long Nyquist + Associates, the same firm that is managing the Bering-Phillips campaign.
- No punches held as Lebanon County Republicans splinter along Commissioners race (2019)
- Republican Committee votes to endorse Phillips & Bering in commissioner race (2023)
Phillips said he has no opinion on whether Kuhn should drop out.
“I just think it should play out the way that it will,” said Phillips.
Phillips said he is focused on maintaining positive campaigning through the primary date.
“We’re going to continue our positive messaging and we have a couple more flyers scheduled and we’re banging on doors and we’re getting our message out,” said Phillips. “May 16 is coming and it can’t come soon enough.”
Phillips said that his goal is to keep himself and the campaign working hard and keep up as positive messaging as they can.
Also on the ballot for the May 16 primary is Sharon Zook, who quipped on the GOP Facebook post that her campaign has no yard signs to argue over.
Read More: Republican Sharon Zook announces run for Lebanon County Commissioner
Kuhn said he thought it was sad that county politics has “this level of stuff” going on.
“I hope you know I wouldn’t condone anyone stealing or damaging someone else’s sign,” said Kuhn. “I can’t control what others do.”
Kuhn said he really wishes the incident could be moved past, and noted that there is an obligation for any video footage to be handed over to law enforcement.
The Meadows is located in Bethel Township, which does not have its own police force. Pennsylvania State Police have not yet reported any related incidents through its blotter releases.
An email to state police seeking to confirm whether the incident has been reported did not receive an immediate response. The Lebanon County District Attorney’s office also confirmed that it has not received any formal request for investigation.
“The simple fact remains that I don’t condone any of that activity,” said Kuhn. “I think it’s a shame that it occurred, that Alex even touched their sign, it was wrong for him to do that. But in his haste and in the dark he was pulling signs – he was thinking, or maybe not thinking thoroughly enough – that we wanted to remove our signs and we were respecting that property owner’s wishes.”
“Here we are talking about signs when I’d rather be focusing on our experiences and capabilities to perform the job.”
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Editor’s note (4/23): A previous version of this story used the word “cleanup” instead of “removal” in the headline. We have updated the headline to be more neutral on the action – both parties agree that the signs were removed.
Editor’s note (4/24): This article was updated to include a response from the Lebanon County District Attorney’s office. It was also updated to include information from the property owner.