Thursday, January 29, 2009
I was asked to post this email that was recently sent to the House Democrats.
Conventional wisdom has it that partisan Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett is certain to bring bonusgate related charges against Republican members and staff in the state House and Senate caucuses.
And, this would be a reasonable assumption based on what everyone knows to be true.
It is no secret that Republicans have used state resources for political purposes. ("A tangled web at statehouse" 2/18/07 Philadelphia Inquirer)
And, everyone knows Republican staff worked on campaigns while on the clock for the state. Just this week in sworn testimony during the Fumo trial, Paul Dlugolecki testified "the culture was such that [campaigning on state time] was practiced by virtually everyone in Harrisburg…It's something that occurred across the board." ("Ex-Fumo aide says campaign work was routine" Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/28/09)
Regardless, it is still very likely that Corbett could look the other way. He has ignored substantial amounts of evidence before for a political ally!
In 2005, a civil suit was brought against York County District Attorney Stan Rebert that made some very damaging claims regarding Rebert's management of his office. See the original filing here.
These claims were so credible and damaging that, even though York County is overwhelmingly Republican, one of your more politically astute Democratic colleagues, Eugene DePasquale, filed to run against Rebert. DePasquale was later forced to withdraw due to Hatch Act provisions. ("Dem drops out of DA race" York Dispatch, 3/24/2005)
Under pressure to call for an independent investigation of his office, Rebert had several options on who to choose to conduct the investigation: the Pennsylvania State Police, the York Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission, or his close political ally Attorney General Tom Corbett. ("No DA probe without complaint" York Dispatch 2/23/05)
Not surprisingly, Rebert chose his Republican buddy Tom Corbett. Both men have endorsed and supported one another over the years in their campaigns. ("AG candidate stumps here" York Dispatch, 4/15/04; "DA Stan Rebert launches re-election" York Dispatch 1/9/09)
Corbett and his investigators then proceeded to ignore the evidence and look the other way.
Nearly a year later, Corbett's office issued a letter exonerating Rebert stating, "The Office of the Attorney General has concluded that no criminal charges will result from Ms. Downing's allegations." The letter was signed by the very same top investigator in charge of the bonusgate mess, Frank Fina.
At the time, Corbett's spokesman Kevin Harley said, "Our burden is to determine whether or not any criminal laws were violated. We determined there were none (broken). We did a thorough criminal investigation into each and every one of the allegations raised in (Downing's) complaint." ("No criminal charges for Rebert" York Dispatch, 1/27/06)
Harley is lying. There was nothing thorough about Corbett's investigation. Corbett chose to ignore the evidence and look the other way.
In a series of depositions for the civil trial, witnesses corroborated the charges made in the lawsuit against Rebert, many of them clearly illegal. All these sworn statements were taken while Corbett was supposedly conducting his investigation.("Deposition details allegations" York Daily Record, 2/21/06)
Check just a few parts of just a few of the depositions for yourself by clicking on the links below.
Employees described how they or others had to do personal errands like buying dog food for Rebert's pets, delivered a tv to his home, how they took Rebert's family to Lancaster's train station multiple times, paid his personal bills, made his doctor's appointments and even his pets' veterinarian appointments. All while on duty!
Employees described how they stuffed envelopes and put together yard signs at the District Attorney's office. All while on duty!
Employees described how Rebert's wife was provided a cell phone she used for her personal use and paid for by Drug Task force funds. The staff person in charge of the Drug Task force funds knowingly paid for her bills.
Employees described how Rebert kept a county owned couch at his house and only removed it when his possession could have come up at a trial (shockingly one of Corbett's agents was at the meeting where the decision to move the couch from Rebert's house was made.)
Employees described how Rebert kept slot machines the district attorney's office had seized at his home.
Employees described how Rebert had a detective while on duty use county funds to buy ammunition for the York Republican County Chair.
Employees described how vehicles seized by the drug task force were handed out to detectives to use for their own personal use (including vacations) and the drug task force paid for their gas regardless of whether it was used for personal use. Corbett ignoring this abuse of the drug task force funds and vehicles is especially shocking considering that in Lycoming County he delved into similar abuses which resulted in felony charges in 2007.
These are just a small sampling of the evidence found in sworn depositions that Corbett's investigators ignored.
There were also sworn statements regarding very serious criminal actions, including the abuse of criminal databases to do research for local politicians ("Data access raises concerns" York Daily Record, 6/27/06), Rebert's personal use of a seized firearm ("One man's aim to get his gun back" York Sunday Record, 7/30/06) and the rampant misappropriation of drug task force funds ("Task force oversight questioned" York Daily Record, 7/4/06).
Corbett ignored repeated calls from the media to re-examine the evidence once the depositions came to light. ("Deposition raises questions" York Daily Record, 2/28/06)
Eventually, after a judge rejected Rebert's attempts to keep very damaging cell phone records, emails and drug task force documents secret and out of his civil trial ("DAs motion is rejected" York Daily Record, 3/31/06), Rebert settled the lawsuit. ("200k payout and its over" York Dispatch, 7/7/06)
Rebert clearly did not want what Corbett ignored to be revealed at the impending trial.
Corbett chose to look the other way and ignore all this evidence to keep his friend Stan Rebert out of trouble. Imagine the lengths Corbett could go to so his some of his largest campaign contributors – the Republican House and Senate Caucuses – will stay out of hot water.
Friday, January 23, 2009
There has been a lull for us and many others over the first part of this week as most of the world watched the historic events in Washington D.C. Now the Inauguration and the parties are over, we have a new President, we have hope and we have to get back to work.
As always, there is much to cover in PA politics and we are looking forward to an interesting 2009. We like to specialize on reporting and commenting on the hypocrisy in PA politics and PA politicians so there is always an abundance of material. The state's biggest hypocrite of course is Space Cadet and Attorney General Tom Corbett so he always provides enough material to keep a dozen blogs busy on a daily basis. We will continue to focus on Corbett's partisan use of the justice system and his willingness to apply a healthy does of double standards as he marches on to his campaign for Governor using the Bonusgate investigation as his campaign platform.
But today we have a HEARD ON THE HILL AND IN THE STREET item. Sources within the Capitol have indicated that the House Democrats are going to name lobbyist Laura Kuller as the new Chief of Staff to the House Democrat Caucus. The House Democrat Caucus leadership had stated they were conducting a nationwide search for a chief of staff and lo and behold they found one right down the street and the Buchanan, Ingersoll and Rooney lobbying firm.
In an earlier post, we reported that the new Democrat Triumvirate of Eachus, McCall and Evans had met with and asked Rendell's Secretary of Legislative Affairs Steve Crawford to take the job and he turned them down.
We are doing some more research on Kuller and will report on what we find out soon. We do know that she worked for years on the staff of then Minority Leader Bill DeWeese so that does not give us great comfort. One would think that the new Democrat leadership would try very hard to remove any vestiges of the DeWeese era but it looks like they are doing the opposite by elevating a former DeWeese staff person to a top post.
The House Dems also must not have received the memo from President Obama on his new ethics in government rules which really crack down on the revolving door for lobbyists and officials in his new administration. Making a lobbyist your chief of staff raises some interesting and troubling questions. We will have more on those questions in a future post.
Friday, January 16, 2009
The hot rumor in the Capitol is that Surra is slated to be the next State House Chief Clerk. Current Chief Clerk and long time staff person to former Speaker Matt Ryan, Roger Nick, is said to be making it known to friends and staff that he is retiring soon. Our sources say that his pending retirement seems to be a change in course and that as recently as late December he was telling people that he would stay on the job for a couple more years. We don't know if he was forced out or just has had a change of heart.
Will the saber-rattling House Republicans go along with Democrat Surra as Chief Clerk of the House? Do the House Democrats even need their approval to put Surra in this position or can the Democrats just roll over the Republicans with their expanded majority? We looked it up -- the Chief Clerk job pays more than Surra's current $95,000/year salary at the DCNR position. This sounds like it would be a soft landing for Surra if the Democrats can pull it off.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
It looks like John Micek of the Morning Call and other reporters caught up with Rendell today at the State Farm Show and Rendell does not appear to be happy about all the questions regarding Surra getting a new job just as the Gov announced a state hiring freeze. Surra was known to be a real soldier in the legislature for Rendell so the job looks like a standard political payback for carrying the Governor's water for years.
It looks like the new post-partisan politics hasn't made its way from the swooning inaugural city of Washington D.C. up the road to our very own Capitol. These Republicans look like their out for Democrat Dan Surra's head.
Today I post another credible example of why we believe Attorney General and Space Cadet Tom Corbett is a partisan Republican prosecutor who has used the justice system to his partisan advantage. It's also another example of serious information about Republicans ignored by Corbett.
Lisa Deon was a Republican who worked for former State Representative Matt Wright for 15 years, including a number of years as his Chief of Staff in his district office. Sometime in 2007 Deon signed a sworn affidavit which accused Wright, many of Wright's district staff, Wright's wife, and a number of Republican Harrisburg staff, of doing campaign work on state time and of spending public tax dollars on campaign activities.
Read the Deon affidavit here.
The affidavit makes many specific allegations about Wright and other Republicans. Read it for yourself. You can see that many of the accusations made by Deon are exactly the same kinds of activities for which Corbett indicted 12 Democrats. Read the Grand Jury presentment or the news articles on the indictment of the Democrats and read this Deon affidavit. Many of the alleged crimes committed by the Democrats are described in similar terms in the Deon affidavit as she describes the activities of Republican House Members and staff.
We'll have more to say about the Deon affidavit later today. This affidavit was widely and publicly distributed in the spring and summer of 2007. It was posted on several widely read websites at that time. Yet here we are almost 2 years after this affidavit made specific and serious allegations and not a single Republican has been charged by Corbett with anything.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Under the Capitol dome, there is a recurring question regarding partisan Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett's bonusgate investigation. Republican staff, Democratic staff, House members from both parties, nearly everyone in the building is asking the same thing, "Why isn't Corbett investigating the House Republican Department of District Operations?"
Many of you are sending me incredulous emails that wonder how Corbett can fail to investigate what - by every measure Corbett used to indict his political adversaries - appears to be a House Republican caucus in-house political operation.
Who has been performing the House Republicans' candidate recruitment, list building, fundraising, and campaign organizing? And what exactly is included in the "constituent outreach," performed by the Department of District Operations? A fair investigation by the Attorney General's Office would have turned up answers by now.
Since 2004, the House Republican caucus has employed 19 "Regional Coordinators" who worked in the Department of District Operations. (Supplemental List of House Employees 2/16/07 and 2/1/08) At least 17 of them are known and active political operatives. Click on their names to see the campaign expenditures for each (over $330,000 since 2004 total):
William Wade – no known reimbursements
Victor Orkis – no known reimbursements
Even when subtracting Scott Migli's $88,000 for his time as the Executive Director of the Republican State Committee, these "Regional Coordinators" received nearly $250,000 from campaigns over the last three election cycles.
These Regional Coordinators (all former or current Republican campaign operatives) were parked in the House Republican Caucus and would go about their day working on "incumbent protection" and, at a date late in the campaign year in a weak attempt at keeping up appearances, would receive a "salary" from a campaign, the HRCC or the Republican State Party.
For several years, the Department of District Operations has been supervised by the celebrated political operative John Hanley, first under the direction of Brian Preski and now under Tony Aliano.
Everyone in the Capitol is familiar with Hanley's campaign work, especially PoliticsPA.com who named this public employee to their political operative "Dream Team" in 2002.
Since 2004, Hanley has racked up over $90,000 in campaign reimbursements.
Many Harrisburg insiders are very curious as to why there have been no subpoenas issued by Corbett to Hanley and the Regional Coordinators under his supervision, both past and present.
While Perzel, Preski and Republican Caucus IT staff have been a hot topic (Tribune Review 9/10/08 and Post Gazette 9/11/08), Corbett apparently is ignoring the Department of District Operations, which was just as firmly under the iron grip of Perzel and Preski.
Perhaps Corbett believes that, because Perzel and Preski are no longer in charge at the House Republican Caucus, questionable activity has ceased? He must have missed it last month, when Sam Smith signed a two year contract with Laurel Group Consultants. Check the contract out for yourself here.
Some of you are familiar with Laurel Group and its owner, Daphne Uliana (wife of former Republican legislator and lobbyist Joe Uliana.) Laurel Group is a key consultant to Republican candidates, especially HRCC and John Perzel's campaign.
The House Republican Caucus is paying Laurel Group $132,000 ($5,500 per month over two years) "to aid the Caucus Department of District Operations in implementing outreach programs for members and otherwise consulting on the operation of district offices" and "shall perform its duties under the supervision of John Hanley."
It's doubtful Smith would attempt such a blatant move if there were any danger Corbett might examine the caucus' activities with anything like the scrutiny he brought to bear on his political adversaries.
These facts are a matter of public record. Corbett is either deliberately ignoring them or is somehow, inexplicably, unaware of them.
A well-known political consultant, Daphne Uliana, is being paid with state funds and is being supervised by a state employee, John Hanley, who is also a well-known political operative to work with the state paid staff Hanley oversees who are also very active politically to assist Republican members with their "constituent outreach," a task many in Harrisburg believe is a thinly veiled use of state funds for campaign purposes.
Don't you think that warrants a closer look from Corbett?
Demand that Corbett bring balance to his bonusgate investigation!
Monday, January 12, 2009
"Pay to play" has been getting lots of attention lately because of the Blagojevich story in Illinois and because Gov. Richardson had to withdraw as Obama's Commerce Secretary while a grand jury investigates pay to play allegations in his administration in New Mexico. The PA House and Senate Republicans have also been working the issue hard and have promised to introduce and try to pass legislation to prohibit and curtail certain no-bid contracts and campaign contributions. Freind's Bulletin story is likely to add more fuel to the fire. Friend adds up the no-bid work given to the confidantes, preferred law firms and preferred contractors of Gov. Rendell and his administration. The totals spent on the no-bid work is in the millions and millions of dollars over Rendell's term. By coincidence, Rendell has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from those same law firms and contractors.
There has been much gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands in the State Capitol over the Bonusgate investigation. And there have been hundreds of news articles written. But it's the same old story of hypocrisy in politics. We know there is a grand jury investigation of the money some staff people allegedly received for doing political work on state time. These staff people from what I can see were mostly mid-level staff making moderate salaries. I assume that if they were wrong they will pay the price. But in the meantime, as Chris Freind's article points out, the super-lawyers and the politically connected law firms and contractors figure out how to make the real money in state government. No Grand Jury. No investigation.
It reminds of the classic scene in a western movie I watched a few weeks ago. While the Sheriff and his deputies in the small town rushed out to the scene of the staged big fight and gunshots in the saloon, the rest of gang robbed the bank and made off with all the money.
Friday, January 9, 2009
Jan/Feb 2007: News reports break about "secret bonuses" paid to caucus staff.
Feb/Mar 2007: Corbett indicates he will investigate.
Mar/Apr 2007: Press reports suggest a Grand Jury is taking testimony. It's clear from press reports and the usual Harrisburg chatter that only Democrats are being hauled in front of the grand jury. Democrats are in the majority in the House for the first time in 12 years. Corbett is a Republican.
Mar/Apr 2007 - July 2008: Corbett and the Grand Jury focus exclusively on the House Democrats despite Corbett's weak public assurances that "all 4 caucuses are being investigated". There are no press reports of any examples of scrutiny by Corbett on either the House Republicans or Senate Republicans. Republican staff quoted in articles say they have not been subpoenaed. Corbett is a Republican.
July 2008: 12 Democrats indicted. Corbett is a Republican.
Sep/Oct 2008: The first press reports appear indicating some Corbett focus on the House Republicans. Corbett announces there will be no more indictments before the election. Corbett is a Republican.
Oct 2008: Corbett schedules and conducts a preliminary hearing for some of the 12 indicted Democrats. The hearing generates much statewide positive press for Corbett one month before his re-election. Corbett is a Republican.
Nov/Dec 2008: Corbett's announces that he still needs more time and there will be no more indictments in 2008. Corbett whines publicly about his lack of staff and resources. He continues to claim he is investigating all 4 caucuses. There are no press reports or internal staff rumors indicating any investigation of either Senate Caucuses. This despite the fact that the Senate Republicans doled out some of the highest bonuses to their staff. Corbett is a Republican.
Jan 2009: Very little press coverage of any Bonusgate Grand Jury activity of House Republicans or either Senate Caucus. The two year anniversary of the Bonusgate investigation fast approaches.
So there is an abbreviated outline of my view of the Bonusgate calendar. This calendar points our how Corbett has used the investigation for his own -- and the Republican party's -- benefit. It also points out how badly Corbett has handled the investigation from the start. At this pace, with Corbett continuing to indicate and complain that he can only investigate one caucus at a time, one of the Senate Caucuses will get a thorough investigation sometime in 2010. The other Senate Caucus will get investigated in 2012.
It will be no surprise to me if the Senate Republicans just happen to be the last caucus investigated. Oh, Corbett is a Republican.
CTB has a this great post with a nice chart that demonstrates the continued absurdity of the way Tom Corbett is conducting the Bonusgate investigation. The amount of money spent by the 4 caucuses to date on defense lawyers now exceeds the amount of money spent by the 4 caucuses on bonuses to employees for the years being investigated. That's our money -- as in taxpayers money.
Because Tom Corbett is milking the Bonusgate investigation for all it's worth for his own political advancement, the caucuses will continue to run up huge legal defense bills. Before this is all over, there will be 3-4 times as much money spent for lawyers than for bonuses for staff. So the lawyers who on average make well over $150,000-200,000/year will all get nice legal fees and the staff of the 4 caucuses who probably average $40-50,000/year will continue to be condemned and take pay cuts and pay freezes.
There has been much speculation in the PA political community on why DeWeese wasn't indicted with the other Democrats. DeWeese has, as we know, loudly proclaimed his innocence and has steadfastly stuck to his "Sgt. Schultz" defense: "I know nothing!". DeWeese claims that even though he was the man in charge of the Democrat caucus and the ultimate legal authority for the administration of caucus staff, budgets, and contracts, he knew absolutely nothing about what any of the 12 Democrats were accused of doing in the indictments. This DeWeese public defense is offered despite the fact that he worked in the same building with the accused, one of them was his Chief of Staff, one of them was his principle Caucus personnel director, he presumably attended many meetings and events with them, he presumably saw many of them every day, and one of them (Veon) was described as his closest ally in the legislature.
You have to give DeWeese credit for largely pulling off this incredible public defense. The Main Stream Media has (mostly) accepted the DeWeese Sgt. Schultz defense and the voters in his district re-elected him last November. You have to assume that if the voters believed that DeWeese was anything other than the stumble-bum Schultz they wouldn't have re-elected him. A review of the public record and a careful listen to the public chatter among staff, legislators, and lobbyists over the last few months leads one to conclude that DeWeese had perfected the Sgt. Schultz defense long before there ever was a Bonusgate. DeWeese had long had a knack for taking public credit for things that went well and always had a ready explanation for things that didn't work out so well. His explanations: "I know nothing". "It was somebody else's fault". DeWeese, it seems, was always ready to explain to anyone who would listen that he didn't know about whatever mistake or problem was presented to him. And, if he had known about it, he still wouldn't know about it.
But the whispers in the halls of the Capitol continue despite DeWeese's adept public performance and his ability to remain unindicted to date. One of the theories quietly making the rounds since last summer is that DeWeese and Corbett made a secret and corrupt deal of some kind. The theories about the nature of the secret, corrupt deal range widely and include:
*DeWeese and his legal team provide all the necessary incriminating evidence and information to make it possible and certain that Corbett can indict anyone he wants in the Democrat Caucus --anyone but DeWeese.
*Corbett doesn't indict DeWeese and the Democrat party would offer no organized opposition to Corbett in the 08 election and no organized support for Corbett's Democrat opponent.
We of course have no idea whether or not Corbett and DeWeese made some secret, corrupt deal. But many people in the PA political community do find it rather fascinating and interesting that despite evidence already in the public realm (Mike Manzo's testimony at the preliminary hearing), and newspaper stories with first hand accounts from grand jury witnesses that seem to implicate DeWeese, he was not indicted with the other 12 Democrats.
Now that AG Corbett appears to be focusing more on the House Republicans, DeWeese must be breathing sighs of relief. But any House Republicans who may think they are Corbett's cross hairs must be wondering how DeWeese escaped being charged with any crimes while Corbett eyes up the House Republicans for possible indictments.
Over the next few weeks, we will highlight some of the news stories and facts found in the public realm here on CasablancaPA which would appear to implicate DeWeese in activities for which the 12 Democrats were indicted. You can draw your own conclusions -- and share with us your own theories.
Is DeWeese implicated and yet not indicted?
Most people following the Bonusgate story are familiar with the sensational news articles that resulted from DeWeese's former Chief of Staff Mike Manzo's appearance at the Bonusgate preliminary hearing. Manzo testified at the preliminary hearing that DeWeese was aware of the bonus payments to staff. We will have more on Manzo's testimony later.
But the first article we want to highlight is this one written by Pittsburgh Tribune Review reporters Brad Bumstead an Debra Erdley on October 16, 2008. In the excerpt below, a Pittsburgh businessman who claims he was a grand jury witness appears to implicate DeWeese in having his staff do campaign work on state time.
Sidella while a state employee handled campaign fundraising for DeWeese, Pittsburgh businessman Jamie Rossell told the Trib. Rossell, who held a technology contract with House Democrats, said he didn't know Sidella was a state aide when he dealt with him on campaign finance matters during regular business hours in the Capitol in 2006. He said he assumed Sidella was a private contractor like himself.
Rossell, who claims House Democrats owe him money, said DeWeese told him to deal with Sidella on fundraising matters.
The article explains that Kevin Sidella was on DeWeese's caucus staff until October of 2007. From the article:
Sidella was DeWeese's campaign treasurer, a job he held while drawing a paycheck as a research analyst on DeWeese's staff. He is now a consultant to the DeWeese campaign with WS Group, a company he founded after leaving DeWeese's staff in October 2007. His company handles fundraising for DeWeese.
From our reading of this article and our reading of the indictment against the 12 Democrats it would appear that this businessman, in his grand jury testimony, implicated Bill DeWeese and at least some of DeWeese's unindicted staff in activities for which others were indicted.
So how did Bill DeWeese escape indictment? Is it still possible that DeWeese will be indicted in the future or has Corbett moved on to the House Republicans and now DeWeese is in the clear?
We'll explore more of this part of the Bonusgate story -- the unindicted Bill DeWeese -- in future posts.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Here are some of my observations and predictions:
Old Year: Tom Corbett's uses the power of the AG's office and the justice system to indict Democrats in the Bonusgate investigation before the election. "Runs out of time" to charge and Republicans before the election while explaining that he doesn't want to "influence the election" by charging anyone else too close to the election. Press and public buy this nonsense. Corbett's partisan investigation costs Democrats one state Senate seat and several House seats. Corbett let's Republican insiders know he will run for Governor in 2010.
New Year: Corbett continues to use the Bonusgate investigation to feather his own political nest. He "can't find" any evidence against Republicans and he continues to use double standards and to demonstrate great hypocrisy while continuing to investigate Democrats at all levels of government. Corbett announces his run for Governor.
Old Year: Sen. Arlen Specter is a key vote in the Senate on almost every important issue and one of the very few (mostly) moderate Republican Senators left in the U.S. Senate.
New Year: Specter is an even more important vote on every key issue in the Senate -- especially the upcoming vote on organized labor's number one legislative priority to make it easier to organize unions in the workplace.
Old Year: Sen. Bob Casey outmaneuvers Ed Rendell, endorses Obama for President, and gains national attention for his unusual and uncharacteristic bold political move and his well received speech at the convention. Ed Rendell works hard for Sen. Clinton in the PA primary, helps her win, and gets national attention for the crazy things he says during the campaign. Obama's win in November makes Casey the top dog Dem in PA politics. Rendell is a lame duck.
New Year: Casey has Obama's attention and his ear and is the go-to-guy for everything in PA from the projects in the economic stimulus bill to the political appointments available in the new administration. Rendell works hard, has some legislative victories, says crazy things that get him national attention, and is a lamer duck.
More Old Year/New Year items on their way soon.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
There is always plenty of material to work with and dissect and disseminate regarding PA politics and there is always large volumes of material on the subjects that we love to cover and report on : the incredible hypocrisy and double standards that exist in all politics but especially PA politics! Attorney General and Space Cadet Tom Corbett is exhibit A and always offers treasure trove of hypocritical material to report on.
We have some great blogs, reporting and commentary coming up here at CasablancaPA starting tomorrow.
Best wishes for a great 2009.