Monday, August 31, 2009

HOLDING LEGISLATORS HOSTAGE


Everyone in Harrisburg knows at least one Democratic House staff person who has either been interviewed by Tom Corbett's investigators or forced by subpoena to testify before the Grand Jury.

There have been well over 100 -- at least 135. (Associated Press, 7/31/08)

Yet, there is no indication that any former or current Democratic state legislators have been interviewed or have made a Grand Jury appearance based on their political activities, specifically activities that are well-documented in the pre-trial motions filed by Mike Veon this summer.

How can this be?

Bill DeWeese turned over to Corbett tens of thousands of emails implicating Democratic legislators and arranged for the compliant testimony from hundreds of Democratic staff. These staffers have provided sworn Grand Jury testimony that clearly shows several Democratic legislators were deeply involved in political activity using state staff and resources on state time.

A perfect illustration of the gaping disparity between treatment of staff and treatment of legislators can be seen in Exhibit F of Veon's July 2009 pre-trial motion which outlines Democratic Majority Leader Todd Eachus' political activity.

The number of staff who were involved and subsequently interviewed or subpoenaed by Corbett (nearly all of them) is striking. There are numerous emails and testimony that show Eachus had direct knowledge of staff activity. There are emails from Eachus himself directing staff on political tasks using state resources on state time.

What's amazing is that Eachus has never been interviewed or subpoeaned by Corbett:

"HDC spokesman Brett Marcy said Eachus was not among the legislators who testified before the grand jury, nor was he interviewed by any law enforcement officials regarding the Bonusgate case." -- Wilkes-Barre Times Leader 7/7/09

What kind of investigation allows Corbett to harangue and even indict staff members, yet the elected officials who supervised and directed them are not even inconvenienced much less subpoenaed or interviewed?

We've reproduced below Veon's July 2009 Exhibit F in its entirety with links to the attachments.

>>>>>>>>>>

Exhibit F

Before Steve Stetler resigned from the House of Representatives in the summer of 2006, Todd Eachus and his campaign actively used caucus employees using caucus time and equipment for his campaign.
[See attachment 1]

For the 2004 Election, Michael Thomas, an employee in the LRO, was assigned to Eachus’ district office in the same manner as Steve Webb in Beaver County that year. It is important to note that several defendants are charged with crimes in connection to Steve Webb’s placement in Beaver County for the Ramaley campaign.
[See attachment 2]

After Stetler’s departure, Eachus became a key member of the House Democratic Campaign Committee. He was a member of group who made final decisions regarding campaigns and resources to be used on campaigns, with a specific focus on directing the work done by caucus employees for incumbent members with difficult campaigns.
[See attachment 3]

Eachus directed staff to do general research work but also specific tasks for specific campaigns. Eachus even drafted emails for Eric Buxton’s company to send on behalf of candidates. It is important to note, some of the defendants were charged with crimes for allegedly having the exact same contact with Buxton.
[See attachment 4]

Eachus was aware of the campaign volunteer list maintained by Eric Webb that was allegedly used to award bonuses in 2006.
[See attachment 5]

In 2006, Eachus supervised and organized the HDCC effort in conjunction with the Rendell administration coordinating the appearance of Cabinet secretaries in targeted incumbent districts for campaign purposes.
[See attachment 6]

Rachel Manzo was directly supervised by Eachus for the HDCC’s cabinet secretary project. She coordinated directly with House Caucus staff, the HDCC staff and incumbent members’ campaign managers. It is important to note that Manzo was charged in connection with this project but not Eachus, who directly supervised her work.
[See attachment 7]

The HDCC cabinet secretary project under Eachus’ direction used House caucus resources for mailings, automatic phone calls and emails.
[See attachment 8]

Following the 2006 elections, Eachus became the chairman of the HDCC.
[See attachment 9]

Following the 2006 elections in addition to Rachel Manzo, Eachus hired the two most politically active members of Stetler’s caucus staff, John Jones and Erin Madison, and Michele Borlinghaus, a politically active caucus staff person. All three have appeared before the Grand Jury.
[See attachment 10]

Jones, Madison and Borlinghaus used state time and resources for political campaign purposes.
[See attachment 11, attachment 12, and attachment 13]

Jones and Madison actively coordinated with Eric Buxton to produce emails. It is important to note that some of the defendants were charged by the Attorney General for the same type of activity.
[See attachment 14 and attachment 15]

>>>>>>>>>>

Eachus isn't the only House Democratic Campaign Committee poo-bah who was never contacted by Corbett. Former Representative and current Secretary of Revenue Steve Stetler was never required to answer a subpoena and Representatives Dan Frankel, Jennifer Mann and Joe Preston haven't even been interviewed by Corbett's investigators.

We are flabbergasted at this ass-backwards investigation where staff are dragged before investigators (the reports of yelling, screaming and thrown objects are numerous) and the grand jury while their bosses are left alone.

We don't fault Democratic elected officials for not speaking out against Corbett's lopsided investigation and to come to the defense of their staff. They are scared, as Corbett intends for them to be.

We think Corbett's GOP gubernatorial rival, Congressman Jim Gerlach, put it best to Mark Scolforo of the Associated Press last week:

"[Gerlach] was concerned that the probe may be discouraging lawmakers and other politically active people from speaking out about the gubernatorial campaign, still in its infancy. 'I think it has caused a number of folks just to sort of hunker down and keep their head down and not get active and vocal on statewide political issues.'"

We agree completely. By collaring Democratic staff while leaving their Democratic bosses dangling in an investigative limbo, Corbett is getting the silence he needs for his politically motivated investigation.

It's too bad this silence doesn't prevent hypocritical, self-serving statements like:

"On a personal level, I'm just kind of disgusted that the actions of a few have cost taxpayers so much,' said House Majority Leader Todd Eachus, D-Luzerne." ("Bonus probe has already cost Pa. Legislature $5.8M", Associated Press, 2/19/09)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

YUM, YUM




"Do I believe a lot of people out there are saying things that they're going to have to eat their words? Absolutely."

So sayeth Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett in an interview with the Associated Press.

Could Corbett be talking about li'l ol' us? We can't wait to find out which of our tasty words were going to have to eat.

Will he charge Bill DeWeese with crimes related to bonuses and use of state resources for campaigning and disprove our theory about a secret immunity agreement?

Will he indict Steve Stetler, finally laying to rest the question of how Stetler avoided responding to a grand jury subpoena?

Will his next round of indictments shock the conscience because of all the money involved? (Presumably that amount would have to be more than the estimated $10 million the Bonusgate investigation already has cost the taxpayers.)

If Corbett thinks charging a token Republican or two qualifies as making us eat our words, he hasn't been reading us very carefully. (Also, kudos on allowing petty grudges against anonymous bloggers to influence prosecutorial decisions. The citizens who elected him must feel very reassured.)

We do think it's awfully courteous of Corbett to give those lawmakers who aren't indicted the opportunity to express their gratitude: "...he said he might accept donations from sitting lawmakers once targets of the investigation are clear."

Corbett seems to think he can escape accusations of politicking by laying off responsibility onto noble "career prosecutors" who are above such grubby concerns: "... these guys would scream bloody murder. They'd go right to the federal government and say, 'Hey, there's something wrong here.' I know they would. I would expect them to."

Oh, indeed. They're all just dying to piss off the guy who might be the next governor. And of course career prosecutors are notoriously independent of their politician bosses. Just ask Michele A. Brown, the assistant U.S. attorney who accepted a $46,000 loan from her boss, New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie. Look how eager all the career prosecutors who served under Alberto Gonzales were to challenge their boss after colleagues were fired for insufficient loyalty to the Republican party.

Did these career prosecutors upon whom Corbett relies to keep him honest "go right to the federal government and say, 'Hey, there's something wrong here,'" when Corbett declined to prosecute Republican York County District Attorney Stan Rebert or Republican Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins?

(Ooh, maybe those are the words we're going to have to eat. Maybe he's going to announce indictments of Rebert and Higgins!)

At this late date, Corbett could indict every member of the House and Senate Republican caucuses tomorrow and it wouldn't prove that he hasn't been motivated by politics. We guarantee that no one will scream louder that he or she was targeted for political reasons than a Republican legislator who faces indictment.

If Corbett truly were motivated by anything other than his own political ambition he would have appointed a special prosecutor in January of 2007. He didn't. Because he's not.

Friday, August 28, 2009

CHAMBERSBURG PUBLIC OPINION: BONUSGATE INVESTIGATION "POLITICALLY LOPSIDED"



In its Sunday editorial, the Chambersburg Public Opinion called partisan Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett's bonusgate investigation "politically lopsided."

The Public Opinion also questioned Corbett's fitness to be Governor by stating, "It doesn't bode well for the state's highest office when a leading candidate seems to mix the pursuit of justice with his own ambition."

You can read the editorial in its entirety here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

CORBETT: PULLING IN THE REINS


Partisan Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett has repeatedly said that he has put no shackles on his investigators when it comes to bonusgate. Here he is bragging about it to the Indiana Gazette on August 27, 2008:

"Corbett said he gets updates daily on the Bonusgate probe, and has told his lead investigators, 'Follow the evidence. There are no reins on you...We don’t care who it is. If there’s evidence, go forward. And that’s what we’re doing.'"

Comments like that make for great newscopy and soundbites.

But, in reality, it is apparent that Corbett has pulled the reins in on his investigators.

Dan Wiedemer, the former Executive Director of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, testified under oath before the Grand Jury that there was a rather large group of House Democratic Caucus members and staff who made decisions regarding the political activity in the House Democratic Caucus.

Wiedemer testified that besides Mike Veon, Mike Manzo and Brett Cott, this group included former Representative and current Secretary of Revenue Steve Stetler, Representative Dan Frankel, Representative Jen Mann and Representative Joe Preston. You can read Wiedemer's testimony that was included in Exhibit E31 of Veon's July 2009 filing here.

It isn't necessary to just take Wiedemer's word for it.

Included in the evidence Bill DeWeese turned over to Corbett are documents and emails that show Stetler, Frankel, Mann and Preston supervised House Caucus staff working on campaigns or directed their own staff to work on their re-election efforts. This information is included in exhibits to Veon's July 2009 filing:

Representative Dan Frankel -- Exhibit E9
Representative Jen Mann -- Exhibit E15
Representative Joe Preston -- Exhibit E20


We already know that Stetler failed to respond to a grand jury subpoena, and never was interviewed by Corbett's investigators.

There have been no reports of Frankel, Mann or Preston being dragged in for questioning. If Eachus wasn't ("HDC spokesman Brett Marcy said Eachus was not among the legislators who testified before the grand jury, nor was he interviewed by any law enforcement officials regarding the Bonusgate case." -- WB Times Leader 7/7/09) then it is safe to bet that those three members of the HDCC leadership weren't either.

It goes to show what we've been saying for nearly a year here at CasablancaPA -- Tom Corbett is a partisan, political opportunist who is using the bonusgate investigation as a tool for his gubernatorial aspirations.

If Corbett truly were following the evidence wherever it led, then DeWeese, Stetler, Eachus, Frankel, Mann and Preston all would have been at least questioned by his investigators.

Rather, Corbett reined in the investigation and stopped looking once he obtained what he needed -- a high-profile arrest to counter Pat Meehan's indictment and conviction of former Senator Vince Fumo.

Now that Meehan is out of the GOP primary, the incentive for Corbett to continue investigating Democrats is gone. In fact, polling shows that any further prosecutions get him very little traction with Republican primary voters.

It is doubly unlikely that Corbett will make any meaningful indictments of Republicans, if at all. Certainly nothing that "will shock the conscience." Why anger all the Republican donors before the primary?

Corbett has bastardized justice for political purposes, not unlike Rove and Gonzales in the Bush Administration or, more recently,what we learn more of everyday in New Jersey with the Christie campaign for Governor.

Will he be held accountable?

GERLACH ON KDKA TV: CORBETT HAS "INHERENT CONFLICT OF INTEREST"


Congressman and GOP gubernatorial primary hopeful Jim Gerlach continues to question partisan Republican Tom Corbett's handling of the bonusgate investigation.

On Tuesday while on a Western Pennsylvania campaign trip, Congressman Jim Gerlach sat down for an interview with KDKA's Jon Delano.

When asked by Delano if he thought Corbett has "botched" the bonusgate investigation, Gerlach replied he believed Corbett has an "inherent conflict of interest."

You can watch the interview here. The bonusgate questions and answers begin at 13:45.

Gerlach has probably seen the same campaign finance reports we've examined here at CasablancaPA and is just as skeptical of Corbett's ability to be impartial when Corbett has accepted millions of dollars from Republican legislators, party officials and committees.

The bonusgate investigation began 2 1/2 years ago. Democrats were arrested over a year ago. Still no Republican indictments.

Corbett promised "shocking" revelations to the Tribune Review in February. What is the hold up? Have all those campaign contributors been getting a return on their investment?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

STETLER SCRUTINIZED?



The rumblings from Harrisburg's chattering-class are that partisan Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett's much-anticipated and allegedly "shocking" second round of bonusgate arrests are to happen within the next ten days.

The scuttlebutt predicts that among the long-promised Republican indictments will be additional Democrats.

The culpability of former Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese is well-documented. But the case of former Representative and current Secretary of Revenue Stephen Stetler is just as compelling.

Stetler was an officer of the House Democratic Campaign Committee from 1999 to 2006, and was the Chair of the HDCC from 2003 to 2006. The thousands of emails provided by and the hours of Grand Jury testimony arranged by Bill DeWeese and his taxpayer-funed legal defense team of Bill Chadwick and Bill Sloane show that Stetler was at the center of all things political in the House Democratic Caucus.

Much of this DeWeese-inspired material incriminating Stetler shows up in Exhibit K of Veon's June 2009 filing.

We've reproduced the entire exhibit below. Click on the links to view the attachments. See for yourself if Stetler is culpable and try to imagine under what circumstances Corbett's team wouldn't even follow through on its subpoena...and why Stetler hasn't been indicted.

>>>>>>>>>>

Exhibit K

Stephen Stetler was the House Democratic Campaign Committee (HDCC) Finance Chair from 1999 to 2002. Stetler took over the HDCC as Operations Chair in 2003 and held the position until he resigned his house seat to join the Economy League in July of 2006. [See attachment 1]

The House Democratic Caucus staff and HDCC staff under Stetler's direction between the years 2002 and 2006 were Dan Wiedemer, then HDCC Executive Director, who now works for State Rep. Mike Gerber; Jessica Walls, then HDCC Political Director; Erin Madison, then HDCC Fundraiser and later House Democratic Research Analyst; John Jones, House Democratic Caucus Research Specialist and Cameron Texter, House Democratic Caucus Research Specialist.

The above staff were directly supervised on daily basis by Stephen Stetler. They all were subpoenaed by Attorney General Tom Corbett in 2007 and 2008. Subsequently, they gave proffer interviews or appeared in front of the Grand Jury. [See attachment 2]

Stetler himself was subpoenaed to appear before the Grand Jury by Attorney General Tom Corbett on 6/12/2008.

Stetler was an active participant in developing HDCC strategy. The attachments show just a few of the emails he received containing polling results and analysis. [See attachment 3]

Stetler was active in assigning and supervising House Caucus staff to work on incumbent Democratic members' political campaigns. According to the grand jury presentment from July of 2008:

"[Paul] Martz testified that, while the official paperword said he was working in Tangretti's district office, in fact, he did not even have a work station in that office. He testified that he worked exclusively from Tangretti's campaign office while being paid by the taxpayers.

Discovery documents show that Stetler was actively involved with Martz's assignment to Westmoreland County and his role there. [See attachment 4]

Stetler was an active participant in assigning and overseeing House Democratic Caucus staff in political campaign petition reviews. [See attachment 5]

Stetler supervised political campaign fundraising conducted by his House Caucus staff using caucus resources. The properties for the Excel spreadsheet attched to this discovery document indicate the campaign fundraising work was done on a state computer by Erin Madison. [See attachment 6]

Stetler encouraged and authorized House Caucus personnel decisions based on levels of campaign contributions from House Caucus members. [See attachment 7]

Stetler and his staff used state resources and employee time to work on his personal political campaigns. [See attachment 8]

Stetler supervised and directed the Opposition Research operation conducted by the House Democratic Caucus and the HDCC. [See attachment 9]

Stetler personally disseminated to Democratic candidates Opposition Research conducted by House Caucus staff. [See attachment 10]

In spite of his review of the above investigative material, Attorney General Tom Corbett did not follow through on his subpoena of Stetler. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review on 5/3/09:

"A report by Special Agent Robert Drawbaugh -- "Legislative Bonus Investigation" -- said another special agent met with a York attorney on June 12. The attorney "accepted service of a grand jury subpoena for Stephen Stetler," the report said. Stetler couldn't be reached for comment. Chuck Ardo, Rendell's press secretary, said Stetler's attorney was told agents would get back to him if they needed Stetler and they never did." [See attachment 11]

>>>>>>>>>>

Highlighting Stetler's involvement with political activity in the Capitol using House Caucus staff and resources and underlining how glaring Corbett's failure to follow through with his subpoena, is Exhibit E 31 from Veon's July 2009 filing..

Under oath, former HDCC Executive Director Dan Wiedemer testified to the grand jury that Stetler was part of the "core" decision-making body for all things political. He goes on to testify that when presented with options of gathering opposition research without using state funded resources, Stetler made the decision to continue using House Caucus staff and resources.

Corbett has the evidence and testimony (all provided by DeWeese) to bring charges against Stetler. Why would Stetler escape all scrutiny from Corbett?

Perhaps Stetler is on the list for the "shocking" indictments Corbett has promised? How will he explain Stetler's failure to respond to the subpoena, and why he waited to charge Stetler until after the Tribune Review questioned his actions?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

THE CASE AGAINST BILL DEWEESE


As they have on-and-off for more than a year, the rumors are flying that partisan Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett finally will announce a second round of "Bonusgate" indictments by the end of next week.

Interestingly, these rumors suggest Corbett is likely to indict more Democrats in this impending round, most likely former Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese.

While no one even casually acquainted with the workings of the Capitol believes for a second DeWeese's protestations of innocence, we thought we'd see what solid evidence Corbett and his investigators have accumulated that could justify additional Democratic arrests. So we headed down to the Dauphin County Courthouse and blew most of the CasablancaPA beer budget on copies of public filings and transcripts.

A few things have come into clearer focus now that we've had an opportunity to review hundreds of pages of court filings.

First, it is beyond a shadow of a doubt that DeWeese was aware of the bonus program.

Mike Manzo testified during the preliminary hearing in October 2008 that DeWeese was aware of and approved the program. See his testimony here.

If there is any doubt regarding his choice of the phrase "I believe he did," then it is made crystal clear by Manzo's attorney immediately following the hearing:

"Manzo's attorney, Jim Eisenhower, said DeWeese 'had full knowledge of the bonuses...He (DeWeese) directed that certain bonuses be given.'" (Associated Press 10/8/8)

Manzo isn't the only House staffer to provide sworn testimony that DeWeese had direct knowledge and approved the awarding of bonuses. DeWeese's assistant Kat Manucci testified to the grand jury in May of 2008 that she witnessed DeWeese approving the bonus program. Veon included it as Exhibit E 16 in his July 2009 filing. You can see it here.

Second, DeWeese's legislative staff apparently worked on his campaigns using state resources for many years pre-dating Manzo's tenure as chief-of-staff.

Veon included in his July 2009 filing several documents turned over by the OAG that show DeWeese's former chief of staff, Doug Rohanna, worked on DeWeese's campaigns and other Democrats' campaigns, on state time using state resources, as far back as 1998. These documents are found in Exhibit E 24. You can read it here.

Now, for Exhibit J of Veon's June 2009 filing.

You can read the summary Veon filed with Exhibit J here.

Here is our summary with links to the corresponding attachments from Exhibit J:

Bill DeWeese was aware of and approved the awarding of bonuses beyond Holiday or year-end bonuses, as shown by emails he sent to House caucus staff. [See attachment 1]

Corbett accuses defendants Veon and Cott of directing political campaign email and website work done by taxpayer-fundedd contractor Eric Buxton and his company. Yet there is not a single email in evidence between Veon or Cott and Buxton and his company. However, Corbett turned over to Veon 123 individual emails directly between Buxton and DeWeese aide Kevin Sidella, in which they discuss developing and implementing political campaign email and website strategies. [See attachment 2]

Corbett also turned over 93 individual emails directly between Buxton and DeWeese aide Tom Andrews, in which they discuss developing and implementing political campaign email and website strategies. [See attachment 3]

Finally, Corbett turned over individual emails directly between Buxton and DeWeese himself in which they discuss developing and implementing political campaign email and website strategies. [See attachment 4]

DeWeese made personnel decisions based on political campaign work. [See attachment 5]

DeWeese supervised, directed and collaborated with House staff on his personal political re-election campaigns. [See attachment 6]

DeWeese was an active participant in supervising House staff working on state House campaigns through the HDCC. [See attachment 7]

DeWeese's state House staff did political campaign fundraising for DeWeese's re-election campaigns. [See attachment 8]

DeWeese's state House staff actively worked on DeWeese's re-election campaigns using state resources on state time. [See attachment 9]

Also included in Veon's July 2009 filing are exhibits that show additional DeWeese staff working on political campaigns on state time using state resources:

Exhibit E 6 -- Tom Andrews
Exhibit E 7 -- Angela Bertugli
Exhibit E 27 -- Christopher Stets

Keep in mind that most of the documents Corbett received were hand-picked by DeWeese and his army of taxpayer-funded defense attorneys, yet a significant amount of incriminating evidence slipped through. Corbett received the Andrews and Sidella e-mails directly from Buxton, bypassing Team DeWeese.

With so much incriminating evidence, it's hard for many in the Capitol to believe DeWeese has escaped prosecution, which is why the rumors of his impending arrest persist. Some of us here at CasablancaPA think DeWeese has an immunity deal with Corbett. Charlie Thompson of the Patriot News reported a second secret immunity deal in October of 2007; the arrest of DeWeese on charges based on the above evidence will undeniably prove there is no deal between Corbett and DeWeese.

CAPITOL IDEAS: INDICTMENTS REST ON POLITICAL CALCULATION



On this week's "Politics as Usual" podcast, Capitol correspondents John Micek of the Morning Call, Alex Roarty of PoliticsPA.com and Tracie Mauriello of the Post-Gazette tossed off a few bon mots on the "Bonusgate" investigation and the gubernatorial race (which are now indistinguishable).

These three idealistic kids remain convinced that Corbett plans to follow through on his promise that more indictments are coming. While Mauriello admirably noted Corbett's recent "change in tone," she declines to draw the conclusion that Corbett is testing the public's reaction to letting Republicans off the hook.

Roarty claims that Corbett will "face questions" if he fails to charge Republicans, but we would remind Roarty that Corbett has failed to charge Republicans and so far has faced only one question from a small town newspaper. Not a single other news outlet picked up the story - hardly a firestorm of negative press.

What's most significant to us about this discussion is that all three acknowledge that the question of whether Republicans will be charged rests upon what's best for Corbett's gubernatorial campaign. There's not even a pretense that the question of actual wrongdoing will be considered. As Mauriello, who's taken a close look at Republican campaign expenditures, noted: "Corbett has seen what I've seen." In other words, the evidence is there. Whether Corbett acts upon it depends upon the political climate.

Give a listen, and tell us what you think:

video

Sunday, August 23, 2009

COPS 'N' ROBBERS



We've been thinking a lot lately about why the Capitol press corps has ignored Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett's failure to charge any Republicans in the "Bonusgate" investigation.

It took an out-of-town reporter at a small newspaper to ask the obvious question that elicited his near-admission. The comment provoked quite a stir in Harrisburg's little corner of the blogosphere. Yet not a single mainstream media outlet picked up the story and even the Sun-Gazette buried the lede.

Anyone who's read All The President's Men is familiar with this phenomenon. The ink-stained wretches who covered the White House full-time didn't pursue the story because it simply didn't fit the narrative. It took a couple of relatively inexperienced guys to figure it out because they didn't know the narrative.

Sociologists call it confirmation bias. Scientists call it paradigm paralysis. We call it laziness.

Journalists like a story that is simple to tell. They like good guys and bad guys, black and white, victims and villains. They don't like ambiguity or nuance, which don't lend themselves to clever headlines.

The "Bonusgate" narrative is solidified for the Capitol press corps. The roles of hero and villain were cast long ago. If the occasional inconvenient fact emerges that doesn't fit the storyline it's examined only briefly, then discarded.

To acknowledge that Corbett has used his office as a political tool not only threatens Corbett's status as the hero, it threatens Veon's status as the villain. And that may be the more frightening prospect. Ethical ambiguity is haaaarrrd, y'all.

The inconvenient fact is, Corbett has had more than enough time to construct a case against anyone in the General Assembly he intends to charge and in fact, has done so. But as long as he claims the investigation is continuing, he keeps the General Assembly cowed and the press corps placated.

They're so placated, in fact -- so happy to have their biases confirmed and their paradigms paralyzed -- that they can't bear to retrace the moldy trail of breadcrumbs that lead them there in the first place. Breadcrumbs such as: The other shoe is about to drop! and The next round of charges will shock the conscience!

We really prefer our emperors clothed.

At this point, the only thing could result in additional charges is a public outcry that could threaten his gubernatorial campaign. Without any media scrutiny, such an outcry is unlikely. He probably can't believe his good fortune. Neither can we.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

CORBETT: DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO



Here at CasablancaPA, we are getting a kick out of the great information readers are sending us. The latest document really shows how hypocritical partisan Attorney General Tom Corbett's bonusgate investigation has become.

As everyone is well aware, Corbett uses several members of his official Office of Attorney General staff for campaign work. In fact, the Chief of Staff of the entire OAG, Brian Nutt, regularly moonlights as Corbett campaign manager (how the person in charge of the entire OAG can flit in and out of his state-paid duties so easily is a mystery to us.) Kevin Harley, OAG spokesperson, is also well known as Corbett's campaign spokesperson.

When questioned about how Corbett charged only Democrats for doing what is standard operating procedure for the OAG, Kevin Harley told the Lebanon Daily News:

“There’s a right way to do this, and a legal way, and that is what’s being done (in the attorney general’s office.)" - 7/20/09

It is very convenient for Corbett arbitrarily to define the way he operates as the "right way."

So, we're guessing that Corbett also arbitrarily decided that the "right way" to fundraise for his campaign is to send solicitations into Republican state legislators' official state offices in the Capitol.

Check it out for yourself here.

This is just one more example of the pervasive political activity in Republican legislative offices. And, more troubling, how equally culpable Corbett is.

Corbett clearly condones sending political solicitations to a state-funded office, where it is sorted and delivered by state-funded mailroom workers, opened and screened by a state-funded office worker, and read and considered either by a legislator on state time, or by a state-funded legislative aide on state time.

He may have gotten the idea to use the state-funded political postal service from the House Republican Campaign Committee, which used it to direct checks to the proper people in the Capitol. We sincerely doubt that Republicans Tom Killion, Nick Micozzie, Katie True or Rich Geist have been brought before a grand jury to explain why they directed some rather large donations to and from their state capitol offices.

We are increasingly skeptical that Corbett will bring any charges against Republicans -- certainly none that will "shock the conscience" as he promised in February of this year.

Heck, given the level of political activity Corbett thinks it is ok for state officials to conduct using state workers on state time, he probably won't even bring what we expected to be his window dressing charges against either former Republican Rep. Matt Wright or former Republican Rep. Brett Feese.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

PAINTED INTO A CORNER


A concerted effort has begun to rescue partisan Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett from the political corner into which his bonusgate investigation has painted him.

It seems to us that Corbett or his tax-payer funded campaign aides, Brian Nutt and Kevin Harley, have been working hard to win over the editorial board of an important newspaper for a GOP gubernatorial primary candidate.

Today's Pittsburgh Tribune Review editorial "Beating Up Corbett: To What End?" emphatically defended Corbett and his investigation:

"Corbett has made great strides in his investigation and he's done an admirable job of keeping politics out of it."

We know the Tribune-Review is the official GOP party organ in Pennsylvania, but this stretches even its editorial page's credibilty.

How does Colin McNickol, the Trib's editorial page editor, or anyone else know whether or not "great strides" have been made? Has he or someone else at the Tribune-Review been talking with someone in Corbett's office/campaign?

Because without some special (and illegally provided) information from Corbett or his investigators, the fact no one has been charged with bonusgate related charges in over a year doesn't sound like any "strides" have been made by Corbett and his team.

This week, the message from the Corbett campaign has taken an abrupt turn.

Here is Corbett in February of this year:

“I am shocked at the cost of what it takes to run the legislature, and when we get through what we’re doing right now and we make announcements, I think it will shock the conscience of people.” – KYW Radio February 19, 2009

Compare that with his comments Monday night at a fundraiser for his campaign in Williamsport:

"Corbett, who has come under criticism for failing to prosecute Republicans while going after House Democrats in the so-called 'Bonusgate Scandal,' said he never promised to pursue members of his own party. 'What I have vowed to do is complete the investigation,' he said. 'I'm not worrying about the issue of partisanship.'" -- Williamsport Gazette August 18, 2009

Finally, Gerlach's attack on Corbett for concurrently conducting his bonusgate investigation while running for governor didn't elicit the normal response from Corbett's team.

By now, we've all grown used to the pap from Corbett or Harley or Nutt assuring us that the investigation is ongoing and they expect more arrests. Here is a typical statement:

"The overall investigation is continuing, and the attorney general has said from the very beginning that he anticipates more arrests coming in this case." – Kevin Harley to the Patriot News June, 11, 2009

Following the Gerlach attack on Wednesday, Brian Nutt couldn't even muster up "the investigation is continuing" and didn't come near to saying there are anticipated arrests.

It is highly unlikely that Corbett will ignore all the evidence and not bring charges against Republicans.

But the signs this week are that Corbett is beginning to distance himself from his earlier promises and beginning to set the stage for some less than "shocking" indictments.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

NUTT'S SPIN



Today, Congressman Jim Gerlach ratcheted up the heat on partisan Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett today by calling on Corbett to give up his gubernatorial effort if he intends to continue with his bonusgate investigation.

Remember, we're all waiting for the Republican charges Corbett has promised are going to "shock the conscience."

Here at CasablancaPa, we are really enjoying the spin that tax-payer funded Corbett political operative Brian Nutt is spouting today:

“We all expected better from Jim Gerlach. Clearly he is trying to take a page from John Morganelli’s unsuccessful playbook from last year, a tactic that voters clearly saw through when they re-elected Tom Corbett with more votes than any Republican candidate in Pennsylvania history. Pennsylvania families can be assured that Tom Corbett will continue to diligently fight corruption, fraud and waste no matter where it is found.” -- Capitolwire 8/19/09

There are two things that stick out in Nutt's spin.

First, Nutt is right that Gerlach is echoing Morganelli. And, yes, it would appear through the ballot box that voters were giving Corbett the benefit of the doubt when it came to his conduct of the bonusgate investigation...at that time.

Now, over a year since Corbett arrested only Democrats, it is disingenous for Corbett to say he is above reproach even though he still hasn't indicted any Republicans. Everyone has been waiting for Corbett to drop the other proverbial (and "shocking") shoe.

Second, it is very important to note that up until this week, Corbett has said repeatedly that the investigation is on-going and that he expected to bring more charges. In his statement today, Nutt doesn't follow that line. Rather, Nutt doesn't promise indictments. Instead, Nutt is follwing Corbett's new (and troubling) bonusgate message from earlier this week when Corbett said to his guests at his fundraiser in Williamsport as reported by the Williamsport Gazette:

"Corbett, who has come under criticism for failing to prosecute Republicans while going after House Democrats in the so-called "Bonusgate Scandal," said he never promised to pursue members of his own party. "What I have vowed to do is complete the investigation," he said. "I'm not worrying about the issue of partisanship." -- 8/18/09

Corbett's investigation is off the rails and, in the words of Republican Senator Eichelberger, "a joke." At best, Corbett is likely to indict some low-hanging Republican fruit like former Rep. Matt Wright or former Rep. Brett Feese.

Here at CasablancaPa, we are still very skeptical that Corbett will live up to his promise of a "shocking" set of indictments...Perzel, Preski, Hanley, Jubelirer, Brightbill, Long, O'Berry, Crompton.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

COURIER-EXPRESS TO CORBETT: "WITHDRAW"


Denny Bonavita, the editor and publisher of Northwest Pennsylvania's Tri-County Courier-Express, published an editorial today urging partisan Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett to drop his bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination next year.

Bonavita cites concerns that the prosecution appears partisan and that the entire investigation "is going nowhere."

Here's the editorial in its entirety:

Corbett should drop unannounced bid

Attorney General Tom Corbett should "take one for the team" and abandon his all-but-announced campaign for the Republican nomination as Pennsylvania's next governor.

The "team" is not Pennsylvania's Republicans.

The "team" is - us. Republicans. Democrats. Independents. Unregistered residents.

Two years - and probably $10 million - ago, Corbett announced an investigation that produced charges, but no convictions, against a dozen staffers and one former lawmaker from the House Democratic caucus.

The investigation is going nowhere.

Even fellow Republicans sense the frustration. State Sen. John Eichelberger last week labeled the investigation a "joke," because its going-nowhere status leaves Corbett vulnerable to the charge that he is playing political games, not prosecuting criminals.

That could be bad for Corbett next year, either in the primary election - if Republicans field credible opponents - or in the general election.

But it could be worse for the rest of us.

Suppose that next year, you are a juror in one of the trials spawned by Corbett's investigation. Suppose you add 2 plus 2 in your head, court testimony notwithstanding, and you get 5 (or maybe 4). You think the prosecution was unfair to begin with. How impartial will you be? How honest will a verdict be?

Corbett is a big boy. He knew what he was getting into when he sought the attorney general's job. He knew that some aspects of that job could boost his political career afterward - or damage it.

We think Corbett owes it to the taxpayers who have paid his salary to stay with the investigation until it concludes, or until his term ends.

And, to make it clear that the investigation was not political in nature, Corbett should withdraw his name from consideration as a candidate next year for governor.

BACKPEDALING


In response to a rare question from a journalist about his failure to target a single Republican in his epic Bonusgate investigation, Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett abandoned his usual "investigation is continuing" dodge:

Corbett, who has come under criticism for failing to prosecute Republicans while going after House Democrats in the so-called "Bonusgate Scandal," said he never promised to pursue members of his own party. "What I have vowed to do is complete the investigation," he said. "I'm not worrying about the issue of partisanship."

Maybe failure to prosecute Republicans is what Corbett meant when he said our consciences would be shocked. Maybe the estimated $10 million his investigation has cost the taxpayers is what he meant by the stunning amount of money involved.

Most of us at Team CasablancaPA believe Corbett never intended to charge a single Republican. We disagree whether public pressure will force his hand. What none of us can figure out, though, is how he got away with pretending charges were imminent a full year ago.

Monday, August 17, 2009

IMITATION = FLATTERY?


We have just been informed that Signor Ferrari has attracted an imposter!

We would be most interested to hear from any of our readers who have received correspondence from someone claiming to be Signor Ferrari.

Che macello! We hope this is not the work of a sinister conspiracy!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

BIZARRO BIG


In the comics, Bizarro is a supervillain who is the opposite of Superman. In the comical mind of Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett, Bizarro BIG is the opposite of BIG.

BIG is, of course, the Beaver Initiative for Growth, a nonprofit that received taxpayer dollars to fund economic development projects in Beaver County.

Bizarro BIG is the Blairsville Improvement Group, a nonprofit that received taxpayer dollars to fund economic development projects in Blairsville, Indiana County.

They sound awfully similar, even though Bizarro BIG was much smaller in scale than BIG. So, what makes the Indiana County BIG Bizarro? Simple: BIG's patrons in the General Assembly, Rep. Mike Veon and Sen. Gerald LaValle, are Democrats, and Bizarro BIG's patrons, Sen. Don White and Rep. Dave Reed, are Republicans. In fact, Republican Reed is the former Executive Director of Bizarro BIG. Therefore, BIG's activities are criminally suspect, while Bizarro BIG's are hunky-dory.

Obviously, no one bothered to explain to Blairsville's police chief and the new president of the board of Bizarro BIG's directors that Republican-sponsored nonprofits that receive state funds are allowed to do whatever they want without scrutiny.

CasablancaPA has already provided a long list of examples: Rep. Nick Micozzi and the Clifton Heights Economic Corp., former Rep. Gene McGill and the Historic Property Preservation Institute, Rep. John Perzel and the Mayfair Community Development Corporation and the 8001 Torresdale Corporation, and former U.S. Sen. (and please, oh, please, the 2012 Republican nominee for President) Rick Santorum and Operation Good Neighbor.

If only she'd heeded the Rules According to Corbett, Bizarro BIG board president Margaret Kinter would have known how silly and unreasonable she was being when she requested Bizarro BIG's financial documents and asked that Bizarro BIG be audited.

Why, that's as outrageous as expecting Corbett to investigate the largest legislative bonus in the entire General Assembly that was awarded to the Senate Republicans' most prolific campaign operative!

The only financial information anyone needs to know about Bizarro BIG is that Sen. White contributed $8,500 to Corbett's campaign.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES AND REPUBLICANS


With the indictments of 12 Democrats safely under his belt and the Republican gubernatorial primary just months away, Tom Corbett thought he'd be sitting pretty by now.

Instead, his undeclared candidacy is crumbling around him.

"The whole thing's been a joke, in my opinion," Republican Senator John Eichelberger of Altoona told the Tribune-Review.

Those indictments of which Corbett's so proud? "A first-year law student could have prosecuted" them, Eichelberger sneers.

With Election Day looming, anything Corbett does will seem politically-motivated, Eichelberger points out. And that's coming from a guy who urged Corbett to launch the investigation.

What could have prompted Eichelberger's surprising attack? As CasablancaPA noted earlier this week, Curt Schroeder's decision to hire former Senate Republican taxpayer-funded political guru Mike Long for his congressional campaign is a clear sign that Long is not on Corbett's chopping block.

Eichelberger, like anyone else with a functioning cerebral cortex, recognizes that an investigation of Senate Republicans that doesn't target Long is no investigation at all.

While there are those who delight in Corbett's obvious partisanship - "I'm confident in (Corbett) and I think he has handled this well," McCandless Republican Senator Jane Orie gushed - those with more foresight are justifiably embarrassed.

Furthermore, as Senate Republicans try to cast themselves as cost-cutters and belt-tighteners, the investigation's estimated $10 million-and-counting price tag is mortifying. It's tough to make the case for laying off thousands of state workers and withholding school funding when the bloated legislature is indirectly dumping truckloads of taxpayer loot into Corbett's gubernatorial campaign.

We still don't know whether any Republicans will at long last be indicted, even a token effort for appearances' sake. But Republicans are now being forced to choose: will they stand on the side of Corbett's blatant partisan recklessness or will they grasp at a shred of dignity?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

CORBETT TO CURT SCHRODER AND MIKE LONG: ALL CLEAR!


PA2010.Com reports today that Republican State Rep. Curt Schroder brought onto his congressional campaign team Mike Long to handle the direct mail in his primary bid.

This is just another sign that even the most obvious suspects for investigation and indictment in partisan Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett's bonusgate investigation have nothing to worry about whenever Corbett finally gets around to his much anticipated round two of indictments.

As we all remember, Corbett told the Tribune Review in February that they will "shock the conscience" of Pennsylvanians. Now, we can all erase Long from this list of possible arrests.

Corbett or his taxpayer-funded campaign manager, Brian Nutt, obviously gave the all-clear sign to Schroder that he was perfectly safe in bringing Long onto his campaign team with no fear of any splashback due to an indictment of Long.

After all, why would Schroder who says on his campaign website that he is "one of the top reformers in the General Assembly" risk the embarassment of bringing onto his campaign team Mike Long who received $41,405 in bonuses for 2005 and 2006 -- more than any other state legislative employee.

At the same time Long received these astronomical bonuses, the media referred to him as the Senate Republicans':

-- "chief campaign strategist" (Post Gazette)
-- "political guru" (Patriot News)
-- "a homegrown version of White House political czar Karl Rove" (Morning Call)
-- "top political aide" (Capitolwire)

Only the most gullible will deny what most in the Capitol have know for years...Long (and other well-known Senate Republican political operatives like Drew Crompton and Suzanne O'Berry) were given bonuses for the campaign work they did for their bosses.

In a letter to the Pottstown Mercury on 9/6/2008, Schroder gave his reasons for wanting to convene a state constitutional convention:

"Bonuses for legislative staffers, grand jury investigations and corruption charges against state officials have shaken the public's confidence in our state government...That is why I am calling for a constitutional convention."

Here at CasablancaPA, we guess by hiring Long, Schroder isn't worried about charges of hypocrisy either.

Monday, August 10, 2009

EACHUS BONUSGATE DOCUMENTS POSTED BY SIGHTS ON PENNSYLVANIA



The conservative NEPA based political blog "Sights on Pennsylvania" has begun to post selections of the Mike Veon selective prosecution motion. Check out today's post here.

We're not sure why "Sights" replaces Majority Leader Todd Eachus' name with "Legislator X" in his posts, but anyone who has seen the complete Veon filing will recognize these as from the Eachus sections.

After reading just these couple emails (and there are many, many more in the Veon filing), the question isn't "Why didn't Eachus and these staff people get charged with crimes?"

Rather, given that these documents were provided to Veon by Corbett as part of the discovery process of the criminal proceedings, it is "How could Corbett know all this and not even interview Eachus, let alone subpoena or indict him?"

Remember, here is Brett Marcy, Eachus' spokesperson in the Times Leader on 7/7/09:

"HDC spokesman Brett Marcy said Eachus was not among the legislators who testified before the grand jury, nor was he interviewed by any law enforcement officials regarding the Bonusgate case."

What kind of investigation has Attorney General Tom Corbett been conducting? He has said repeatedly that he will let his investigators follow the evidence where it leads...why does it always seem to stop abruptly when it comes to anyone but Veon?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

HAS MEEHAN DERAILED "SHOCKING" REPUBLICAN INDICTMENT EXPRESS?


Here at CasablancaPA, we figured this week's passage of a "bridge budget" would suffice as the green light for partisan Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett to announce his much anticipated and long-promised indictments of Republicans in his Bonusgate investigation.

There have been no Republican indictments since Corbett started the bonus investigation nearly 2 1/2 years ago or since he arrested 12 Democrats more than a year ago. Don't forget Corbett's giddy prediction regarding his next round of indictments:

"[The next Bonusgate charges] will shock the conscience of people...You will be stunned. It's the amount of money involved." (Tribune Review 2/20/09)

For a normally boring guy, Corbett sure built up some scintillating expectations!

Unfortunately, the Republican Indictment Express was derailed yesterday when former US Attorney/Fumo vanquisher Pat Meehan ended his nascent gubernatorial bid and endorsed Tom Corbett.

Now that Corbett doesn't need to out-prosecute Meehan in the political corruption category, he is much less likely to hammer the folks that have provided most of the funding and support to put him in office as Attorney General...and that will help him secure the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2010.

Corbett has raised millions of dollars from Republican state legislators like Bob Jubelirer, Chip Brightbill and John Perzel, plus loads of contributions from GOP National Committeeman Bob Asher and Republican party committees. (Capitolwire, 10/17/07)

Recent polling shows that the vast majority Pennsyvlania Republican primary voters aren't looking for "a prosecutor who has experience dealing with crime and political corruption."

Knowing this, and with Meehan's endorsement, Corbett is likely to make the political fundraising calculation to take an early public relations hit (that will soon fade away in the minds of reporters, editorial writers and, most importantly, Republican voters) by bringing no or at best very weak Republican indictments that won't antagonize his Republican ATMs.

Instead of a "shocking" set of indictments comparable to the Democratic presentment from over a year ago, Corbett is likely to throw up his arms and say he doesn't have the evidence to prosecute Republicans -- as he did for York County DA Stan Rebert and Bedford County DA Bill Higgins.

At best, the much-anticipated Republican GOP indictments will be flimsy window dressing -- think former Rep. Matt Wright and Lisa Deon or former Rep. Brett Feese and his shady legal practice on state time.

Some of us at CasablancaPA still think Corbett is going to let Republicans off the hook completely. The majority here, however, believe Corbett has to do something and soon. We're hearing indictments this upcoming week (of course, all the Harrisburg blow-hards have been saying "next week" every week since July 2008.)

Regardless of whether or not Corbett and his keystone kops investigators indict Republicans, be prepared to be underwhelmed.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

"CHECKING THE BALANCE" GIVES CORBETT A MATH LESSON


The folks at "Checking the Balance" do some ciphering with the figures in the Tribune Review's latest report on the astronomical legal bills the legislative caucuses have run up in their efforts to appease partisan Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett.


It doesn't take a slide rule to figure out that Corbett's botched investigation has not only let the Republicans off the hook, but has allowed them to do it by having the taxpayers pick up the legal tab.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

ANTICI ... PATION


We can't decide who has been more frustrated with the state budget impasse: state workers who haven't been paid, or Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett, who's been waiting to get the media's undivided attention before he announces his highly-anticipated next round of Bonusgate indictments.

The longer he waits to file charges, the greater the public's expectations. Even he has got to be afraid by now that what he's got won't live up to the hype, which grows even stronger with every day he waits.

After more than two and a half years of investigation and declaring how shocked all our consciences will be, Corbett has cobbled himself some pretty enormous shoes to fill.

It's clear a real state budget isn't forthcoming anytime soon. Will the "stop-gap" budget present enough of a lull for him to lure the media with another dog-and-pony show? How long can he wait before he is forced to throw all his careful public relations planning out the window for a Hail Mary play?

Even worse for Corbett, someone is now watching every move he makes, ready to pounce at every misstep.

We know you've been hearing it for more than a year, but: any day now! This time for real!