Wednesday, December 29, 2010
The masters and mistresses of obliviousness in the Capitol Stenographers Corps are baffled - baffled! - over the decision by Tom Corbett's taxpayer-funded campaign manager, Brian Nutt, not to continue to be his taxpayer-funded campaign manager.
What's baffling is that there ever was a moment when anyone thought he could become the Chief of Staff to the Governor. It's not the kind of job where you simply park between campaigns, like, say, Chief of Staff to the Attorney General. You kind of actually have to run the state government. And that would require at least some experience in knowing how the government works.
From The Inquirer: Nutt said he would continue to be Corbett's political adviser and chief strategist. "I'm not going anywhere. I will just have a different address outside the Capitol," Nutt said.
In other words, "I'm just going to keep on doing what I've been doing all along, even when I was on the state payroll."
Can anyone think of anything Nutt did during his years of state employment that would qualify him to run the state government? Or is his experience on the public dime more suited toward "political advisor?"
He "oversaw" an office full of taxpayer-funded employees who spent their taxpayer-funded time on their taxpayer-funded phones conferring with Corbett campaign operatives.
While he was "officially" campaign manager, he conferred with taxpayer-funded OAG staff over politically-sensitive matters.
He was on the state payroll while negotiating sensitive political endorsements.
Under his watch, state contract work and campaign contract work became intertwined.
Taxpayer-funded OAG employees somehow found themselves distributing campaign literature on taxpayer-funded time.
For those who haven't been paying attention, Corbett criminally prosecuted staff members, or threatened them with prosecution to secure their testimony, on accusations of doing political work on state time.
(Unless, of course, your taxpayer-funded campaign work on behalf of Republicans earned you the frequent designation "political guru." More than one journalist who frequently discussed political matters with a "political guru" who was on the state payroll, in his taxpayer-funded office, on taxpayer-funded time, on a taxpayer-funded phone, defended acquiescence in this illegal arrangement in the name of "access." You know who you are.)
Sunday, December 19, 2010
The Tribune-Review's Brad Bumsted once again has his panties in a bunch over "per diems," which are taxpayer-funded payments to legislators to cover food and lodging, and which require no receipts.
This time, however, he's full of admiration for new leaders - Speaker Sam Smith and Majority Leader Mike Turzai - for "moving forward on something of symbolic importance to voters: tightening their own belts ... they want to end per diem abuse as well."
What Bumsted neglects to mention is that Turzai has been as guilty as anyone else of "per diem abuse."
As Bumsted notes: "Influential legislators have often put the arm on lobbyists to buy expensive dinners and, of course, never deducted those meal costs from their per diems. On busy days, the House or caucuses brought in catered food.
"It's called double dipping."
An examination of Turzai's per diem payments and charges to his contingency account - every committee chairman and leader controls one - shows plenty of examples of "double dipping."
In 2007 and 2008, Mike Turzai collected more than $32,000 in per diems, nearly $11,600 of it for non-session days. He also was reimbursed from his taxpayer-funded contingency account for thousands of dollars worth of meals.
* On April 13, 2007, Turzai not only collected a $148 per diem - for food and lodging expenses incurred in doing his job - he also charged the taxpayers $19.63 for a "policy breakfast meeting."
* On June 5, in addition to collecting a $148 per diem, Turzai charged his contingency account $21.60 for another "policy breakfast meeting."
* On June 11, 2007, the taxpayers bought the Policy Committee lunch for the bargain price of $218; Turzai still collected his full per diem of $148.
* On June 21, 2007, Turzai received a $148 per diem. He also charged his taxpayer-funded contingency account $218.18 for a "policy hearing lunch".
* On June 27, 2007, another day for which he collected a $148 per diem, he charged the contingency account $70 for a "policy hearing dinner meeting."
* On August 14, 2007, another full $148 per diem day, Turzai collected $31.54 from the contingency account to cover the cost of breakfast.
* On August 29,2007, the taxpayers coughed up $275 for "policy lunch and dinner," plus another $31 for "policy lunch," while Turzai collected another full $148 per diem.
Caucus policy committees, it should be noted, do not officially act on legislation. They are quasi-political entities which stage hearings designed to drum up public support for caucus priorities.
* The committee held one such hearing in Warren on September 7, 2007, regarding "mental illness and substance abuse." Turzai collected $148 for attending. He also charged his contingency account $27.52 for lunch.
* On September 12, 2007 - a non-session day, the Policy Committee met in Berwyn. Taxpayers footed the bill through the contingency account for both lunch - $178.25 - and dinner - $176.65 and then another $27.84 for dinner. Turzai - and presumably the other members of the committee - also collected a $152 per diem.
* Just five days later, on Sept. 17, 2007 - another non-session day - Turzai collected both a $152 per diem and charged $107.17 to the contingency account for lunch.
* October 29, 2007, was a bargain day for the taxpayers. While Turzai collected his full $152 per diem, he charged the contingency account only $86.28 for a lunch meeting and $80.02 for a dinner meeting.
* Turzai must not have been very hungry on November 13, 2007. Although he collected his full $152 per diem, he charged the contingency fund only $25.67 for breakfast.
* For some reason, on January 9, 2008, "lunch" ($56.35) and "drinks" ($14.13) were charged separately to the contingency account. Turzai collected his full $152 per diem.
* Turzai was being especially frugal on January 30, 2008, when he collected only $22 from the contingency account for dinner - along with his full $152 per diem, of course.
* On April 2, 2008, Turzai charged the contingency account $106.72 for dinner and collected a per diem of $152. On April 8, 2008, taxpayers were charged only $32.13 for Turzai's lunch - along with $152 for his other expenses.
Turzai's Policy Committee contingency account didn't pay for every meal Turzai or his committee members consumed when the House was in session or the committee met. Some of those meals, as Bumsted notes, may have been bought by lobbyists. And Turzai is a member of committees other than his own, which certainly provided other meals.
Turzai certainly did nothing out of the ordinary in charging meals to his contingency account while collecting his full per diems. (Nor did Mike Veon, who was charged with five felonies - of which he was acquitted - for doing the very same thing.) But Bumsted's attemps to cast Turzai as a hero of reform fall a little flat.
The Dauphin County Work Release Center ... is a Community Corrections facility utilized by the Courts to incarcerated sentenced offenders in order to provide an opportunity for them to maintain previously secured or newly gained employment. (Dauphin County website)
Mr. Foreman was ordered to report to the Dauphin County Work Release Center, which allows inmates to leave daily to go to jobs in the community. Mr. Foreman, 59, is unemployed ...(Post-Gazette)
Thursday, December 9, 2010
28th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury Presentment No. 2:
"The 25th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury, on February 26, 2008. served a series of subpoenas upon the House Republican Caucus ... to produce before the Grand Jury evidence of "any and all evidence of campaign work" that a listed number of employees may have performed.
"Two days after the service of this subpoena, an employee of the Pennsylvania Legislature appeared in person at the offices of the Attorney General and stated that political and campaign material was being removed from a room, identified as Room B-02, located in the basement in the Irvis Office building in the Pennsylvania Capitol ... The following day, on February 29, 2008, the supervising judge of the Statewide Investigating Grand Jury issued a subpoena upon the House Republican Caucus ordering the immediate production of "any and all campaign documents or materials removed from Room B-02, in the basement of the Irvis Office Building, on February 26, 2008, or the sixty days preceding. You are ordered to disclose the location of any and all other materials removed from this location during the period described."
"Subsequent investigation* ... revealed that there had, in fact, been boxes containing political and campaign materials - as well as boxes containing direct evidence of campaign work performed by public employees - in Room B-02 on and before February 26, 2008. On that same date, employees of Representative Perzel directed House Republican Caucus messengers to remove boxes of materials from B-02 and transport them to Representative Perzel's office suite ...
"[Perzel Chief of Staff] Paul Towhey instructed [Perzel's secretary, Lori Lochetto] to transport all the campaign materials, as well as some non-campaign related items, to Representative Perzel's office suite. He further instructed her to then have the campaign materials and evidence of campaign work immediately extracted and moved out of the capitol to the House Republican Campaign Committee offices ..."
How does the Post-Gazette's Tracie Mauriello describe what happened?
"Boxes were moved as atty general investigators were about to execute a search warrant in GOP offices."
The obstruction charges against Team Perzel may seem a small part of the 400 criminal counts alleging a $20 million taxpayer-funded campaign operation Perzel operated out of the Capitol from 2000 to 2007. But Governor-Elect Tom Corbett himself told reporters the obstruction charges bother him the most: "If there's one thing in all of this that annoys me? Obstruction's the worst."
In this case, the distinction between executing a search warrant and issuing a subpoena is enormous, not just legally, but politically.
Set aside the fact that if what Mauriello reported were true, someone in the Attorney General's office would be guilty of a grievous crime by alerting the targets of a search warrant in advance of its execution. If Mauriello really believes that's what happened, it's inexplicable why she would have glossed over such a serious miscarriage of justice. More frightening is that she's unaware of the difference between a search warrant and a subpoena.
The important distinction between an search warrant and a subpoena in this case is that if Corbett had executed a search warrant on House Republican offices - as he'd done to House Democrats a full six months earlier - Team Perzel wouldn't have had an opportunity to hide or destroy evidence.
(Of course, he'd still have risked the possibility that Perzel would follow the lead of then-House Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese and tie him up in a court battle over the admissibility of evidence siezed - a battle that coincidentally ended when DeWeese agreed to turn over hand-picked documents implicating others.)
What's important to remember here is that Corbett says he was informed in February of '08 that Perzel's staff withheld evidence. But he didn't even begin to interview (much less subpoena) staff - that "subsequent investigation*" he mentions in the presentment - until July.
The evidence is overwhelming that Corbett never intended to investigate Republicans in earnest until political pressure forced him into it. Months into the so-called investigation, Corbett gave House Republicans the go-ahead to switch out all their computers. As late as eight months into the so-called investigation, Corbett allowed future defendant Brian Preski to host a fund-raiser and met privately with future defendant Perzel. His excuse? "We didn't have all the facts in front of us."
Because you can't find what you're not looking for.
Monday, November 29, 2010
The Pennsylvania political community is abuzz with the revelation that an elected official accepted financial considerations from business owners with the understanding that he would use his elected office to steer favors toward those businesses.
Think we're referring to Sen. Ray Musto, accused of accepting $35,000 from an unnamed construction company in exchange for his help to secure government funding?
No, we're referring to the $1 million Governor-Elect Tom Corbett accepted from the natural gas industry in exchange for his help in blocking a state severance tax on natural gas production and reversing a moratorium on new drilling on state forest land.
While the accusations against Musto are criminal and could land the 81-year-old Democrat in jail, Corbett's transactions appear to be perfectly legal and landed the 61-year-old Republican in the Governor's Office.
While we've accused Corbett of hypocrisy for prosecuting legislators for activity in which he himself is engaged, we can't make that claim in this case. Because despite a multi-million-dollar, four-year investigation of all four legislative caucuses (or so Corbett has claimed), Corbett didn't uncover a hint of Musto's alleged crimes.
Or Sen. Jane Orie's.
Or Sen. Bob Mellow's.
In fact, even though Corbett claimed to be investigating the Senate - particularly the Republican caucus, which awarded the largest individual bonuses to staffers who spent most of the year campaigning - and had publicly claimed he would not accept contributions from Senators, he privately told those same Senators it was OK to launder their contributions through the coffers of his running mate.
Once again, the question we must ask is whether Corbett is incompetent or corrupt.
After all, either Corbett really has been investigating the Senate for four long years, (all while indirectly accepting campaign contributions from the targets of the investigation, which actually would make him both corrupt and incompetent), and somehow missed Orie's alleged illegal campaign operation, Musto's alleged kickback and bribery scheme, and Mellow's alleged campaign finance violations. (And, let's face it: God knows what else.)
Or, he never really was investigating the Senate at all and simply put on an act to deflect accusations of conflicts of interests.
It certainly wouldn't be the first time.
But in the case of Musto, we're willing to believe Corbett simply didn't see the crime in exchanging personal financial consideration for government largess.
Monday, November 8, 2010
Are we the only ones who see the irony?
A candidate for governor whose main claim on the office is his prosecution of government corruption, placed into office by an ex-con convicted of multiple felonies in one of the darkest government corruption cases in Pennsylvania's history.
In his victory speech on Tuesday night, the very first person Corbett thanked, after his family, was convicted felon Bob Asher.
The 1980s bribery and racketeering case that sent Asher to federal prison has mostly faded from the public memory, and is notable mainly for the tragic public suicide of State Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer.
Asher's involvement? He threatened to withhold campaign funds and political support from Dwyer unless Dwyer awarded a multi-million dollar state contract to a handpicked crony.
Got it? He threatened to withhold campaign funds and political support from an elected official unless that elected official used his influence to benefit Asher's allies and cronies.
In 2004, Asher initially recruited and supported Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor to run for state Attorney General. But when Castor opposed Asher's appointment Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, Asher switched his support to Castor's primary opponent, Tom Corbett.
The lesson is clear. And Corbett appears to have learned it.
One of Corbett's earliest supporters in his campaign for governor, Asher served as co-chair of Corbett's exploratory committee. Asher's formidable support came as Corbett was in the throes of the political corruption investigation that would serve as the foundation of his gubernatorial campaign.
Remember, Asher tends to withhold support from public officials who don't do his bidding.
If we were the Patriot-News editorial board, this would be the part where we say, "We're not saying that Asher may have used his gargantuan influence to determine the direction of the Bonusgate investigation. But we can see where some people might be disturbed by the appearance of a possible conflict of interest."
Presidential Candidate Rudy Guiliani was foolish enough to be embarrassed by Asher's public support, and hastened to distance himself from the ex-con.
Corbett had no such qualms.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Does Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett raise any money from people he's not supposed to be investigating?
We know it's an old habit dating back to his prosecution of Jeff Habay. He was caught again soliciting Steve Stetler while Stetler was under investigation. He allowed former House Republican chief of staff Brian Preski to host a fund-raiser while the caucus was under investigation for the period when Preski ran the caucus. PA Turnpike Vice-Chairman Tim Carson also hosted a fund-raiser, even though Corbett is actively investigating the Turnpike. And most recently, he solicited indicted Rep. John Perzel - at his Capitol office, no less.
Despite the fact that Corbett declared contributions from legislators off-limits, it turns out that campaign cash can be safely laundered through the coffers of his running mate, Jim Cawley.
According to Capitolwire, "Cawley’s campaign finance reports also show more than $104,000 in contribution since the May primary from state lawmakers – a group from whom Cawley’s running mate has declined to accept contributions.
"Most of those funds came through two donations of $50,000 apiece – one from Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, and another from the Senate Republican Campaign Committee."
Y'all know, not a single member or staffer from the Senate Republican Caucus has been tarnished in Corbett's never-ending investigation of the legislature, despite the fact that the Senate Republicans handed out the largest individual bonuses - much of it to staffers who spent half the year working on political campaigns.
Although Corbett claimed he had no idea lawmakers were contributing to Cawley, "Drew Crompton, Scarnati’s chief of staff, said there was 'an acknowledgement' from the Corbett camp that a contribution from Scarnati to Cawley would not be returned."
Crompton also said Scarnati was “more than happy to give to his campaign,” and that Cawley has participated in events with various Senate Republican candidates. Some mailers also have been printed that list Senate candidates as well as the governor and lieutenant governor. The contribution toward Cawley’s campaign expenses recognizes those “shared efforts,” Crompton said.
That's Drew Crompton, taxpayer-funded legislative employee, acting as campaign spokesman for Scarnati and other Senate Republican candidates.
That would be the same Drew Crompton who received a nearly $20,000 taxpayer-funded bonus in a year when he spent most of his time working on Lynn Swann's failed gubernatorial campaign.
Need we point out that the Senate Republican Campaign Committee also represents Sen. Jane Orie, whom Corbett steadfastly refused to indict despite the fact she allegedly ran a campaign operation out of her district office right under the nose of Corbett's staff during his alleged investigation?
Kudos to Capitolwire for practicing actual journalism among the usually-compliant Capitol Stenographers Corps. But with less than a week until Election Day, it's too little, too late.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
"We, too, are concerned at the length of time this process is taking. If this goes much further Corbett risks being accused of using it to launch what many expect will be a gubernatorial bid in 2010." (Patriot-News, 7/12/09)
"The investigation is not completed." (Tom Corbett, Gubernatorial Debate, 10/16/10)
"We endorse Corbett." (Patriot-News, 10/17/10)
Monday, October 18, 2010
In a surprise reversal of position, Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett said Saturday that he would not consider making workers contribute more of their paychecks to help the state repay a $3 billion loan from Washington to cover the cost of unemployment benefits. (Allentown Morning Call, 10/16/10)
The Morning Call has a really low threshold for surprise. Next, they'll be reporting that the sun surprisingly rose this morning.
Ol' "Weather Vane" Corbett routinely changes direction with the slightest gust of wind.
For years, advocates begged Corbett to investigate questionable decisions by the Hershey Trust board of trustees, including a shady real estate deal that benefited a trustee. As recently as a few weeks ago, Corbett belittled their concerns and called their allegations "nothing new." Then, poof! a front-page story in the Inquirer spun him in the opposite direction, and suddenly he's announcing an investigation.
After a former aide to then-chair of the House Democratic Campaign Committee Steve Stetler testified in July 2008 to a grand jury that Stetler authorized campaign work by legislative employees on state time, Corbett was perfectly content to let it slide. He even allowed Stetler to ignore a subpoena with no consequences.
A year later, the Post-Gazette revealed the aide's testimony and the Tribune-Review the subpoena. In short order, Stetler was facing indictment.
After nearly two years of investigation, Corbett saw no need to indict Rep. H. William DeWeese, despite evidence of his complicity in awarding bonuses for campaign work, use of a state-paid contractor for campaign work, and supervising staff working on campaigns around the state.
Although Corbett never did charge DeWeese for his involvement in the caucus-wide activities at the center of Bonusgate, public revelations of the evidence put enough pressure on Corbett that he - whoosh! - finally dredged up a separate case
Charging Republicans in connection with Bonusgate was so far from Corbett's mind in the summer and fall of 2007 - in the thick of his investigation of House Democrats - that he allowed the House Republicans to replace all their computers. He thought nothing of meeting privately, with no attorneys present, with the Republican former House Speaker John Perzel. A fund-raiser hosted by the former chief of staff of the caucus he was supposed to be investigating? No problem!
But then editorial pages started throwing around phrases like "if not corruption then certainly politicking," (Lebanon Daily News)," and ""skepticism about his impartiality," (Allentown Morning Call) and "politics creeps into everything," (Harrisburg Patriot-News), and even fellow Republican Sen. John Eichelberger called the investigation "a joke," creating enough gust to airlift Corbett into Republican indictments.
It's not surprising for Corbett to "reverse position" ("I use two phones! No, one phone! Two! One! No, definitely two!" ... "We won't campaign on Bonusgate! No, we will campaign on Bonusgate!" ... "A fee is a tax! It's a fee, not a tax!)
What's surprising is that he gets away with it.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Time for another quiz! What do legislative Republicans and two Republican District Attorneys have in common with The Hershey Trust?
The investigative arm of the Tom Corbett for Governor campaign announced this week it is investigating the Hershey Trust - more than four years after its purchase of a failing golf course, for as much as triple its value. The purchase directly benefited a trustee who was an investor in the club.
Activists have been begging Corbett to investigate the trust for this and other questionable decisions for six years.
It was only after a scathing front-page article appeared in the state's largest newspaper, a month before the gubernatorial election, that Corbett grudgingly announced he will investigate.
Watchdog group Protect the Hershey's Children called the announcement "political theater:"
“A month ago, the Attorney General issued a public statement belittling our concerns and calling PHC’s allegations ‘nothing new,’ just as he has done for six straight years. Now he claims that he was actually investigating at the time and asks us to believe that the timing of his ‘investigation’ has nothing to do with his election bid. This is political theater at its most absurd. We hope that Pennsylvania voters, Republican and Democrat alike, will see through this flimsy ruse.”
Why did candidate Corbett wait so many years to initiate an investigation?
For starters, the Chairman of the Board of the Hershey Trust is Republican former Pennsylvania Attorney General Leroy S. Zimmerman.
In January, Campaigns & Elections named Leroy Zimmerman one of the Top Republican Influencers in Pennsylvania. PoliticsPA describes GOP fundraiser Zimmerman as "a power broker in Central Pennsylvania" who "contributes heavily to state and national Republicans."
Zimmerman, who earns $500,000 a year as Chairman, isn't the only prominent Republican raking in Hershey School-related dough. According to the Inquirer, Philadelphia investment manager James Nevels was compensated $325,359 on two Hershey-related boards. Former Gov. Tom Ridge earns $200,000 a year on the Hershey Co. board, and former gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann makes $100,000 a year on the board of the company that operates Hersheypark.
So, once again, candidate Corbett finds himself in the position of "investigating" political allies accused of wrongdoing. But, again - only after negative publicity forced his hand.
News that Corbett had subpoenaed House Republicans was leaked only after Capitolwire and Morning Call editorials questioned Corbett's partisanship in the Bonusgate investigation. Only after Corbett's opponent in the Attorney General race accused Corbett of conflicts of interest did news emerge of Senate Republican subpoenas.
News that that Republican staff had been interviewed appeared only after a Patriot-News analysis mused, "Is state bonus probe partisan?" Governor Rendell called on Corbett to come clean about investigations of Republicans, and the Chambersburg Public Opinion agreed with Rendell.
Even though Corbett and his taxpayer-funded political operatives are savvy enough to create the illusion of "investigating" political allies, such investigations rarely amount to much: Corbett exonerated Bedford County District Attorney Bill Higgins of a rape accusation. Accusations of malfeasance and misconduct against York County District Attorney Stan Rebert "did not warrant any charges." And state Senator Jane Orie allegedly continued to direct a campaign operation out of her district office with impunity even as Corbett claimed to be investigating the Senate Republican Caucus.
What does Corbett think of a prosecutor investigating his own political allies? It's "unethical!" It creates "the appearance of impropriety!" It's an "ethical conflict" and a prosecutor who does it should apologize for "the appearance that the top law enforcement office in Pennsylvania is for sale in exchange for political and legal favors."
But that's only when someone else does it.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Tom Corbett, March 8 on KDKA:
Jon Delano: "You're pledging no tax increases of any type? Fees, taxes, state income tax, the sales tax - can you be precise as to what you - "
Corbett: "The pledge as it's written - and I don't have it written here - is no tax increases during the course of the next term. That's exactly what it says. That's what we're gonna aim for. No tax increases whatsoever."
Tom Corbett, Sept. 27, Candidate's Debate:
Corbett: "I would look at the payroll tax, increasing the payroll contributions."
h/t The Rick Smith Show
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Apparently having slept through the last three years, the Morning Call's John Micek is suddenly clutching his pearls over the delivery of a Dave Argall for Congress fund raising letter to Frank Dermody's CAPITOL OFFICES! (Yes, in all caps, lest you overlook what a BIG DEAL is is).
Puh-leez. House Republicans openly have been using the Capitol as a campaign office at least as far back as 2004. Why wouldn't Argall assume everyone else does, too?
As campaign finance reports reveal, House Republican members Rick Geist, (2004 2007), Gordon Denlinger, Adam Harris, David Millard, Katie True (2006, early 2007 and late 2007), Nick Micozzie (2004, 2005 and 2007),
Tom Killion (January 2004, May 2004, August 2004, October 2004, December 2004, May 2005, and September 2007) all sent checks to the House Republican Campaign Committee at the state Capitol.
Frank Linn collected campaign checks at the Capitol, as well, while Melissa Murphy Weber (March 2004 and July 2004) and Dave Reed collected campaign checks at their taxpayer-funded district offices. Weber's district office was the address of record for her campaign, according to the Committee of Seventy.
Hilariously, when we confronted Rep. Denlinger about the issue, he claimed listing the Capitol address was a mistake by his campaign treasurer. He immediately clammed up when we observed that so many House Republican campaign treasurers seemed to make the same mistake, repeatedly. (Apparently, confronting legislators about apparent transgressions isn't standard operating procedure for the Capitol Stenographers Corps: Micek only "briefly toyed with the idea of calling Argall's office for comment.")
Funny how Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett missed all this in his three-year investigation of the legislature. Then again, you can't find what you're not looking for. He was looking for headlines, and he got 'em, so why bother antagonizing legislators any more than he had to do?
Harder to understand is why Argall's 44-cent mailing suddenly generates attention, when his $10,000 "double dipping" through his Republican Whip contingency account is completely ignored. Corbett charged Mike Veon with five felonies for exactly the same practice.
Perhaps we should strike a job-sharing deal with the Capitol Stenographers Corps? You provide the snarky commentary; we'll provide the factual reporting. Deal?
Thursday, September 23, 2010
In a stroke of tactical genius, the Republicans in 2004 kept John Kerry out of the White House using campaign judo that turned a Kerry strength into a controversial liability. We're referring, of course, to the infamous "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" ads that called into question Kerry's Vientam War combat record.
Kerry's war record should have been an unassailable positive for the Democratic nominee, yet the Republican establishment funded a series of ads that recounted a different - and false - narrative of Kerry's service that muddied the waters just enough to cost Kerry in closely-fought states like Ohio.
Why aren't the Pennsylvania Democrats and the Dan Onorato campaign doing the same to Attorney General Tom Corbett and his seemingly unassailable strength - his "Bonusgate" investigation? Unlike the Swift Boat Veterans, Pennsylvania Democrats actually have the truth on their side.
Make no mistake: "Bonusgate" is one of the top two campaign issues for Corbett - otherwise he would not have emphasized it over jobs in his very first campaign ad. Polling on the issue was overwhelming enough that he blatantly broke a campaign promise never to mention it.
Given all the well-documented ammunition Onorato has to attack Corbett, it's a mystery why he hasn't.
Imagine, if you will, a Democratic Attorney General running for Governor. Imagine that his campaign centerpiece were a "corruption" investigation.
Imagine that he concluded a two-year reign of investigative intimidation by arresting Republican Senators Robert Jubelirer and David Brigthbill, along with "campaign guru" Mike Long, while leaving Mike Veon, Bill DeWeese and Mike Manzo off the hook.
Imagine that in the immediate wake of these arrests, Democratic campaign operatives used the scandal to unseat five incumbent Republican legislators.
Imagine that the Democratic Attorney General only began even to create the impression of investigating Democrats after prominent editorials accused him of partisanship.
Imagine that former Rep. Matt Wright had been arrested (only after the a newspaper revealed that Democratic A.G. had ignored the evidence against him, of course) while former Rep. Steven Stetler remained unindicted.
Imagine that a whistleblower had approached the Democratic Attorney General to report Democratic malfeasance, but was turned away, leaving a Republican District attorney to make the stunning arrest of a Democratic lawmaker.
Imagine that Republican Rep. Mauree Gingrich had been indicted for forging her nominating petitions, while Democratic Rep. Linda Bebko-Jones got off scot-free.
Imagine that overwhelming evidence of malfeasance against a Democratic legislative leader had been thoroughly documented by the media, yet that leader remained unidicted on that particular malfeasance (oh, wait; that already happened).
Imagine that the Democratic Attorney General had sent law enforcement agents to intimidate a Republican legislator who dared to criticize him publicly.
Finally, imagine that evidence revealed that this Democratic Attorney General and his taxpayer-funded staff were had used state resources for political purposes, all while prosecuting others for the same type of behavior.
Oh, and imagine that a major supporter and chair of the Democratic Attorney General's exploratory committee were a convicted felon.
You can bet that the Republican establishment in Pennsylvania would be peeing its collective pants in its rush to attack. You wouldn't see a campaign ad without the words "partisan hypocrite" delivered in a tone of voice reserved for biblical disasters. And convicted felon Bob Asher's millions would be bankrolling the effort.
In fact, we're sure that's why Corbett was so hell-bent on unmasking the merry pranksters here at CasablancaPA. He and his campaign staff surely saw the politically-damaging potential of the boneheadedness, hypocrisy and underhandedness we so happily document here.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Kelly said he approached Corbett at the Republican State Committee meeting in June and complained about the fraudulent petition challenges that city Republican leaders had filed in March.
"I said, 'Mr. Corbett, I have some grave concerns about these guys. They're criminals.' He looked me right in the eye and said, 'I'm looking forward, not backward.' " (Philadelphia Daily News, 8/11/10)
That's a far cry from "Follow the evidence wherever it leads." Then again, there were no reporters around when Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett said he's not interested in "looking backward" at any crimes that may have been committed by his political allies in the Philadelphia Republican Party.
It's not like this case is an unsolvable whodunit: in an effort to keep candidates for state committee off the ballot, party leaders challenged their petitions. At least 30 people whose signatures appeared on the challenge documents said they never signed, and one of the signatures was that of a dead woman.
Party chairman Vito Canuso Jr. and general counsel Michael P. Meehan admit the signatures are fogeries: "Meehan and Canuso blamed the bogus signatures on overzealous ward leaders whom they declined to identify."
But when a concerned citizen tried to report the crime to Corbett, he couldn't have been less interested.
Is forging signatures a crime? Corbett thought so when he charged Democratic Rep. Linda Bebko Jones and a staffer for forging signatures on her nominating petitions. Did he "look backward" to do it? He charged her in 2008 for alleged crimes committed two years earlier. Kevin Kelly was trying to report something that happened three months earlier.
Is it only a crime when Democrats do it? Corbett's opened an investigation into alleged forgery of nominating petitions of an independent candidate for Congress whose candidacy poses a threat to the Republican Corbett's supporting, Pat Meehan.
Is it a crime when Republicans do it? Apparently not.
Corbett had no trouble "looking backward" when it came to a highly publicized investigation of House Democrats that not only raised his public profile just as he was preparing to run for Governor, but also gave his Republican allies in the House enough fodder to knock off five Democratic incumbents in their effort to regain the majority.
Of course, Kevin Kelly should have known better than to expect Corbett to launch an investigation of his political allies just because someone tries to report suspected wrongdoing. By then everyone had heard the story of how Corbett's office blew off intern Jennifer Knapp Rioja when she tried to report the taxpayer-funded campaign operation Sen. Jane Orie allegedly ran out of her district office. It's still not clear even now whether Corbett has settled on either of his lame, contradictory excuses: either there's no record the intern ever called (oh, wait; there is.) Or, Corbett routinely allows his receptionist to decide which cases his office will investigate.
Corbett's tendency to overlook accusations of wrongdoing against his political allies is well established. Apparently he's so comfortable with this reputation he's not even bothering to offer lame excuses anymore.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
John Burkoff, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, said the prosecution typically needs a very good reason to put trials together, and usually it is only done when the same list of witnesses will be used against both defendants. (Pennsylvania Independent, 9/2/10)
Witnesses cited in the Bill DeWeese Presentment:
Witnesses cited in the Steve Stetler Presentment:
John Paul Jones
Well, what do you know: not a single witness in common. (No doubt the Office of Attorney General staff - when they're not chatting it up with campaign staff - are now scrambling to identify a couple of witnesses who can testify in both cases; we shall know them by their weak testimony.)
Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett hopes that by joining the two cases, he can keep the public confused about who's charged with what, and no one will start to wonder why DeWeese isn't charged for his involvement in awarding taxpayer-funded bonuses for campaign work, using a state contractor for campaign work, and directing caucus staff to perform campaign work for candidates other than himself.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Brabender yesterday said that the commercial does not specifically mention the word Bonusgate and refers instead to Corbett's overall record on fighting corruption.
"When we're talking about corruption we're basically talking about the sheer magnitude of it," said Brabender, adding that the campaign will not mention Bonusgate or use any images from related press conferences or court hearings in that investigation. (Philadelphia Daily News, 9/1/10)
Okay, Team Corbett; if you're not talking about onusgate-bay (wink, wink), what public corruption are you claiming to have fought? (And tsk, tsk, Chris Brennan, for not asking)
What public officials have you indicted outside of onusgate-bay?? (And don't try to claim credit for Jeff Habay; Jerry Pappert indicted him before you even took office. You prosecuted the case and failed to convict on half of it.)
Did you indict York County D.A. Stan Rebert, accused of abusing his office for personal and political gain? You did not.
Did you indict Bedford County D.A. Bill Higgins, accused of raping an intoxicated woman in his office? You did not.
Did you indict McKean County Commissioner candidate Al Pingie, accused of campaign finance reporting irregularities? You did not.
Did you indict state Rep. Mauree Gingrich, accused of forging signatures on her ballot petitions? You did not.
Did you indict Crawford County Treasurer Fred Wagner, accused of using his office to campaign? You did not.
Did you indict former state Rep. Eugene McGill, accused of personally profiting from a non-profit he founded that received state funds? You did not.
Even within the Bonusgate milieu, did you indict State Senator Jane Orie, accused of using taxpayer resources to campaign - even after her intern tried to give you the goods on her? You did not.
Did you indict Bill DeWeese in connection with bonuses, "LCOMM" or directing caucus staff to work on campaigns other than his own? You did not.
Of course, the real problem is not that you failed to indict them, but that you didn't recuse yourself from the investigations (when you bothered to "investigate"). You know, like you howled your primary opponent Bruce Castor should have done.
Did Brabender's weasely defense of Corbett's broken promise remind anyone else of a kid brother in the back seat of a car, chanting "I'm not touching you! I'm not touching you!" while waving his fingers a half-millimeter away from your face?
Are we reduced to treating campaign promises like a game of "Simon Says?"
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
"I can tell you now that we will not be talking about Bonusgate -- ever -- in the governor's race." -- Corbett for Governor media strategist John Brabender (Post-Gazette 3/24/10)
"The politicians were just as skeptical when I promised to fight corruption in Pennsylvania. Boy, were they wrong." -- Tom Corbett (campaign ad, 8/31/10)
....Well, almost anybody.
Since Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett seems to believe any legislator who uses taxpayer funds for campaign purposes is linked to the same criminal enterprise, we expect him to file a motion any day now to join the case of Matt Wright with those of Bill DeWeese and Steve Stetler.
Oh, wait, that's right: Wright isn't charged with any crime, despite the finding of the state Ethics Commission that he engaged in precisely the same behavior as DeWeese.
It says right there in the Ethics Commission ruling that: "Matthew Wright ('Wright') a public official in his capacity as the Representative for the 142nd District of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from January 1991 until December 2006, violated Section 1103(a) of the Public Official and Employee Ethics Act ("Ethics Act") 65 Pa. C.S. ss 1103(a) when he used staff, office space, equipment and materials of his legislative District Office and his Capitol Office to further his re-election campaigns."
Isn't the alleged use of legislative staff, office space, equipment and materials to further election campaigns why DeWeese, Stetler and others are awaiting trial or sentencing or serving prison time? Isn't using taxpayer resources for political purposes a violation of the law? And didn't Senior Deputy Attorney General Frank Fina tell the Patriot-News way back in July of 2008 (before the Ethics Committee ruling on Wright) "Anybody who violated the law is going to get it?"
Just for giggles, let's compare and contrast the Ethics Comission's ruling on Wright with the DeWeese grand jury presentment:
* Wright ruling: "From at least 2003 through 2006, office space, equipment, computer software and employees of both his District and Harrisburg Office were used in furtherance of Wright's re-election campaigns."
* DeWeese presentment: "Representative DeWeese's legislative staff and campaign staff were virtually one in the same [sic.]"
* Wright ruling: "Wright did not rent or lease an office facility to serve as campaign headquarters when running for re-election."
* DeWeese presentment: "DeWeese had no campaign apparatus beyond his legislative staff.
* Wright ruling: "Legislative staff utilized the District office and equipment to coordinate election related activities, including receipt of campaign materials from vendors, making and receiving telephone calls (Phone calls? Oh, no!) related to campaign activities, storage of campagin literature on computer files, receipt of campaign contributions and nominating petitions. Staff from both Wright's District and Harrisburg office arranged purchases, [met] vendors, updated lists of campaign contributors, scheduled fundraisers, circulated nominating petitions and accepted and delivered campaign contributions related to his re-election efforts.
*DeWeese presentment: "Practically every aspect of his campaign, whether fundraising, mailers, advertisements, signs or door to door canvassing, was performed by legislative employees."
Well, you know what they say: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." Silly voters: you can't expect everyone to be treated equally under the law.
Friday, August 27, 2010
Bill DeWeese is accused of using taxpayer funds to employ a full-time political fund-raiser, Kevin Sidella, and directing his taxpayer-funded staff to work on his own campaigns.
Steve Stetler is accused of using taxpayer funds to employ a full-time political fund-raiser, Erin Madison, and directing taxpayer-funded caucus staffers to conduct opposition research on political candidates.
The charges were recommended in separate grand jury presentments (DeWeese presentment, Stetler presentment). Neither is accused in participating in the alleged criminal activity of the other. Prosecutors do not allege that Stetler was involved in the employment of Sidella, or in directing DeWeese's staff to work on DeWeese's campaigns. Neither do they allege that DeWeese was involved in directing legislative staff to work on opposition research for other candidates, or in the employment of Erin Madison. They are not charged in the same "criminal episodes," to use Deputy AG Marc Constanzo's term.
Trying DeWeese and Stetler together makes as much legal sense as trying either one of them together with John Perzel, who also is accused of using taxpayer funds for political purposes.
One thing the Stetler and DeWeese cases do have in common is that both were charged only after Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett was embarrassed by public revelations that he ignored evidence against them.
So why does Corbett want to join the two cases? Because he hopes that linking the cases will confuse voters into thinking DeWeese is charged in the caucus-wide activities at the center of "Bonusgate."
After Corbett's inaction on evidence against Stetler was revealed, the eventual charges were based on that same evidence.
Not so with DeWeese.
DeWeese was not charged in connection with bonuses, despite e-mails showing he knew about the bonuses, despite the testimony of his former top aide that he knew about the bonuses, and despite the testimony of his assistant that he approved the bonuses.
DeWeese was not charged with employing anyone other than Sidella based on political work, despite e-mails showing he based personnel decisions on political work.
DeWeese was not charged with directing state contractor Eric Buxton to do political work, despite e-mails showing DeWeese directed Buxton to do political work, and aides Sidella and Tom Andrews directed Buxton to do political work. (Corbett blatantly acknowledged this transgression in the presentment against the original 12 defendants, noting, DeWeese "always communicated with Buxton through his campaign account.")
He is not charged with directing staff other than Sidella and his district office staff to do political work, despite e-mails showing he actively supervised caucus staff working on campaigns through the House Democratic Campaign Committee.
Corbett has never explained his failure to charge DeWeese in the caucus-wide activities, instead hoping that the charges related to Sidella and his district office employees would distract the public.
As we have noted before, in the fall of 2007, DeWeese was waging a furious legal battle over the admissibility of evidence seized and subpoenas ordering staff to testify to the grand jury.
Resolution of DeWeese's court challenges could have taken months - perhaps even years.
Suddenly, in November, DeWeese dropped his legal challenges, then made great fanfare of firing seven staffers and delivered to the Corbett campaign enough hand-picked evidence to indict those staffers.
Corbett won't say whether his failure to charge DeWeese in the scandal is related to DeWeese's decision to drop the legal challenges and turn over evidence implicating others.
And he's hoping no one will ask.
Harley said he could not explain why Corbett said in March that [the pledge] barred fees.
Associated Press, 8/25/10
[Frederiksen] was unsure who placed the campaign literature on the table.
Frederiksen told Capitol Ideas that he did not know who put the materials on the tables...
Capitol Ideas, 7/29/10
Kevin Harley, said later the owner of a plumbing company, whose name he did not know, told Corbett he had workers who did not want to return...
Campaign spokesman Kevin Harley said he did not know the name of the candy company.
During his deposition Mr. Corbett indicated he could not recall or did not know the answers to more than 35 questions put to him...
Pennsylvania Independent, 4/16/10
Harley said that supervisors had sent the agents to Galloway's office and that he didn't know if Corbett had been involved in that decision.
Philadelphia Daily News, 4/9/10
As for why calls appear to be made from others in Corbett’s campaign staff to state phones, Harley said he didn’t know.
Corbett said the Perzel meeting and Preski fundraiser came at a time when "we didn't have all the facts in front of us ..."
Philadelphia Daily News, 11/17/09
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Corbett For Governor spokesman Kevin Harley, August 24, on Capitolwire.com:
"[In Corbett’s] “taxpayer protection pledge, fees are not included in that, just taxes are.”
Tom Corbett, March 8 on KDKA:
Jon Delano: "You're pledging no tax increases of any type? Fees, taxes, state income tax, the sales tax - can you be precise as to what you - "
Corbett: "The pledge as it's written - and I don't have it written here - is no tax increases during the course of the next term. That's exactly what it says. That's what we're gonna aim for. No tax increases whatsoever."
Delano: "And that would include ... "
Corbett: "Those are state. Those are states."
Delano: "...fees on use of services, things like that?"
Corbett: "That's right."
Corbett: "That's right."
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Quiz time! What's the difference between the investigations into alleged wrongdoing by New York Governor David Paterson and the alleged use of public resources for political campaigns among Pennsylvania's legislators?
Give up? Paterson's being investigated by an independent prosecutor because the Attorney General of New York, Andrew Cuomo, recused himself to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
What's that you say? Independent prosecutor? Avoiding the appearance of a conflict of interest? Yes, it's pretty foreign stuff here in Pennsylvania, where no one blinks an eye at a candidate for Governor conducting a wide-ranging investigation of his own closest political supporters.
Or, should we say not conducting any investigation of his political supporters at all?
Or, should we say, conducting an investigation of a political supporter - or at least pretending to - then refusing to prosecute?
Or should we say, determining whether a target is, in fact, a supporter before conducting an investigation?
One wonders how that candidate might react if one of his opponents failed to recuse himself from an investigation involving a political supporter. Oh, wait: he'd be apoplectic.
Monday, August 2, 2010
Not long ago, the Times-Shamrock newspaper editorial writers worked themselves into high dudgeon over the fact that allegedly crooked lawmakers have apparently learned nothing from the experiences of those gone before.
More specifically, the one gone before, the one newspaper editorial writers apparently believe is the only legislator before Mike Veon ever to be accused of using state resources for political campaigns, the one against whose experiences all others must be judged, Jeff Habay.
"What will it take?" the flabbergasted editors fume. "Given [legislators'] failure to [mandate transparency] after Habay's conviction, it's possible that they are incapable of learning."
While we're no fan of the legislature, they're smarter than the Times-Shamrock editors give them credit for being. Of course they've learned from the experiences of those who've gone before.
What did we learn from the experiences of James Lynch, whose Ethics Commission decision followed closely on the heels of Habay's, and who was found to have engaged in identical conduct? Instead of a criminal investigation and subsequent conviction, Lynch faced only a fine of less than $5,400.
See, most legislators know - better than the Times-Shamrock editors know - that an outcome like Habay's is exceedingly rare. And an outcome like Veon's requires a perfect storm of lingering public outrage over the 2005 pay raise vote, the unmatched cravenness of a former Majority Leader trying to divert an investigation and the shameless political opportunism of an Attorney General running for Governor.
The reality of what a legislator risks by campaigning on the public dime is a lot closer to Lynch than to Veon or even Habay.
Even Tom Corbett ... knows it.
Monday, July 12, 2010
It will come as no surprise that we at CasablancaPA take great delight whenever Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett's frequent boneheaded moves create a minor media stir.
As you can imagine, his mind-boggling declaration that Pennsylvanians would rather collect unemployment than work was music to our ears. Pleasantly, his gaffe was reported by all the major news outlets in the state, including the Inquirer, the Post-Gazette, the Morning Call, the Patriot-News, WDUQ, and of course the outlet that broke the story, WITF.
Similarly, Corbett's failed attempt to use a grand jury subpoena to expose a couple of anonymous online critics tickled us pink. Even better, that gaffe was picked up by major national media outlets, including The New York Times, USA Today, Wired magazine, Politico, Talking Points Memo and TechCrunch.
What makes us weep into our whiskey down at the Blue Parrot are all of Corbett's boneheaded moves that gather little or no media attention. For example, not a single news outlet pointed out that Corbett's refusal to recuse himself from investigating political supporters (Or this one. Or this one.) directly contradicted his howls of indignation four years earlier over his opponent's much less significant lapse.
The secret meeting between investigation target John Perzel and Corbet and his campaign manager, and the Corbett fund-raiser hosted by target Brian Preski was reported in precisely one newspaper.
The Daily News was also the sole outlet to report on Corbett's appalling use of state agents to intimidate a legislator who criticized him.
And only one newspaper and one television station have reported on the hundreds of phone calls Corbett's state-paid staff exchanged on their state phones during state time with Corbett's campaign workers. (Neither managed to get even a well-crafted lie out of Corbett in his own defense).
Even though both the Patriot-News and Tribune-Review reported that House Republican computers were replaced mid-investigation with Corbett's knowledge and permission, neither they nor any other news outlet seemed to recall that salient fact when Corbett nearly blew a gasket over all that missing evidence. Nor did anyone seem to remember John Morganelli's all-too-true prediction, which earned him only the threat of a lawsuit from the now-curiously-quiet Sam Smith.
While the mountain of evidence linking Bill DeWeese to Bonusgate is well-documented, guess how many outlets have questioned why (or even noticed that) DeWeese escaped indictment in the case? That's right: Zip. Zero. Nada.
Corbett's comments about the unemployed reveal that he's ignorant. And his Twitter subpoena reveals that he's a thin-skinned bully. But his lesser-noticed blunders reveal something far more dangerous than an ignorant, thin-skinned bully.
Monday, June 28, 2010
It's reached epidemic proportions among the political press. It may even have affected a journalist you know.
For example, according to grand jury presentments, the House Republicans' alleged scheme to divert millions of dollars in taxpayer funds to political activity supposedly began just after the 2000 elections. The House Democrats' alleged plot to reward political volunteerism with taxpayer-funded bonuses supposedly kicked into gear during the 2004 election cycle.
Even according to the Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett, House Republicans had been unfairly and illegally kicking House Democrats' asses for four years before Mike Manzo and Scott Brubaker came up with an equally-illegal plan to help the Democrats level the playing field.
But even though the Democrats' alleged illegal scheme was much smaller in scale and was initiated four years later, it's somehow portrayed as having given the Democratic candidates a wildly unfair advantage over Republican candidates.
Witness the Post-Gazette's hilariously melodramatic (and shockingly misleading) account of plucky underdog Jim Marshall, whose earnest supporters rolled meatballs and hand-addressed fund-raising letters from Marshall's home-based headquarters. Not a word did reporter Tracie Mauriello write - was she even aware? - of the blizzard of professionally-produced television ads, robo-calls and slick direct mail that swept through the district in the final weeks of the campaign, all funded through the state Republican committee.
Apparently Mauriello will believe anything she's told as long as it reflects poorly on Mike Veon. She didn't even bother to check Marshall's campaign finance reports, which reveal more than $150,000 in funding from the state party. And that's just the support that was legally reported. If Corbett's allegations against Perzel are true, a virtual army of taxpayer-funded House Republican staffers were using millions in taxpayer-funded resources to support Marshall and other Republican candidates.
If you want to try to set up a David vs. Goliath analogy, you kind of need someone to play the role of David, and there's no suitable candidate in this situation. It's not an "advantage" if both sides are cheating.
The Tribune-Review's Brad Bumsted chimes in, characterizing the bonus scheme - for which even he admits "Veon didn't write the script," as a direct result of Veon's "unquenched thirst for more power." Bumsted's been covering the legislature for a long time; he must know that when the bonus scheme which Veon didn't concoct was launched, the Democrats had virtually no power in the legislature. At that point, according to Corbett, the Democrats were being victimized by a multi-million-dollar taxpayer-funded Republican campaign blitzkrieg.
For that matter, Bumsted places responsibility for the scandal on Veon because Veon "signed off on it" as the "de facto leader of the House Democratic Caucus." But it was Bumsted himself who first revealed that the actual leader of the House Democratic Caucus - the only one who had the legal authority to disburse caucus funds - was well aware of the scheme. Yet somehow DeWeese never faced charges in connection with it, and Bumsted apparently has no problem with that?
How can you help combat cognitive dissonance among political reporters? Just a few seconds of critical thought a day could mean the difference between substantive analyzis and mindless rhetoric. Please, take the time to care.