Saturday, January 30, 2010


Sometimes, if you allegedly use state resources for campaigning, you're indicted on a boatload of felony charges.

Sometimes, you just get a huge advantage for your various statewide campaigns.

Sometimes, you're fined $10,000 and no charges are recommended.

Who's to know who will end up with what? It's a crapshoot!

The State Ethics Commission's ruling on Matt Wright is a slightly altered reissue of the grand jury presentment against Mike Veon - minus the 50 or so felony charges.

Then again, we've seen such disparity before. There was virtually no difference in the ethics ruling against Jim Lynch and that against Jeff Habay. Yet only Habay faced criminal charges; Lynch was fined less than $5,400.

It all depends upon who's running for what and how badly they need a high-profile prosecution to shore up their campaigns.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


We learn today from Fox News 29 in Philadelphia that the House Democratic Caucus is holding a retreat today at the Radisson in Camp Hill...or are they?

Is this really a caucus retreat or an elaborate sting operation by gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett to catch state legislators double dipping?

Corbett charged Mike Veon with five felonies for buying meals for himself and other legislators while still collecting his full per diem for those days.

Using Corbett's standard, if any of these legislators who attend this caucus retreat today fail to deduct the costs of the breakfast and the House Democratic Campaign Committee luncheon from their per diem, they are subject to the same five felony charges as Veon.

So, is this really a retreat or are Corbett's investigators playing more cops and robbers with state legislators?

Ironically, Veon was never in violation of any law for hosting dinners in the Capitol while still collecting his full per diem. Read the Chief Clerk's office interpretation here.

While Corbett charged Veon, he ignored dozens of other House members with contingency accounts who spent money on "off campus" meals to an even more extravagant extent then Veon's "on-campus" carry-out dinners.

We're anxious to see if attendees of today's caucus retreat will deduct the meals from their per diems today. The Chief Clerk memo clearly delineates that it is required.

More importantly, we're anxious to hear why Corbett charged Veon, yet has ignored dozens of other clearly and very easily documented cases of other legislators using their contingency accounts in the very same way.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Breaking his nearly three year silence, Mike Veon sat down with KDKA's Jon Delano for an interview earlier this week. You can watch the uncut, in-depth discussion here.

Veon may be speaking out, but gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett has been mum on why he pulled his "ace" prosecutor, Tony Krastek, from the bonusgate trials.

Of course, it isn't surprising, given Krastek's recent record. His flubbing the first preliminary hearing in the related Beaver Initiative for Growth case and then taking the lead in the trial that resulted in Sean Ramaley being acquitted of all charges wasn't part of Corbett's gubernatorial campaign plan.

However, beyond the obvious political problems the courtroom set-backs have created for Corbett, word in Harrisburg's legal circles has been that there's more than a little disarray and dissension at the Office of the Attorney General.

One indication of this is the abrupt yanking of Krastek in favor of what appears to be a platooning method of trying the Veon case. All the news outlets now quote multiple Deputy Attorney Generals in regard to the Veon trial.

Another sign of chaos has been how the Harrisburg legal communitiy has been abuzz over a veritable civil war that erupted within the Office of Attorney General over whether or not to bring charges against the OAG's investigators' favorite singing canary, Bill DeWeese. Corbett's political expediency won over his investigators' assurances to DeWeese and his lawyers.

Apparently, the chaos and dissension has become so intense that Frank Fina, the Deputy Attorney General in charge of all things bonusgate, has thrown his hat into the ring for the vacant Snyder County District Attorney position to be filled at the end of this month. (Sunbury Daily Item, 1/19/10)

Come to think of it, maybe Krastek wasn't yanked by Corbett for ineptitude. Perhaps it was Krastek who decided he didn't want any further part of what has become a quagmire of internal backbiting over trial strategy and an OAG culture based on political calculation for Corbett's run for Governor.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Speaker Keith McCall's retirement is the hot news of the day. As things like this go, there is always the propensity to look back on a retiree's career with rose-colored glasses. We'd like to inject some reality into this process before the chapter for McCall in the Book of Saints gets written.

It is a fact that McCall was a good legislator. Not just good, but above average. He was a concientious and committed representative for Carbon County. And, when it came to transportation issues, McCall was a diligent and hard worker.

However, this morning we saw the first hints of revisionist history when it comes to McCall and bonusgate.

Before this gets out of hand, it is important that a few facts are pointed out about McCall and his involvement in the culture that has permeated Harrisburg since Ben Franklin's time in the Speaker's chair. A culture he actively participated in until the paradigm shift occured when gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett began his investigation of the House Democratic Caucus.

First, McCall filled his staff with former Veon staff. Notably, the Veon staff that has since been shown to be among the most political. Take a look at Corbett's witness list for the upcoming Veon trial and you'll recognize the names of current and former McCall staff.

Make no mistake. McCall swooped up these Veon workers because he knew what they could do politically for his nascent leadership position. There is no doubt that PJ Lavelle was hired to do the exact same job for McCall as Lavelle did for Veon. You can see it all in Exhibit E-18 of the Veon pre-trial motion from July of 2009. His plans for his Veon inheritance only came to an end when the bonusgate investigation made it no longer tenable.

McCall's use of his staff for political activity didn't just start with his ascendancy to the Whip position in 2007. Exhibit E-18 shows his staff using their taxpayer emails during normal work hours to coordinate campaign work for both McCall and other members of the caucus.

Finally, we encourage everyone to take a peek at the Transportation Committee and Whip contingency accounts McCall maintained. Match it to the per diems he collected. Veon was charged by Corbett for five felonies for the exact same use of his Whip contingency account.

McCall is a good man and will be remembered as a good legislator. But, before anyone writes a hagiography, keep in mind that when it came to the culture of politics and perks in Harrisburg, he was just a typical legislator.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


According to the grand jury presentment charging former House Majority Leader H. William DeWeese with misuse of public resources, DeWeese once told his top taxpayer-funded political operative Kevin Sidella: "Our saving grace is that everyone does it."

We've certainly seen enough of the evidence gathered (but not used) by Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett (and quite a bit Corbett would prefer that no one had gathered) to know DeWeese was spot-on when he said "everyone does it." But why did he think that would be his "saving grace?"

Because it usually takes a certain amount of moral authority to prosecute someone for wrongdoing. In some parts of the world, that whole thing about "casting the first stone" actually carries some weight.

But it's not just Corbett's colossal effrontery that caught DeWeese by surprise. It's the shocking passivity of the entire Harrisburg establishment. It's a simple question, that - unbelievably - no one has the initiative to ask: Why is it okay for Tom Corbett to use his taxpayer-funded staff for campaigning while prosecuting others for multiple felonies on accusations of the very same thing?

We know without a doubt that Corbett's taxpayer-funded staff made and received hundreds of phone calls - on their state phones, on state time - to and from Corbett's campaign staff. There's no legitimate explanation for these phone calls. Corbett may try to claim that his own phone calls to and from the state phones of state workers on his "personal" cell phone were legitimate state business - but then he's got to explain why he had his campaign pay for them. (At least, he would if anyone ever bothered to ask him) Good luck with that. But what state business can he claim his campaign staff were discussing with his state staff on state phones during state time?

He's charged others for employing campaign operatives in taxpayer-funded positions, even while his own top campaign aides - most notably his chief of staff/campaign manager - rest comfortably in taxpayer-funded positions.

He's spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on campaign ads disguised as "public service announcements."

And, of course, one could argue (we certainly would) that every dime of the millions of taxpayer dollars spent on investigating and prosecuting members of the legislature for the very same type of activity can be considered a campaign expense.

No, DeWeese never counted on the unprecidented level of hypocrisy Corbett has displayed throughout his legislative investigation. But no one ever counted on the disappointing level of apathy that has allowed him to get away with it.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

CELL PHONE COUNT.... back to two.

On WITF-FM this morning, Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett bragged how technology - "cell phones, BlackBerries" - allows him to simultaneously prosecute members of the legislature while seeking their support for his gubernatorial campaign.

"I carry two, by the way," he said.

Let's take a magical journey through Corbett's ever-changing story about the hundreds of phone calls between his campaign staff and his taxpayer-funded state Office of Attorney General staff on state phones during state time.

In September, Corbett bragged to ABC27 News that he carries two cell phones: "He says he has a separate BlackBerry for his campaign work and one for his 'work' work. Separation of government and campaigning is big with this attorney general."

But a few weeks later, ABC27 News confronted him with cell phone bills that showed hundreds of phone calls between not only Corbett's campaign phone, but campaign workers' phones and his taxpayer-funded state OAG staff - using state phones during state time.

At that time, Corbett dodged the question of what campaign workers were discussing with state workers on state phones during state time, and defended his own calls thusly: "It's easier to keep it on one that the taxpayers are not paying for. That's the most important thing: taxpayers aren't paying for this. Either the campaign or myself are paying for this."

Why, Tom? Why is important that the taxpayers weren't paying for you to call your taxpayer-funded state office staff on their state phones during state time? Was it because you weren't discussing legitimate state business with them on their state phones during state time? Why did you have your campaign reimburse you for these phone calls if they weren't campaign-related? And, not to belabor the point, what was your campaign staff discussing with your taxpayer-funded state staff on their state phones during state time?

Then in November, when Associated Press reporter Mark Scolforo asked him at a press conference about the phone calls, he again dodged the question of what his campaign staff was discussing with his taxpayer-funded state office staff on state phones during state time. This time, though, he claimed he uses his "personal" cell phone for both state and campaign business, (and has his campaign reimburse him for what he claims is state business) and he doesn't even know the number of his state-issued cell phone.

But he must have forgotten this morning that he made that claim. It's so tough keeping his stories straight.


From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jan. 6, 2010:

After abruptly leaving her internship on Oct. 30, Ms. Rioja said, she telephoned the state attorney general's office and was referred by a receptionist to the office of Mr. Zappala.

Got that? In October as Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett was pretending to be in the thick of his investigation into improper political activity among the legislature, an intern calls Corbett's office to report improper political activity among the legislature and Corbett's office tells her to go bother someone else with her silly little complaint.

Do we really need to spell this out? Is there anyone who can't figure out what's going on? Or, rather - what wasn't going on?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


"The following is a list of individuals who may be called as witnesses by the Commonwealth or whose names may be mentioned during testimony" in the Veon trial beginning January 19th.

Arter, Steven
Bliss, David
Brown, Alexis
Brubaker, Jennifer
Brubaker, Scott
Buxton, Eric
Carlson, Michael
Cassaro, Sue
Caton, Robert
Conrad, Kirby
Contino, John
Cook, Patrick
Cranga, Michael
Cranmer, Cynthia
Davis, Michael
Department of Treasury, Custodian of Records
Diehl, Rene
Drawbaugh, Robert
Fiore, Anthony
Fitzkee, David
Foreman, Jeff
Gift, Robert
Grill, Barbara
Hazelwood, Daryl
Herman, David
Hiller, Elizabeth
Jarbeck-Walko, Julie
Jones, John P.
King, Stacey
Kraber, Christa
Lavelle, Patrick J.
Lesperance, Wayne
Lewis, Melissa
Maas, Raymond
Mangelli, Joanna
Manzo, Michael
Manzo, Rachel
Marietta, Beth Ann
Martz, Paul
Mays, Heidi
McClure, Lauren
McDermott, Gail
Mosley, Earl
Nelson, Eric
Nero, Janet
Notorangelo, Linda
O'Malley, Brian
O'Palka, Paul
Orelli, Chester J.
Pietrandrea, Dennis
Pronesti, Richard
Quinnan, Charles
Reese, Daniel
Reese-O'Leary, Maryann
Reever, Ester
Romigh, Michael
Rosentel, Elizabeth
Rossell, James
Sabo, Nora
Sidella, Kevin
Smith, Lori
Soop, Robert
Speaks, Garrett
Stalnecker, Angela
Steiner, Karen
Tarquinio, Joseph
Texter, Cameron
Thompson, Nancy
Wagner, Jeb
Walker, Eric
Walls, Jess
Wasco, Trina
Webb, Eric
Webb, Steve
Wiedemer, Daniel
Wilt, Lori

Sunday, January 3, 2010


If Wilkes University political science professor Tom Baldino wants to remain "a sought-after resource for expert commentary on political events and elections for numerous news organizations, from local media to national networks," he really should work on two things: staying consistent in his "expert commentary," and start checking in with CasablancaPA.

In an item in today's Wilkes-Barre Times Leader on embattled Majority Leader Todd Eachus, Baldino is shocked, shocked that Eachus is implicated in gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett's bonusgate investigation:
“[Eachus]’s always struck me as very straightforward and hard-working individual. So the allegations surprised me. One of things that bothers me is they came late in the process and the people who are making the allegations are people who have essentially negotiated plea deals or will plead to lesser charges and are offering up other names. In turn, for offering allegations against other people, this is how they demonstrate to prosecutors they deserve a lighter sentence. If Eachus was a serious player or integral as to what was going on, why wasn’t he identified when (former state Rep. Mike) Veon and the others were announced as major defendants? It’s curious to me why Eachus’ name is just coming out now." (WB Times Leader 1/3/10)
It goes without saying that we are surprised that a Northeast Pennsylvania political commentator who brags about his "expert commentary" would be surprised at revelations of criminality by a NEPA politician, but let's set that aside and compare Baldino's statement today with his "expert commentary" regarding former Senator Vince Fumo and criminal activity by other state senators:
"That begs the question of how pervasive some of this alleged activity might be, said Tom Baldino, a political science professor at Wilkes-Barre University in Luzerne County. 'If Fumo is convicted, it makes you wonder how many other senators knew of it, or minimally used staff in the same way,' said Baldino, who, like Fumo, grew up in South Philadelphia. 'It raises doubts of why someone didn't say anything about this behavior of Fumo.' (Tribune Review 2/25/09)
Let's get this straight. Baldino is suspicious of Corbett's witnesses when Eachus is found culpable of using taxpayer resources for political campaigns, yet Fumo's conviction casts doubt on the ethical standards of every state senator?

Sounds like a case of NIMBY (not in my backyard) when it comes to Baldino and a politician that he knows personally. That is pretty amaturish. Come on,'ve got to stay consistent if you want to be ranked up there with Dr. Terry Madonna.

If Baldino had kept up on things via CasablancaPA, he would have known that it isn't just Corbett's witnesses that put the finger on Eachus and that Eachus' problems haven't arisen "late in the process." Corbett had hundreds of incriminating emails that showed Eachus to be a "serious player" in House Democratic campaign activity, and Baldino would could have found many of them in the Veon motion from July of 2009 right here at CasablancaPA.

You don't have to have a PhD to get it. Legislators of both parties using taxpayer resources for political campaign purposes is pervasive and a practice that has been common since Ben Franklin was in the Speaker's Chair. Any commentator who feigns disbelief about it should immediately lose their "expert commentary" license and join Matt Haverstick in the Department of Cluelessness at the University of Self-Rightousness.