Such an innocent time. Back then, it never occurred to anyone in the General Assembly that people could go to jail on accusations of using public resources for political purposes.
So innocent, in fact, that Republican Senators and staff alike had no qualms about admitting to a newspaper reporter that the caucus was paying a political operative, using taxpayer funds, to conduct opposition research on political candidates.
Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett did his best not to uncover any evidence against Senate Republicans by refusing to subpoena a single one of them, but even his best efforts couldn't keep them from incriminating themselves.
"From what I understand, [political operative Ron Harper Jr.] was very influential in helping Sen. Rob Wonderling defeat his opponent in Montgomery County," Sen. Gib E. Armstrong told the Lancaster Intelligencer-Journal and New Era. "Apparently, Wonderling's opponent did work with a redevelopment authority down there and was putting properties in his own name. Well, when that came out, it was over."
Breathtaking, isn't it? Taxpayer-funded political operative Mike Long didn't even try to hide the fact that the opposition research was conducted on the public dime: "Long said Harper earns $3,000 a month from the Senate Republican Caucus to research people and subjects important to the Senate."
Some of the other "people and subjects important to the Senate" back then were anti-pay raise activists working to unseat Senate Republican President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer, Senate Republican Leader David "Chip" Brightbill and Republican Caucus chairman Sen. Noah Wenger. Young Conservatives of Pennsylvania said Harper "threatened and harassed" them.
Also "important to the Senate" was former Blair County Commissioner, now Senator John Eichelberger, who defeated Jubelirer in the 2006 primary. Harper allegedly "stalked" and harassed Eichelberger both during the 2006 Senate primary against Jubelierer and during a 2003 county commission primary, when Eichelberger ran against a Jubelirer-backed candidate.
Was Steve MacNett, in his voluntary appearances before the grand jury -the sole Senate GOPer to appear - asked about Harper's contract? Or Drew Crompton's months on the Lynn Swann campaign in 2006 and his subsequent taxpayer-funded bonus? Or the campaign work "political guru" Mike Long ran from his state senate office, and his corresponding bonuses? We're quite sure MacNett didn't "volunteer"' the information.
It's not 2004 anymore. You can't count on Senate Republicans freely admitting that taxpayer dollars were spent on political opposition research. In 2011, only a subpoena will get tongues wagging like it's 2004 again.