Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Here at CasablancaPA headquarters, we're fielding lots of questions from readers about why the media has virtually ignored the trial of former House Republican Whip Brett Feese and his aide, Jill Seaman.

We did a quick Internet search, comparing press coverage of the trial of a former House GOP whip accused in a $20 million scandal with the trial of a former House Democratic Whip accused in a scandal involving less than $2 million, and discovered the following:

  • The Tribune-Review published about 70 stories during the trial of former House Democratic Whip Mike Veon, compared with about 16 during the Feese trial.
  • The Post-Gazette published about 53 stories during the Veon trial, compared with about 5 during the Feese trial.
  • The Inquirer published about 57 stories during the Veon trial, compared with about 8 during the Feese trial

We must admit, those results were worse than even we expected. But we're not surprised at the dearth of media coverage.  Governor Tom Corbett, who conducted both "investigations," wanted this outcome, engineered this outcome, and the media happily complied.

The Capitol Stenographers Corps no doubt disagrees with our assessment, though we've yet to hear a cogent explanation for the disparity in coverage.  We're sure they don't even realize they're being manipulated.

But the fact is, even though Corbett claimed for months beginning in February 2007 that he was investigating all four legislative caucuses, we now know that he didn't begin investigating House Republicans in earnest until October 2008.  That was when contempt hearings were held to force the caucus to comply with subpoenas issued a full year earlier.

The Capitol Stenographers Corps has yet to grasp the significance of the delay in the investigation, even as they backhandedly acknowledged that Corbett was lying throughout 2007 and early 2008 about a four-caucus investigation.  They continued to explain away the delay with another lie: that Corbett had to investigate House Democrats first because he thought they were destroying evidence.  We know Corbett didn't act on that erroneous belief until August of 2007, six months into a Democrats-only investigation, all the while insisting he was investigating all four caucuses.

It astounds us how smoothly the pack narrative slid from the false "he's investigating all four caucuses" to the equally false "he had to investigate House Democrats first," without even a pause to acknowledge the months of lying or to point out how absurdly incompetent and self-destructive it would be to conduct a highly-publicized investigation of one caucus with the intention of going after the other caucuses at some point in the future.

Only Democratic Attorney General Candidate John Morganelli pointed out that even a fool would expect evidence to disappear:  "If I have four potential targets, and I think they all might be involved in the same thing, and if I go to house A and take all the evidence out and wait two years to go after B, C and D, there’s not going to be any evidence in B, C and D,"  he said.

He was right, of course, as Corbett's presentment against John Perzel and House Republican staff makes clear, though don't hold your breath waiting for anyone in the mainstream media to acknowledge it.

But nobody, not even the Capitol Stenographers Corps, can possibly believe that Corbett was stupid enough to expect House Republicans and both Senate caucuses to sit on their hands and wait more than two years for investigators to come a-calling.

Throughout 2007 and most of 2008, Corbett had no intention ever of pursuing charges against anyone in the House Republican Caucus or the Senate. There is simply no way he would have allowed House Republicans to replace their computers if he had. He would not have blithely continued to accept fundraising help from Brian Preski. He would not have held political meetings with Perzel. He would not have waited an entire year to force compliance with subpoenas that were issued three weeks after such a meeting with Perzel. He would not have accepted indirect campaign contributions from Senate Republicans. These actions, if Corbett indeed had intended to pursue charges against Republicans, would be both breathtakingly stupid and undeniably corrupt.

The only alternative explanation is that Corbett never intended to pursue charges against House Republicans or anyone in the Senate. He believed that he could get away with indicting one sitting rank-and-file Democratic representative who just happened to be running for a competitive Senate seat, one former representative already reviled statewide for the pay-raise controversy, and 10 staff members and be hailed as the conquering hero of legislative corruption.

At first, Corbett thought he could deflect suspicion about his partisanship by leaking hints about a nascent investigation of Republicans. In October 2007, a Capitolwire column suggested Corbett's political ties to the Republican legislature might inhibit Corbett's investigation, and a Morning Call editorial endorsed Morganelli's call for an independent prosecutor. The next day, the Associated Press reported that House Republicans had at last received a subpoena for records. We now know Corbett and his campaign manager had met with Perzel three weeks earlier. It had, by then, been 10 months since Corbett announced his investigation. The House Republican Caucus had replaced all its computers months earlier.

But the pressure continued to mount. In January 2008, Morganelli accused Corbett of “conflicts of interest” in a Tribune-Review article, which also detailed contributions from Republican lawmakers to Corbett's campaigns. Shortly afterward, the news emerged that a subpoena for records had been issued to Senate Republicans (Patriot-News 2/13/08)  The turning point appears to have come around Aug. 3, 2008, when the Patriot-News published an analysis headlined “Is state bonus probe partisan?” In a Tribune-Review article published three days later, Governor Ed Rendell urged Corbett to reveal by election day whether Republicans would be charged as well. The Chambersburg Public Opinion editorialized the next day that Rendell had a pretty good point. By October, Team Corbett was explaining to House Republicans that no, they really were serious about those subpoenas they'd issued the year before.

It's easy for the Capitol Stenographers Corps to avoid seeing the patterns of Corbett's politically-motivated prosecutions when they're stretched out over five years.  And prosecutors have been fairly successful in leading the press to treat the $20 million, eight-year House Republican corruption scheme as an afterthought to the House Democrats $1.4 million, four-year bonus program. But a full-blown dog-and-pony show the likes of last year's "Bonusgate" trial might have laid out the facts in a pattern too obvious even for the Corps to deny.  That's why prosecutors were so motivated to get Preski and Perzel to agree to plea deals. They certainly didn't need them to testify - although Perzel got on the stand, the best he could do against defendant Feese was, "He had to know because everyone knew." Hardly a smoking gun. We doubt the public will find out anytime soon how sweet Preski and Perzel's deals are. Almost two years after entering a plea in the "Bonusgate" case, Mike Manzo, former Chief of Staff to craven liar Bill Deweese, has yet to be sentenced. But the deals were motivated by Corbett's desire to deflect media attention to the trial. And it worked.

We at CasablancaPA have a theory about why the Capitol Stenographers Corps are so willing to turn a collective blind eye to Corbett's ethical lapses and political opportunism.  When a child suspects there's a monster under her bed, she hides her head under the covers rather than lean over to see. Because once you're looking it square in the face, what are you going to do about it?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Tomorrow, Speaker Sam Smith will take the stand in the "computergate" trial along with his long-time chief of staff, Tony Aliano.  Everyone's perjury antennae need to be up for both of them.

Prior to their appearances, Sheila Flickinger, a $58,000 a year "special projects coordinator" in Smith's office during the peak years of the "computergate" shenanigans, provided testimony regarding her time as Finance Director of the House Republican Campaign Committee (Associated Press 10/24/11)

It's not apparent from the media coverage of her testimony  whom Flickinger's supervisors were for her "official" caucus job, nor that she was (and perhaps still is) in charge of Smith's personal leadership political committee -- Keystone Leader's PAC.

Much of the coverage of the trial so far has centered around the computer programs and the contracts with vendors that established a $20 million criminal enterprise.  What hasn't been mentioned very much or very clearly is the function of the House Republican Caucus' Office of District Operations (pages 157-172 grand jury presentment)

The combination of Flickinger's intimate roles in both the illegal computer contracting and the rampant illegal campaign work of the Office of District Operations make it so very hard to believe that Smith will take the stand tomorrow and say he had no idea that massive illegal campaign operations were conducted right under his nose for nearly a decade or more.

Flickinger's prominence in the computer contracts scheme and the Office of District Operations is well documented in Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett's grand jury presentment:

  • "...GCR had detailed consultations with Sheila Flickinger due to her lengthy experience in the nominating petition process in Pennsylvania." (Page 65 grand jury presentment)
  • "John Hanley and Sheila Flickinger both testified that it was clear and well known that HRCC was not paying GCR for any of this work." (Page 73 grand jury presentment)
  • "Steve Dull testified that, while attending one of the HRCC meetings, he overheard a private conversation between several people including John Hanley, Al Bowman and Sheila Flickinger.  The participants were quietly discussing their concerns over the fact that GCR was doing a tremendous amount of campaign work for the HRCC without adequate compensation." (Page 89 grand jury presentment)
  • "After assisting the Republican candidates with properly completing and filing their petitions, various [District Operations] staffers were assigned by Hanley and/or Sheila Flickinger to review the nominating petitions of Democratic incumbents.  The reveiw of these petitions, which occurred at the Department of State (if no copies were made) or either HRCC or the District Operations headquarters in the State Capitol (if copies of the petitions were requested, required the time and assistance of most of the Regional Coordinators as well as the Harrisburg staff.  These reviews happened both during and after the normal legislative day..." (Page 162 grand jury presentment)
  • "Adam Maust and Tom Weeter actually moved boxes full of binders and other 'questionable' material from District Operations to HRCC.  The two of them used Sheila Flickinger's car (Ms. Flickinger has a parking space under the Capitol) to make at least two trips to take the material to HRCC." (Page 170 grand jury presentment)
  • "After [illegally gathered campaign information] was analyzed by Republican Caucus leadership (Perzel Feese, Preski) and senior staffers (Hanley, Bowman, Tomaselli,  Dull, Seaman, Flickinger), the leadership and senior staffers would allocate resources or engage in other activities with one goal in mind: to get Republican candidates elected to office." (Page 172 grand jury presentment)
Are we to believe that at no time did Flickinger discuss with her direct supervisors, Smith and Aliano, the "well known" illegality of the millions of dollars of computer contracts Smith signed over the years?  Or, that she never once mentioned all the political work taking up the majority of her time while under their supervision?

Of course not.  Smith and Aliano knew fully well what was going on, and until it became clear that Corbett really was going to investigate the House Republican Caucus (after having given the GOP the green light to replace their hard drives and servers and continuing his cozy political relationship with them), things were cruising along after Smith took complete control of the caucus in 2007 just as they did in the years before.

Flickinger said yesterday on the stand that "the willingness of House employees to work as campaign volunteers for House shrank markedly after rules governing the practice were tightened in 2008 while the state attorney general’s investigation intensified into the alleged use of taxpayer-paid resources for electioneering."  Maybe that is true -- for 2008 -- but definitely not 2007.

In 2007, when Smith was completely in charge of the caucus, there was absolutely no change in the amount of political campaign work the Office of District Operations was performing.  Just compare the Perzel era DO staff activity here with the Smith era activity for 2007 here.

The grand jury presentment lists emails and meetings that included Smith's participation surrounding the political work of the computer contractors.  It also relates how Smith knowingly parked notorious campaign operatives in the Office of District Operations (page 170 grand jury presentment)

Corbett even goes to great lengths to mention how Aliano authorized the use of taxpayer resources to pay for a party held in honor of the campaign work the District Operations staff did in 2005 (page 171 grand jury presentment)

There have been some Smith apologias over the past month similar to this:

"As whip, Smith mostly did what he was told, since while he had some concerns about Perzel, he also, like any fair-minded person, was in awe of the sheer skill of the man, and of Perzel’s incredible deal-making ability.  And Smith needed Perzel to rise in the House as much as Perzel needed him. But since Perzel tended to be a huge power hog, Smith got titles but not much power, both as whip and as majority leader...Did Smith probably have an idea Perzel did some hinky things? Yes. Did he have legal proof of the way the campaign stuff was used? Almost certainly not." (Capitolwire 10/19/2011)

No one could have written that after reviewing Corbett's grand jury presentment or following the "computergate" testimony thus far.  It is all there.

Smith knew.  Witness after witness says "everyone" knew, especially those at the highest levels (not to mention the dozens and dozens of caucus staff working on campaigns daily).  He was at the meetings.  He was on the emails.  Sheila Flickinger was his direct employee for years.  He parked political operatives in the Office of District Operations.  Most importantly, he signed many of the contracts and many of the checks knowing full well what was going on in the caucus.

There are many criticisms made of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, but electing and then putting into the very top leadership positions literal jellyfish with no backbone and no brain has never been one of them (figuratively? Maybe.)  To believe that Smith, a veteran member of the House and son of a veteran member, and right hand Aliano floated aimlessly around the Capitol, bumping into walls, unaware of all the activity buzzing around him for years is simply absurd.

Perhaps Smith and Aliano will follow DeWeese's lead and plead the Fifth tomorrow.  But if they don't, any answer short of acknowledging they were aware of the political nature of the computer contracts Smith signed, and that the Office of District Operations was a front for campaign operatives performing taxpayer funded campaign work, will be a deliberate act of perjury.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


A word of advice to Senate Republicans: It's hard to throw someone under a bus without getting at least a little dust kicked up on your face.

When we read the statement from Senate GOP hired gun Matthew Haverstick that evidence in the Jane Orie case was turned over "as part of a prearranged and cooperative effort," we couldn't help but reflect upon craven liar Bill DeWeese's "cooperative effort" with Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett.

Believing he had nothing to fear from prosecutors, DeWeese turned over a massive cache of documents and emails to be used as evidence against his former colleague Mike Veon and others. He made at least a halfhearted effort to exclude some of the blatantly incriminating evidence, such as emails showing two of his top staffers coordinating political work with a state-paid contractor - emails that unfortunately for him turned up among the small amount of evidence gathered from other sources.

But a person who believes he has nothing to fear is a person who lets his guard down. Plenty of incriminating emails were among the evidence DeWeese himself turned over, including the smoking-gun "U R welcome" email in which he acknowledges awarding bonuses for campaign work.

DeWeese's sloppiness in voluntarily handing over evidence that incriminated himself did not have direct legal consequences - even after public disclosure of his complicity in awarding bonuses for campaign work, using a state-paid contractor for politicking, using state resources for petition challenges and overseeing other state-paid political work, DeWeese never was indicted on any of it.

But public disclosure of the unindicted DeWeese's criminal activities created a huge public-relations problem for Gubernatorial Candidate Corbett. Unable to act upon the incriminating evidence within his very grasp, Corbett was forced to conduct a separate investigation to ferret out crimes not covered by his previous deal with DeWeese.

Now, it's certainly not difficult to be smarter than Bill DeWeese. And Senate GOP leaders may not feel as bulletproof as DeWeese did in the fall of 2007. Perhaps they learned a lesson from DeWeese's stumbles. On the other hand, this investigation is being conducted by the District Attorney of Allegheny County, not the GOP candidate for Governor. Senate GOP leaders presumably weren't able to cover their asses with this prosecutor by funneling campaign contributions through his running mate's commitee.

Friday, October 21, 2011


Today's Philadelphia Inquirer reports some very familiar-sounding news to those who have been following  Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett's investigation of the state legislature. In this case, it involves Philadelphia City Council Member Donna Reed Miller's office and staff:

"Michael Quintero Moore, who receives a city salary of $60,179 a year as Miller's communications director, was accused of creating that flier and several other political documents on his city-owned computer, in Miller's office on the third floor of City Hall. Moore then used a city printer to produce more than 1,000 copies of the flier, and directed Kacy Nickens, Miller's niece and a $30,000-a-year staff member, to fold them for distribution, [the Ethics Board] said. Nickens allegedly set up her folding operation at the councilwoman's desk, where Ethics Board investigators found the material May 13 while serving a subpoena for political material....[the Ethics Board's] enforcement action accused Moore of 11 violations of the City Charter's restrictions on political activity, and five additional counts of trying to undermine the Ethic's Board's investigation by deleting relevant files from Council's computer system and refusing to answer questions under oath from board investigators." (Inquirer 10/21/11)

Oh, my.

Highly-paid staffers doing campaign work on the city taxpayer clock. Staff ordering other staff to work on campaigns. Nepotism. The use of city taxpayer equipment. Destroying evidence. Refusing to cooperate with investigators.

This is exactly the kind of illegality Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams specifically brought former Deputy Attorney General Patrick Blessington onto his "anti-corruption" team to weed out earlier this year:

"'There is no question that Mr. Blessington has the abilities, the temperament, and the accomplishments to serve as our chief corruption prosecutor,' Williams said. 'I've asked him to investigate corruption wherever it may go and wherever it may lead us.'" (Inquirer 6/3/11)

Heck, from reading Williams' press release on his appointment, you'd think that the pinnacle of Blessington's career was a trial that resulted in 117 acquittals.

We're eager to see if Blessington will spring into action. Let's face it, this isn't the only politiking Miller's staff has done over the years. Furthermore, who believes that Miller didn't order this work to be done?

Blessington was only too happy to see legislative staff who did this exact same type of activity go to prison. Now that Blessington is patrolling a much smaller pond than the entire Commonwealth, can we expect him to bring the hammer down on Miller and her taxpayer-funded political operation?

We're not holding our breath. While this case is a mirror image of the "bonusgate" charges, it also closely resembles the case of former Rep. Matt Wright, (AP 1/29/10), who in 2009 was given a complete pass by Corbett's investigators - including Blessington - even though they adamantly maintained, "Anybody who violated the law is going to get it." (Patriot News 8/3/08)

Perhaps we have Blessington all wrong. Now that he's no longer under the direction of Corbett, maybe he'll live up to the high standards of "following the evidence wherever it leads" -  a standard to which Corbett paid only lip service during his investigation of the state legislature. Perhaps, Williams won't be afraid of taking down clearly guilty elected officials and not just irrelevant entities and a bunch of staff

Maybe, just maybe, Blessington will even use his freedom from the GOP-dominated Attorney General's office to take on Corbett's taxpayer funded political machine that was operated out of the OAG since the day Corbett took office in 2005. Make no mistake, the Philadelphia District Attorney - or any district attorney in the Commonwealth - has the authority to do so.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


A portion of former Speaker and star "computergate" witness John Perzel's testimony yesterday offers the best example yet of the obtuseness of Gubernatorial Candidate  Tom Corbett's investigation of the legislature.
"Perhaps Perzel's most tantalizing testimony was about people not seated at the defense table.  At one point, he was asked about current House Speaker Sam Smith (R., Jefferson), who was not charged in the Computergate case.  Perzel testified that Smith, then also in the House GOP leadership, controlled the caucus' checkbook and had to sign off on the computer-software contracts.  'Sam would do whatever I asked him to do,' said Perzel." (Inquirer 10/19/11)
One of the many illegal things Perzel asked Smith to do was sign these taxpayer-funded contracts with GCR, worth over $4 million, that were mainly for campaign work, not official legislative functions.

Now, compare Perzel's testimony that Smith did what he was asked to do regarding millions of dollars with this testimony from a "bonusgate" witness regarding campaign work done by legislative staff while on the taxpayer payroll using taxpayer resources:
"No one ever said, 'This is part of your job.'  I was just asked to do it and I did it." (Post-Gazette 3/2/10)
Dozens and dozens of staff from both sides of the aisle were put under enormous pressure and peril by Corbett's investigation.  They were threatened with arrest, put in fear of losing their jobs after witnessing other staff being fired, dragged before a grand jury, and then thrust into the public spotlight during the well-publicized trials.  All because they were "asked to do it and did it."

Yet, Smith who was asked to approve millions of dollars of taxpayer money for what "everyone" knew to be illegal campaign work was never forced to testify before the grand jury and isn't on the government's witness list for the "computergate" trial. The only reason that Smith will have to answer publicly, and under oath, about his clear involvement in the "computergate" scheme is because the defense is calling him as a witness.  (Tribune-Review 10/19/11)  The prosecution wouldn't go so far as to inconvenience him.

Smith's experience mirrors that of every other elected official from both parties when it comes to Corbett's investigation. With the sole exception of defendant DeWeese, not a single legislator, past or present, was brought before a grand jury to testify for these investigations or used as a government witness in any of the trials, even though dozens and dozens of them show up in trial exhibits, grand jury testimony, and Corbett's own presentments.

At the end of the day, who is really being held accountable?  Members of staff doing what they were told?  A mere handful of washed-up current and ex-members of the legislature, like Perzel, Feese, Veon, DeWeese, and Stetler, who have absolutely no influence on the success or failure of now-Governor Corbett's legislative agenda?

If all this illegal campaign activity had occurred in a vacuum that included only those indicted, then this would make sense.  But that simply isn't the case.  Testimony, trial exhibits, and just plain ol' common knowledge proves that huge swaths of the current membership of the General Assembly knew, condoned, benefited from, and even participated in the use of both caucus' resources for their own re-elections.

Shame on Corbett for conducting an investigation in this manner.  Shame on those of us who work in and around state government for letting Corbett proceed in this fashion.  And, shame on all those members of the legislature for sitting by  watching others, particularly staff, take the fall.

Friday, October 14, 2011


Anyone taking the press coverage of the "bonusgate" and "computergate" trials at face value, would think that all campaigning on state time was limited to the offices and directions of Mike Veon, John Perzel, and Brett Feese.  In two future trials, Bill DeWeese and Steve Stetler will be added to the list.

Yesterday's testimony in the "computergate" trial from Al Bowman is a perfect example.  The Associated Press - the sole outlet to produce an article - creates the impression that Bowman discussed only his former employer, Brett Feese. (Associated Press 10/14/11)

However, the AP fails to mention Bowman's significant testimony regarding how ubiquitous campaigning in the Capitol was among every legislator's office and all staff people.  The Inquirer's Angela Couloumbis' Tweets from yesterday's trial reflect this truth:

"Bowman also testifies that prior to #computergate investigation, House R staffers routinely did political work during legislative day"

"But after 2007, when state AG investigation began, everyone got scared and started changing caucus policies #computergate"

The Tweets - seen by a tiny fraction of the public - paint the more accurate picture of the landscape that actually existed in the state legislature.

Something fundamentally unjust occurred with Corbett's investigation of the state legislature.  Especially considering the supposedly high standard for criminality that Corbett's team publicly set from the very beginning of the investigation. As summarized by Deputy Attorney General Frank Fina, "Anybody who violated the law is going to get it." (Patriot News 8/3/08)  Deputy Attorney General Marc Costanzo  reiterated the standard: "That this kind of activity [illegal use of taxpayers funds for political campaigns] will not be tolerated, and people will pay for their crimes." (Post-Gazette 5/21/10)

In the period covered by Corbett's investigations, multiple instances of the same type of malfeasance have been presented to Corbett by:

-- his own grand jury witnesses regarding their employers like former Majority Leader Todd Eachus (Associated Press 12/23/09) and former Speaker Keith McCall (Associated Press 2/19/10)

-- informants contacting his office like the former intern for Senator Jane Orie (Post-Gazette 1/6/2010)

-- and, the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission regarding members of the legislature like former Representative Matt Wright (Associated Press 1/29/10)

Yet, Corbett knowingly and deliberately let these law-breakers and so many others go free.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


The Patriot-News reports this morning on former Republican staffer Eric Ruth's testimony regarding a misdirected invoice in 2004 that could have exposed the House GOP's "computergate" scheme:
Ruth said that in late 2004 a GCR invoice listing such work was accidentally sent to the Bipartisan Management Committee of the House. He and other conspirators knew that invoice “revealed that campaign work was being paid for with state money,” Ruth said. (Patriot 10/12/11)
This near-miss is interesting, but not nearly as interesting as the House Republican political operation actually being exposed in 2007 by former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Mario Cattabiani. (Inquirer 2/18/07)

In his report, Cattabiani related how the House GOP servers had political videos, photos, and campaign manuals stored on them.  But, what really interests us is how this clear, unambiguous peek into the multi-million dollar "computergate" scheme resulted in no investigation by then Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett.

If Corbett really was investigating "computergate" in 2007, would he have give permission to House Republicans to replace their computers and servers? (Patriot 8/3/08)

If Corbett really was taking a hard look at John Perzel and Brian Preski, would Corbett and his taxpayer-funded campaign manager Brian Nutt have enlisted Preski to raise money for Corbett's campaigns?  Or held private meetings with Perzel about the gubernatorial campaign? (Daily News 11/12/09)

A careful examination of the timeline of Corbett's "computergate" investigation shows it was one of political expediency that would  net only small fish and has-beens like Perzel and Feese, not active power-brokers like Sam Smith.

Friday, October 7, 2011


With all the talk about what a "powerful" lawmaker former Speaker John Perzel once was, many have forgotten that following the 2006 general election, former Perzel was out...gone....sent off to "Speaker Emeritus" land.

Perzel had absolutely no authority within the House Republican Caucus in 2007. Sam Smith and his staff took the reins in the caucus.  Perzel and his former chief of staff, Brian Preski, were non-entities.

That's why we were very interested in this bit of testimony from Tony Painter that Pete Jackson with the Associated Press reports today from the computergate trial:

"Tony Painter, who served as the caucus' director of information and technology from 1994 to 2007, said Feese - a former state representative from Lycoming County and one of two defendants - approached him about replacing the caucus email system in February 2007, shortly after the GOP lost control of the House and Feese became the caucus' lawyer.  Painter said he was stunned when Feese told him legislative and campaign activities must be kept separate. He said Feese, who had previously served as House GOP whip and head of the House Republican Campaign Committee, knew that tapping public funds for political purpose had become routine among caucus leaders. "It was a phony meeting" designed to make Feese appear innocent, Painter said. "Within three or four days of this meeting, it's business as usual." (Associated Press 10/7/11)

Note that Painter says the use of taxpayer dollars - in early 2007 -  "had become routine among caucus leaders."  That's "leaders," plural.  Not "leader," as in just Perzel.  There's not a soul in Harrisburg, much less within the House Republican Caucus, who would not consider Smith one of the leaders throughout the entire period covered by the "computergate" trial.

Most telling is that this meeting was held in 2007 when Perzel was no longer in charge.  Every decision was Smith's to make. Yet, Painter says that, regardless of what was said at this "phony meeting," within days it was back to "business as usual."

"Business as usual" was the continuation of the House Republicans using taxpayer resources for campaign purposes.  Only now, instead of simply knowing about this illegal activity, Smith was in charge of it, and allowing it to continue under his watch.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


For the third time in two years, (not the second, Inquirer) the Commonwealth is being treated to a parade of witnesses trotted into court to testify that yes, legislative employees worked on campaigns, often between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., often using state equipment, and yes, some of those-state paid employees did nothing but campaign, and yes, much of that equipment was purchased solely for campaigns.

Each time, these now-commonplace admissions are treated with breathless urgency, as though the Capitol Stenographers Corps have not been fully aware for at least a decade that the practice ran rampant among hundreds of employees in all four legislative caucuses.

News flash: WE KNOW.

What we don't know is why some employees were prosecuted, some given immunity to testify, and the vast majority left alone completely, and more importantly why nearly every single elected official who supervised, sanctioned and paid for the political work with taxpayer dollars was given a free pass by then-Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett.
(Well, we do know, but the Capitol Stenographers Corps are constitutionally unable to report "it's raining," simply because they see with their own eyes that rain is falling from the sky. They must wait for a person in authority to say "it's raining," and then - for balance - they must find someone, anyone, to declare that it's not raining. That's called "reporting the news.")

When Speaker of the House Sam Smith takes the stand in the "Computergate" trial, Pennsylvanians will for the very first time have the opportunity to gain some insight  -- Insight into the the reasons why Corbett's investigation bypassed most of the legislature and landed mainly on a relatively small group of staffers, and not a single legislative leader (the only legislators with the authority to allocate caucus funds)

Former House Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese, who was not charged in "Bonusgate" (as he desperately wants us all to know) essentially admitted his guilt in that very scheme when he pleaded the Fifth rather than testify.

Smith, whose fingerprints are all over "Computergate" no longer feels as bulletproof as he did when he said:

"I think anything as big as that [bonus] program they had going, I think he [DeWeese] was aware of it. … As the Republican leader, I know that ultimately the buck stops with me, and I’m responsible for the actions, even if I really wasn’t. … As leader you’re aware of most things. Some minor details I don’t see that go on from day to day that go on in terms of operations. But I think anything as big as that program they had going, I think he was aware of it.” (Tribune-Review, 12/20/07)

Smith had every reason to believe that statement, about an alleged criminal enterprise less than one-tenth the scope of "Computergate," would never come back to haunt him. House Republicans had - with Corbett's blessing - replaced all of their computers months before.  Investigating House Republicans was so far from Corbett's mind then that he was happily accepting Brian Preski's fund-raising support and holding political meetings with John Perzel.

But the pressure to indict an expendable Republican finally overwhelmed Corbett, much to Smith's humiliation (but significantly, at no legal or legislative cost to him). Keep in mind that the grand jury identified $20 million in taxpayer funds diverted to political use, but apparently were able to pin only $10 million of that on Perzel.

Now Smith risks perjury if he doesn't testify truthfully.  If he pleads the Fifth, he can't count on the Capitol Stenographers Corps - or the voters in his district - remaining as blasé about it as they've been about DeWeese.

This dilemma is rendered moot, however, if attorneys don't ask the right questions when they finally get Speaker Smith on the stand, under oath.