The struggle to succeed Joe Sestak in Congress has been getting nasty since Tea Party candidate Jim Schneller got into the race and questions about petitions began going to Attorney General Tom Corbett. This all began last winter when Delaware County Republicans, long the power in Delco, were accused of widespread fraud circulating fellow Republican Pat Meehan’s petitions. The Delco GOP machine has long enjoyed a sort of monopoly in local politics. Joe Sestak began creating cracks in it as he defeated Crazy Curt Weldon then essentially ran unopposed in 2008. Meehan, the former U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia, was embarrassed by the charges of fraud surrounding his candidacy and referred the matter to Corbett. Tom Corbett, of course, is also running for Governor and has been embedded in a highly political prosecution of his own against Pennsylvania House Democrats.
The BonusGate scandal erupted when legislative staffers were found to be receiving bonuses tied to their illegal political work on campaigns. Corbett, acting as Attorney General, conducted official searches and investigations of House Dems while allowing House Republicans two years to hit the delete buttons on their legislative computers. Now he is supposed to be investigating Delaware County Republicans for wholesale fraud on Meehan’s petitions. As that effort wouldn’t affect his eligibility for the ballot (he still had enough signatures) the third man running for the seat from Meehan’s right did present a threat.
Jim Schneller unknowingly received considerable assistance from Democrat Bryan Lentz’s volunteers who circulated petitions for the third party effort to siphon November votes from the Republican. It takes many more petition signatures for third party candidates in Pennsylvania so they get until August to amass them and when it was revealed that Schneller got help from Democrats Meehan called foul. It doesn’t matter who circulates petitions for independent candidates as long as they reside in the district which these folks did. Pat Meehan went to court to attempt to throw Schneller off the ballot as happened to almost every other candidate, Tea Party or Green, in the Commonwealth. Jim Schneller won the fight but, again, an investigation has been referred to the AG.
This means the Republican Attorney General, who is running for Governor, has been charged with investigating petitions for both Pat Meehan (R) and Jim Schneller (TP) while also being charged with political favoritism in his BonusGate prosecutions. Corbett cannot win in this battle and his dormant investigation of the Meehan petitions is now receiving more media attention.
The real issue here is ballot access where both major parties have raised the bar for third party and independent candidates so high it is difficult for challengers to get on the ballot. Even then they routinely must hire legal counsel to defend their petitions in court from challenges. Schneller is the only such candidate to survive to November and only because the Lentz effort was so effective. Will Corbett perform his official duties before the election or allow the whole affair to die a quiet death? No one seems to be betting on the former.