Gene Stilp made his name going around the region with a giant pink pig designed to shame public servants who were greedy. BonusGate was his major issue and he railed against those elected officials who used taxpayer resources for political purposes. Now he’s running for Congress against Lou Barletta. They had a debate the other night and the Congressman didn’t have the balls to show up. Instead he sent staffer Shawn Kelly. Kelly isn’t on Lou’s campaign he is a taxpayer paid Congressional staffer. Taxpayer compensated employees doing political work on the public dime is illegal and the fuel on which Stilp has made his name by focusing on it. How stupid do you have to be then to send such a staffer to debate him?
If it turns out any public funds were expended to send Kelly to this debate (cars, meals, cell phone use, etc) then Lou Barletta broke the law. Interestingly Gort 42 says that when he contacted Kelly in the past about political questions the staffer correctly said he couldn’t respond. That ethical stand obviously didn’t last for long. Did Kelly violate the Hatch Act? It certainly appears so.
The American Working Families Action Fund is accusing Gov. Tom Corbett of using state time, staff and resources, the very crimes for which he prosecuted and imprisoned legislators and staffers during BonusGate, to compile a political enemies list. They accuse Dennis Roddy, a Corbett communications staffer, of to research the members of the facebook page for the group which has been highly critical of the Governor. He then posted political comments at PoliticsPA, a political blog, on state time.
In a press release this morning American Working Families Action Fund said this:
POLITICAL WORK BEING DONE AT TAXPAYER EXPENSE
DIRECTLY INSIDE PA GOVERNOR TOM CORBETT’S OFFICE
American Working Families (AWF) Action Fund has learned that an employee working inside the office of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett had researched the backgrounds of people who appeared in our organization’s Facebook page. Dennis Roddy, who is a Corbett communications staffer, used some of that research to post political comments on a blog dedicated to politics while apparently working on state time. Additionally, Roddy, in his official capacity as a spokesman for Governor Corbett distributed the information that he had gathered to a reporter at the same blog where he later posted comments. (source: http://www.politicspa.com/grou…
While it is appropriate for the governor’s office to respond to the issues our organization has raised about the administration’s record it is entirely inappropriate for a state employee on state time and using taxpayer-funded resources to conduct political opposition research and to post political statements on a blog dedicated to politics. We view this as a taxpayer-funded act of political intimidation.
Roddy’s action of doing a background check on people and an organization critical of the administration’s record concerns us that the governor’s office is compiling an enemies list. We are also concerned that Pennsylvania people who “liked” our Facebook page have been or continue to be subjects of taxpayer-funded background checks. At the very least, the governor’s office should disclose exactly what actions have been taken and release all documents and phone records related to this research.
The political nature of the governor’s office has been transparent to our organization ever since we first aired ads critical of the administration. Previously, yet another spokesperson for the governor chose to make political and personal attacks on our organization’s chairperson. To date no one within Tom Corbett’s administration has responded appropriately to the actual issues raised. Now Roddy’s conduct goes well beyond an incidental political comment in response to official matters. Opposition research is clearly not appropriate when carried out by a state employee on state time.
Pennsylvania people should be troubled to learn that politics is being played on state time at taxpayer expense from inside the governor’s office. They should also be alarmed that the governor allows a culture to exist where employees feel free to engage in such political acts. The governor’s political operation should reside at his campaign headquarters or at the Pennsylvania Republican Party where it is funded by private donations instead of by taxpayers.
We are hopeful that this most recent episode will spur the state’s media to ask more questions and to demand more documents from the governor’s office. What deserves to be learned is the scope of political work being done on state time from within the walls of Tom Corbett’s own office.
Gov. Corbett has been accused of hypocrisy before for using state cell phones for political purposes while running for Governor. This would, if true, put him in the exact same position as all those he prosecuted as Attorney General for using taxpayer funded state personnel and resources for political purposes. Under the Corbett plan he would go to state prison for this. Interestingly perhaps the worst cases of all of the public corruption in Harrisburg involved the Orie sisters. Sen. Jane Orie is now sitting in state prison and Janine and Justice Joan Orie Melvin sit in the dock awaiting trial. Tom Corbett missed them amidst allegations he was only interested in prosecuting Democrats. Allegheny County found and prosecuted the Republican Ories.
Corbett infamously investigated the website CasablancaPA as it began attacking him for hypocrisy during BonusGate. He allegedly dug and dug trying to discover who was behind the anonymous blog.
Roddy posted the following comments (time stamped as being done during the work day):
POLITICAL COMMENTS POSTED BY DENNIS RODDY ON POLITICSPA.COM DURING THE WORK-DAY:
I’m also remembering how the PG kept getting leaks from inside the Attorney General’s supposedly secret grand jury proceedings. The above linked article is one example. Roddy was then hired by Gov. Corbett. People have accused Corbett’s office of using Dennis Roddy as a press conduit to get their version of BonusGate information out when it was legally required to be kept secret. He was then hired on immediately after the Governor took office. Some call this corruption.
I reported last summer that Sen. Jane Orie had used campaign funds to pay for legal transcripts in her first trial on corruption charges. Now the Pittsburgh Post Gazettereports she has used a total of $105,500 in campaign contributions for her lawyers fees and other legal bills. She was convicted of multiple charges of corruption last month and faces a prison term for using taxpayer funded staffers, offices and resources for political purposes. Now she has used funds for political purposes for personal legal bills. Has this woman any ethics at all?
Pennsylvania campaign finance law is extremely weak but it does state that all funds contributed to candidates be used to effect the outcome of an election. As broad as that seems I fail to see how anyone can justify using any of it, much less 100 g’s, for legal bills because you’re corrupt.
State Senator Jane Orie was arraigned yesterday on a slew of new charges related to her mistrial on political corruption charges. The legal proceeding was ended when it was discovered that documents submitted by her defense had been forged. They were sent tot he Secret Service for examination and now she has been charged with altering them and having her attorneys submit them as authentic during her defense on charges she used state funds, staffers and resources for political campaigns. Included was the campaign to elect her sister Joan Orie Melvin to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
The new charges as enumerated by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette are as follows:
5 felony perjury counts (from her testimony)
6 tampering with evidence
1 obstruction of law
various forgery counts
The following statements made by the Senator at her trial have been charged against her as being perjury:
“I never had a campaign office across the street;”
“I have never had an office other than the La Casa Blanca;”
“I have no relationship with the realtor across the street to be able to rent an office space,”
“Yeah. That’s the office that’s behind — in the same complex that I am in but behind the building.”
A new trial based on the original charges is scheduled for this fall.
Philly.com is reporting that former House Speaker John Perzel will plead guilty to corruption regarding the ongoing BonusGate prosecutions. The plea, expected Wednesday, follows several of his former key aides pleading and agreeing to testify against the Philadelphian who finally lost his seat to Democrat Kevin Boyle last year. Perzel, along with Bill DeWeese, shared the Speaker’s Chair during an era of intense political corruption in Harrisburg. Attorney General Tom Corbett rode the cases all the way to the Governor’s Mansion.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that State Sen. Jane Orie may argue to Superior Court that being retried on public corruption charges would constitute double jeopardy. In a 6-0 decision (Justice Joan Orie Melvin recused herself) the Court said it is a valid legal argument for appeal. The trial in Allegheny County centered on allegations Orie used public staff, offices and resources for her and her sister Justice Melvin’s campaigns. This was an illegal use of taxpayer funds and the trial ended when the Judge declared a mistrial. The jury was deliberating when it was found that key documents in evidence had been forged and altered. The Secret Service is examining the documents and Orie could be tried if it is found she had anything to do with their alteration. For now though it appears she will win her appeal and not be subjected to further legal prosecution for cheating the taxpayers.
My battle with Rep. Thomas Caltagirone a few years ago was well covered by me on this blog when we were still hosted at Typepad. The powerful Chair of the House Judiciary Committee didn’t like it when a progressive friend ran against him in the Democratic primary after he bolted the Party and voted for Republican John Perzel for Speaker. I supported his opponent until he was forced to drop out of the race under employment pressure from Caltagirone. Two years later a Reading City Councilman (Steve Fuhs) decided to challenge Caltagirone as a Republican until he mysteriously switched over and ran for the State Senate instead. Its funny how no one ever runs against this guy.
Perhaps it is because he is so powerful he seemingly can do anything he pleases without fear of repercussions. Even during the height of BonusGate Tom Caltagirone was using his state legislative office in Reading for political purposes. I know because I was there. One morning after I had disclosed he’d given then AG candidate Tom Corbett a $500 campaign contribution he came after me at a Berks County Democratic Committee meeting. He had them pass a resolution pledging to sue me. By the way I’m still waiting either get sued or see that repealed.
This launched an epic battle between us until 2008 when I got from him early one morning. Gov. Rendell had just appointed him to Chair the Berks County campaign for Hillary Clinton and the guy needed advice on FEC rules and regulations. He hired me to advise him and I did. All of our discussions occurred in his state office on Penn Street. I observed Hillary for President signs there and we had regular meetings there about finding and securing office space. These went on for several weeks. When we finally signed a lease (in his office) I had to remind him we needed to go downstairs to discuss all campaign business.
How did Attorney General Tom Corbett, in his exhaustive investigation of other Democrats for using state resources for political purposes, miss Caltagirone? Was he afraid to go after someone who’d contributed to his own campaign?
State Senator Jane Orie took the stand yesterday in her defense and faces cross examination this morning. She and a sister are accused of using state staff, offices and resources to run political campaigns. These are similar charges to those levied against numerous Democrats in Harrisburg by former AG Tom Corbett. Now Governor, he neglected to pursue any similar charges against Republicans and the Orie trial raises many questions about his competence.
Orie’s defense has been that her chief of staff Jamie Pavlot ran everything and the Senator had no knowledge or role in the extensive campaign work done by her staff. This included using her state office for her sister Joan Orie Melvin’s Supreme Court effort in 2009. Orie staffers drove Justice Melvin to campaign appearances. Today’s testimony should be the pivotal point of this trial. Who will the jurors believe?
Pat Meehan traveled to the state Capitol building yesterday to get in Bryan Lentz’s face and succeeded. He held a press conference under the rotunda to attempt to connect Rep. Lentz with BonusGate by claiming some staffers on his 2006 campaign received bonuses. Lentz responded by showing up and slamming a Meehan campaign sign on the floor. Bryan was justifiably upset but biting on the bait was unfortunate and gives Mr. Meehan ammunition.
Because a staffer supposedly paid by the House Democratic Campaign Committee received a bonus doesn’t mean much. It doesn’t mean rep. Lentz knew that any more than it means Mr. Meehan knew about the election fraud surrounding his Congressional campaign’s petitions. If Meehan wants to establish guilt that loosly he was a terrible federal prosecutor and stupidly implicates himself in what corrupt Delaware County Republicans did for his own current campaign.
I followed the BonusGate testimony and it was quite clearly established by many witnesses that not all bonuses were for campaign work. In fact testimony said some staffers received bonuses who never worked on campaigns. Therefore the existence of a bonus means nothing. The fact Pat Meehan is automatically claiming such brings into question his own judgment. This man, after all, is supposed to be a lawyer, someone supposedly good enough of a lawyer to be a U.S. Attorney. Of course he was one of George W. Bush’s “loyal Bushies” so let’s not assume everything ourselves.
Bryan Lentz has never been implicated in BonusGate. To my knowledge his name has never come up or even been hinted at by the Attorney General, witnesses, lawyers or journalists covering the matter. Meehan seems to have pulled this accusation out of his ass and used it to provoke Mr. Lentz. It worked and Bryan gave him a reaction rather than sitting calmly in his office and waited for the media to come to him for a response.
Reform seems to be the buzzword in state politics this year. Everyone is talking about it but my bet is little will be accomplished. We heard all this after the midnight pay raise too and little came of that effort. Most of the “reformers’ elected then were either co-opted by leadership or got fed up trying to change the culture in Harrisburg and gave up. Voters want to hear about reform though so candidates are giving it lip service. Jack Wagner and Joe Hoeffel had the best reform platforms and lost the Democratic race to Dan Onorato so how serious is this issue really?
In a strange twist Tom Corbett’s BonusGate grand jury issued its own report calling for reform. Since when does a grand jury engage in public policy discussions? Of course grand juries aren’t supposed to be used for fishing expeditions because the AG wants to silence his critics either. These are investigatory bodies only and not to be used in sentencing but don’t try explaining that to Corbett.
There is no doubt Harrisburg is a cesspool of corruption. It doesn’t take much work to uncover the use of state resources, offices and personnel for political purposes and it continues in the offices of the powerful even today. Brett Cott was more severely sentenced than Vince Fumo but even that doesn’t deter some legislators from continuing their merry misdeeds. The problem is that it requires these very same powerful forces to change the laws, clean things up and provide real significant reform. It is in their interest not to do so so it won’t be done. Only a full constitutional convention can clean up the cesspool by flushing it out entirely. The report is interesting and deserves a perusal. The Inquirer reports about it here. What is your reaction and what would you recommend?