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Corbett’s Credibility Tanks Over His Role In Penn State Scandal

Pop Quiz: What’s the relationship between the following two statements which have appeared in recent news articles: 

1) “Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s national profile rises in the wake of Penn State scandal.”

 2) “Tom Corbett has been mentioned as a possible Vice Presidential candidate.”

Strangely, they are inversely proportional.  When one’s profile rises, that’s typically a good thing. But as the nation learns about some very disturbing actions of Corbett related to the Penn State scandal, his Veep chances are plummeting.  As a direct result, his chances of ever being a heartbeat away are between zero and forgetaboutit.

At this rate, he may be lucky just to survive his first term.

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Why the cover-up, and how far up the ladder did it go?  Why the lack of swift action, from not just the University, but from law enforcement?  And how could football — no matter how storied a program — have risen above the protection of innocent children?

These questions were supposed to be answered by a thorough and unbiased investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office.  But as more information emerges on that front, the less faith people have that justice has been — or will be — served.

Enter Tom Corbett.

For better or worse, Corbett has been a quiet, behind-the-scenes governor during his first year in office.  Yet he felt compelled to address the state and national media on the scandal.  In doing so, he said more in one press conference than he had in his entire governorship, despite the fact that he declined to answer most questions.

Interestingly, Corbett is wearing three hats.  He is the Governor of a state that contributes millions to Penn State. He is a Penn State Board Trustee who participated in Board decisions, including the firings of Joe Paterno and University President Graham Spanier. And most significantly, he is the former Attorney General who launched the child molestation investigation of former football coach Jerry Sandusky in 2009.

Corbett has attempted to have the best of both worlds: national publicity where he touts the virtues of morality, and a free pass on accountability because of alleged confidentiality issues.  But that tactic has backfired, as the media spotlight turned on Corbett himself. The more that is learned about Corbett’s actions — and inactions — regarding the investigation, the more his credibility tanks.

Consider:

1) It took substantially longer for the Attorney General’s office to bring charges against Sandusky than it did for numerous politicians to be indicted in the Bonusgate corruption probe. Bonusgate was a very complex investigation involving crafty politicians with the best lawyers money could buy. Since much of what was being investigated in Bonusgate was not run-of-the mill illegalities, the investigators had to overcome a hefty, time-consuming learning curve to understand the subject matter.

So how can such a complicated investigation come to fruition more quickly than a black-and-white child rape case?  And where is the rule against making an initial arrest to get the molester off the street — and warn the public — while continuing to build the case?

Given the appalling nature of the alleged crimes, and the real possibility that more young children were molested during the three year investigation, why did the Attorney General wait so long to make the staffing level as robust as it should have been from the start?

If the answer is that resources were limited — sorry, try again.  As bad as other crimes may have been, such as those committed in Bonusgate, no one was physically hurt and the welfare of children was never an issue.  Giving priority to children who are at risk of rape and molestation is a no-brainer. But inexplicably, that wasn’t done.

The Governor continues to defend his actions — scolding those who dare question him — by stating that it takes time to build such a case and that he can’t comment further, but three years? That’s an insult to everyone, especially the victims.  Again, you can’t have it both ways, grandstanding for political points but clamming up when the questions get tough.

And fair or not, many are now asking if the investigation was delayed so that Corbett could avoid being the gubernatorial candidate who took down Joe Paterno and Penn State — both wildly popular among the hundreds of thousands of alumni living in the state.

2) This one is simply incomprehensible.

In yet another instance of Corbett finishing what former Democratic Governor Ed Rendell started (others being $20 million of taxpayer money to renovate the Yankees’ AAA  stadium, and $42  million to bail out the Philadelphia Shipyard to build ships with no buyers), the Governor personally approved a $3 million taxpayer-funded grant to Sandusky’s Second Mile charity — just four months ago!

That bears repeating.  Tom Corbett, with full knowledge that Sandusky was under investigation for multiple child rapes, still approved the money to his charity. 

How is that possible?  And why on earth is the national media not yet running with this?

In a response that was offensive to any rational person, here’s what his spokesman said, as reported in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review:

“He (Corbett) couldn’t block that (grant) from going forward because of what he knew as attorney general…He couldn’t let on to anyone (including the governor’s office) what he knew….”

That is so wrong that it begs the question as to the real motivation behind approving the grant.

First, the fact that so many people had been interviewed by the grand jury made the investigation anything but a secret.  Second, the Harrisburg Patriot News reported on the grand jury investigation —- in March.  Corbett approved the funds — in July!  So not wanting to “let on” was clearly bogus.  The investigation was already well-established in the public domain.

Secondly, there was an incredibly easy way to deal with the grant without tipping off anyone: simply strike it.  After all, the budget Corbett signed cut everything else, so a grant to a charity would have been seen as just another casualty of financial cutbacks. 

Veto the grant (why taxpayers are funding that in the first place is obscene, but that’s another story) and be done with it.  It should have been that easy.  But it didn’t happen.

Why?

Well, consider if the following may have had anything to do with it. According to the sports website Deadspin.com, past and present board members of the Second Mile, along with their businesses and families, have donated more than $640,000 to Corbett since 2003.

That interesting — and massively significant — point seemed to have slipped the Governor’s mind during his press conferences.  Go figure.

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Something is rotten to the core about how this whole affair has been investigated.  It’s time for the Feds to take the lead role in uncovering the whole truth, and that includes possibly looking into the Attorney General’s investigation. 

It’s clear the Board of Trustees cannot be counted upon to conduct an unbiased investigation, nor can the local police, and, sadly, even the Attorney General’s office.  And nothing emanating from the Governor’s office on this issue can be taken at face value.

In discussing why Paterno and Spanier were fired, the Governor said, “…the Board lost confidence in their ability to lead Penn State through this time and into the future.”

With all the opportunities Tom Corbett has had to play it straight with the people of Pennsylvania — especially the victims — on his dealings with the Penn State issue, he hasn’t done so.

And that has caused an ever-increasing number of people to lose confidence in his ability to lead.

There is a great scene in the movie The American President where Richard Dreyfuss suggests that being president “was, to a certain extent, about character.” And in classic Michael Douglas style, he replies, “I can tell you, without hesitation, that being President is entirely about character.”

Well, character isn’t limited to the Oval Office. It resides in every one of us — and that includes Governors, Trustees, coaches, police and investigators.

Moving forward, let’s demand that a basic legal and moral principle be followed to the very end:

Fiat justitia ruat caelum  —”Let justice be done though the heavens fall.”

The victims deserve no less.

Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television/radio commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com  His self-syndicated model has earned him the largest cumulative media voice in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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November 21, 2011 at 8:14 am Comments (2)

Freindly Fire’s Analysis of the Democratic Governor Candidates

Freindly Fire’s Analysis of the Democratic Governor Candidates

BY CHRIS FREIND

The 2010 election cycle in Pennsylvania will be one of the most important in decades, highlighted by the gubernatorial contest. History favors the Republicans, since the governor’s office has switched hands every eight years since 1968, when governors were first permitted to serve two terms.

That said, the Democrats are not going quietly into the night. Conversely, the field continues to grow as more see promise that the eight-year trend may finally break due to the Democrats’ 1.2 million voter edge.

It is far too early to state that 2010 will be a watershed year for Republicans, as many in the GOP believe. While popular Attorney General Tom Corbett looms as the expected Republican nominee (he won a stunning victory in last year’s election, posting a 400,000 vote margin in an otherwise horrific year for Republicans), he must still get past Congressman Jim Gerlach’s insurgent candidacy.

No matter the GOP opponent, the Democrats will post a formidable challenger. Following is an analysis of the five most likely candidates, and their chances for victory:

Philadelphia Businessman Tom Knox

Many political observers believe that the next governor of Pennsylvania will be named “Tom,” and there is credible evidence behind this theory. While Tom Corbett is in the GOP’s driver seat, Tom Knox brings a plethora of assets to the race, and will present substantial obstacles for his opponents.

First and foremost, Knox can and will self-fund a large portion of his campaign warchest. He spent $12 million in his bid for Mayor of Philadelphia in 2007, narrowly losing to Michael Nutter. In doing so, he became a household name in southeastern Pennsylvania, which just happens to be home to 45% of the state’s electorate – a huge benefit to Knox.

Most political observers believe that $10 million is the minimum needed for the primary. Since Knox will easily pass this threshold, he immediately gains a huge advantage over his opponents. While they will spend their time fundraising, Knox will be traveling the state meeting, greeting – and raising even more money.

Knox’s positions on the issues also make him attractive to many of the state’s moderate Democrats, especially those in the northeastern and southwestern sections of Pennsylvania. He has been an outspoken leader in opposing electric deregulation and the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh Blues merger, and supports school choice and tort reform, all issues of significant interest to the business community.

At this point, color Knox the frontrunner.

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato

Watch for Onorato to emerge as the Ed Rendell legacy candidate. While Rendell has not officially endorsed anyone – yet – it is clear to many that his close relationship with Onorato will be exploited to maximum effect during the campaign.

Onorato already has $5 million in his campaign fund. That gives him a solid start, and may be enough to weed out the rest of the field, with the exception of Knox. And while Rendell’s approval rating is dismal, he is still a popular figure in Philadelphia and its suburbs. Ed Rendell’s touting of Onorato, along with the use of the Rendell political machine, is certainly good for a significant boost, especially important because Onorato is barely known in the state’s most expensive media market.

But years as Allegheny County Executive comes with baggage. While Onorato pushed through a hugely unpopular drink tax, his biggest liability may be what many consider conflicts of interest with campaign donors. This could be a substantial negative factor, particularly since the current governor has been roundly criticized for his widespread conflicts, with some even suggesting rampant pay-to-play activity.

In an era where voters are increasingly concerned about the appearance of impropriety and corruption in state government, Dan Onorato may be in the wrong race at the wrong time.

Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty

While a nice town, Scranton is home to only 70,000 people, hardly the major metropolis in which an unknown mayor can launch a credible statewide campaign. The Keystone State has two major media markets, including the nation’s fourth largest, and they are not cheap. Going from a zero name ID to even 30 per cent will be extremely expensive, and Doherty will simply not be able to raise the campaign cash necessary to achieve this minimum level of effectiveness.

Since there are townships with more people than Scranton, it is clear that Doherty’s candidacy for governor is a joke, amounting to nothing more than a ploy to raise name ID for a Lt. Gov. run. No more ink is necessary for a non-starter like Doherty.

Auditor General Jack Wagner

Jack Wagner has proven to be an effective, independent Auditor General, one who has shown political courage by taking on Gov. Rendell and his Administration on various fiscal issues.

A former state senator, Wagner is a proven vote-getter in statewide elections, an endeavor none of his opponents has undertaken. Hailing from the same southwest base as Onorato, Wagner could pose huge problems for the Allegheny County Executive. While not being able to raise the same level of money as Onorato, Wagner’s possible motivation could prove more troublesome. It’s no secret that the Wagner-Onorato feud is viewed as akin to the Hatfields and McCoys; many observers think Wagner may jump into the race to play the spoiler.

An unheard of tactic? Try again. Just look at last spring’s district attorney race in Philadelphia. Dan McCaffery was one of only two viable candidates in the Democratic primary, yet two of his four opponents (like him, both white Irish Americans) stayed in the race to the end. Their disdain for McCaffery was palpable, and they clearly affected the dynamic of the race. McCaffery came in second.

Many Republicans have praised Wagner, which will not help him in a Democratic primary, but the biggest obstacle facing the Auditor General is his lack of fundraising prowess. If he can find a way to solve that problem, he will be an extremely viable candidate. Look for a Wagner candidacy soon, with a possible drop-out announcement a few months later, but not before Onorato’s image is seriously tarnished.

Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel

The recent announcement of a Hoeffel candidacy has the political observers buzzing, because on paper, it changes the dynamics of the race. A second candidate from the vote-rich southeast now dilutes the once-solid Knox base, especially since Hoeffel is a well-known figure who has represented Montgomery County for two decades.

While a Hoeffel candidacy is intriguing, it remains to be seen if he can raise the money to compete. If Onorato becomes the de facto candidate of Gov. Rendell, watch for the fundraising spigot to close from Rendell’s large-dollar contributors, many of whom hail from Montgomery County.

Interestingly, the Hoeffel candidacy places Rendell in an awkward position. A second candidate from the southeast would help Onorato, but if Hoeffel’s star falls quickly due to a lack of support, Tom Knox and his imposing warchest would again take center stage. Yet if Rendell tacitly helps Hoeffel to hurt Knox, there exists the possibility that Hoeffel would catapult to the head of the pack and end up hurting Onorato.

Conspiracy theory aside, Hoeffel is aided by the fact that he controls millions in county and federal stimulus money, and many recipients of such largesse would no doubt show their appreciation by supporting a Hoeffel gubernatorial campaign. If that becomes the case, however, Hoeffel will have to contend with charges of conflicts of interest, likely to be one of the hot-button issues in the campaign.

Hoeffel is no stranger to that. In a 1993 Philadelphia Inquirer editorial, he was criticized for coming close to selling his office after sending a letter to supporters that “managed to tout both his key policy-making position as a county commissioner (‘I have found myself ‘in the loop’ of policy and personnel decisions’) and his continued availability as a Norristown lawyer ‘to consult with you on any legal matters you might have,’” according to the editorial.

The newspaper stated that it would “feel more forgiving about the whole business, if Mr. Hoeffel himself conceded the perception problem – heck, it sounded like unabashed influence-peddling – instead of pawning it off as the creation of partisan mischief.”

If Hoeffel makes it to the spring, watch for that editorial to become part of your everyday television and radio lineup.

Hoeffel also has to contend with the perception that he cannot win a statewide race. His highly-touted announcement for U.S. Senate in 2004 was the highpoint of the Hoeffel campaign. He proved to be a non-entity against Arlen Specter, getting trounced by an 11 point margin.

Chris Freind, author of “Freindly Fire,” is an independent newspaper columnist and investigative reporter whose readers hail from six continents, thirty countries, and all fifty states. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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September 25, 2009 at 10:46 am Comment (1)

Rendell: Always Sticking His Nose Where It Doesn’t Belong

Rendell: Always Sticking His Nose Where It Doesn’t Belong

Gov. Should Not Try To “Partner” With The Media

BY CHRIS FREIND

Ed Rendell just doesn’t get it.

Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor has always had a long history of sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong, but an article in the Aug. 24 New Yorker magazine confirms that Rendell either doesn’t know about the line between government and the media — or just doesn’t care.

It was reported that Rendell had approached billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg last year to buy the financially ailing Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News. Mr. Rendell was quoted as saying, “We discussed a few things, and I tried to convince him to come down and buy The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Daily News.”

After being questioned on his statement, a Rendell spokesman said the governor was just kidding.

Sure he was.

After all, joking about the Inquirer’s demise ranks among the funniest things in the world.

If Fast Eddie didn’t have a track record of wildly overstepping his boundaries, maybe his “joke” excuse would be believable.

Consider:

Earlier this year, Rendell publicly scolded the Sunoco oil company for its decision to lay off 750 workers, calling the company’s action “unconscionable.” Yet he didn’t say a word about the 3,000 layoffs — four times the number at Sunoco — that Comcast has executed in the past year.

Could that disparity have something to do with the amount of campaign money both entities contributed to the governor?

Since the 2002 election, Sunoco’s political action committee (PAC) contributed $55,000 to Rendell.

During that same time period, Comcast’s PAC, its employees, and the spouses of its top executives, have donated $634,350, with Comcast spending an additional $100,000 on the gov’s inauguration festivities in 2007.

But beyond the money trail, the larger question is why a governor is budding into the business affairs of a private-sector company. One of the fundamental principles of this country – at least until recently – is that businesses be allowed to operate free of government interference. Public officials and bureaucrats have no right to force their way into affecting corporate policy because they happen to disagree with a company’s internal business decisions.

Worse than that, however, has been Rendell’s foray into the news media.

The Fourth Estate, as the media is known, is afforded constitutional protections that allow it to be the independent watchdog for America. Once the line is crossed between a media entity and a government official discussing a partnership, all credibility is irreparably lost, on both sides. Attempting to say that such a close relationship would not affect unbiased and objective reporting is simply ludicrous.

But that’s exactly what Rendell has been doing.

Before the current owners of the Inquirer and Daily News bought the papers in 2006, the governor had approached billionaire Ron Burkle, urging him to make a bid. Burkle, a huge player in Democratic politics, contributed $10,000 to Rendell, and another $100,000 to the state Democratic Party. Additionally, he had raised over $1 million for Hillary Clinton.

Oh, and he also contributed $20,000 to the Philadelphia Future PAC, which makes this deplorable situation come full circle.

The Philadelphia Future PAC pumped $471,000 into the Rendell coffers, and is registered at the offices of the Ballard Spahr— the law firm where Rendell worked before being elected governor.

The PAC’s treasurer is David Cohen, arguably the governor’s closest ally, and Executive Vice President at Comcast. Cohen, who has contributed $80,000 to Mr. Rendell, is a longtime Rendell confidant and fundraiser, serving as chief of staff when Mr. Rendell was mayor of Philadelphia. Prior to joining Comcast, Mr. Cohen served as chairman of Ballard Spahr. Cohen’s wife Rhonda donated $156,000 to the governor.

Ballard, which provides legal counsel to Comcast, has come under intense media and legislative scrutiny for the frequency and amount of the secretive no-bid contracts it has received under the Rendell administration. The firm has contributed $481,000 to the governor’s campaigns, with its attorneys donating an additional half million dollars. The address on Gov. Rendell’s campaign finance reports is the 51st floor of 1735 Market Street in Philadelphia — where Ballard Spahr occupies the entire floor.

Mr. Cohen also serves as chairman of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.  Despite Mr. Rendell’s unprecedented intrusion into the private business sector by his attack on Sunoco, a major Philadelphia employer and chamber member, no action was taken by the chamber to defend the company.

See a pattern here?

So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when yours truly broke the story earlier this year that Rendell was engaged in talks with Brian Tierney, publisher of the Inquirer and Daily News, for a taxpayer-funded bailout for the papers. At Gov. Rendell’s request, meetings also took place that explored the two largest state pension funds bailing out the newspapers.

After a public uproar, Philadelphia Media Holdings, which owns the papers, filed for bankruptcy.

Despite criticism from the Wall Street Journal, which called taxpayer-bailouts for newspapers “the worst bailout idea so far,” George Will’s syndicated column, and the Dick Morris’ New York Times bestseller Catastrophe, Mr. Rendell still doesn’t see anything wrong with exerting his influence in the private sector.

Undoubtedly, he would have been better off focusing on the duties for which he was elected. If he had, Pennsylvania wouldn’t be facing a $3.2 billion deficit, and his approval rating wouldn’t stand at a dismal 39%.

The governor’s repeated efforts to be an integral part of the very media charged with covering his performance is repugnant. If he wants to be part of a newspaper upon leaving office, good for him. But until that time, he needs to do his job— and hopefully the rest of the media will do the same.

Chris Freind, author of “Freindly Fire,” is an independent newspaper columnist whose readers hail from six continents, thirty countries, and all fifty states. His home publication is The Philadelphia Bulletin. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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August 21, 2009 at 7:26 am Comments (0)

Fire Sale Of State Building Going To Rendell Backer?

Fire Sale Of State Building Going To Rendell Backer?

Auditor General Is Reviewing Rendell Administration’s DGS Sale Agreement
By Chris Freind

Eyebrows have been raised concerning the possibility that some of Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell’s high-dollar donors may be buying state property at “fire sale” prices in a depressed real estate market. The prospective new owner of the State Office Building in Pittsburgh is affiliated with a company whose two top executives contributed $221,000 to Gov. Rendell’s campaigns.

Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner, the commonwealth’s elected fiscal watchdog, announced he was reviewing the Pennsylvania Department of General Service’s (DGS) agreement to sell the State Office Building in Pittsburgh to River Vue Associates for $4.6 million because the transaction amounted to a “fire sale.” DGS is part of the executive branch of the Rendell administration.

River Vue Associates is an affiliate of Millcraft Industries of Canonsburg, Washington County.

Millcraft chairman Jack Piatt has contributed $186,000 to Democratic Gov. Rendell’s campaigns, and Lucas Piatt, Millcraft’s Vice President, has donated $35,000 to Mr. Rendell.

River Vue would acquire the State Office Building early next year and possibly turn it into residential units with some hotel, retail or other types of space, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

In a letter hand-delivered to DGS Secretary James Creedon, Mr. Wagner said the Department of the Auditor General’s Office of Special Investigations would be seeking all available information pertaining to the sale, including lease terms and associated build-out costs at all privately owned buildings where DGS has relocated, or plans to relocate, 800 workers from at least 22 state agencies.

“I continue to believe this is the worst possible deal for the taxpayers of Pennsylvania,” Mr. Wagner said. “It makes no sense for the commonwealth to sell this prized asset — the signature building of state government in Western Pennsylvania — for the lowest possible price during the most depressed real-estate market in decades.”

Mr. Wagner asked DGS a month ago to take the State Office Building off the market until economic conditions improve, after another developer, the Buncher Co., withdrew its bid of $4.5 million. As an alternative to selling the building, the auditor general suggested the state investigate the possibility of using federal funds for green technology to rehabilitate the 52-year-old structure.

The 274,000-square-foot building occupies a prime, 1.3-acre location in downtown Pittsburgh, at the entrance to Point State Park, and offers sweeping views of the confluence of Pittsburgh’s three rivers. Along with the Gateway Center complex, the State Office Building is a symbol of the post-Word War II downtown renaissance envisioned by David L. Lawrence, the late mayor of Pittsburgh, who served as Pennsylvania governor from 1959-63.

“The land alone is worth more than the sale price,” Mr. Wagner said. He noted the state has agreed to purchase the City of Pittsburgh’s Municipal Courts Building, which is one-fifth the size of the State Office Building and is situated in a less desirable location, under the Liberty Bridge and next to the Allegheny County Jail, for $9 million.

The State Office Building sale is a bad deal, Mr. Wagner said, because there would not be enough profits from the sale to offset moving expenses and pay for the first year of leases at multiple locations in downtown Pittsburgh, saddling taxpayers with an additional spending burden.

“During these difficult economic times, with the state facing multibillion-dollar deficits for the next few years, we should not be saddling hard-working Pennsylvania residents with additional financial burdens they cannot afford,” Mr. Wagner said.

“In addition to being financially wasteful, it would be ludicrous for Secretary Creedon to decentralize state offices in Pittsburgh while other government agencies are moving to centralize other functions in order to save money,” Mr. Wagner said. “Under the terms of this sale, the only certain winners are the buyer of the building and the landlords of the office space where state employees will be relocated.”

Chris Freind can be reached at cf@thebulletin.us

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March 28, 2009 at 2:19 pm Comments (0)

Comcast and Rendell: A High-Octane Connection

Comcast and Rendell: A High-Octane Connection

Conflicts of Interest Pervade the Relationship

BY CHRIS FREIND

Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell’s recent decision to criticize the Sunoco oil company for laying off 750 workers raises a number of intriguing questions. While the governor saw fit to hold a press conference solely to excoriate Sunoco, calling the company’s decision “unconscionable,” he has been notably silent concerning 3,000 layoffs — four times the Sunoco amount — which Comcast has executed in the past year.

Since the governor’s election in 2002, SUN PAC, the Sunoco political action committee, has contributed $55,000 to Mr. Rendell, with Sunoco employees donating an additional $2650.

During that same span, Comcast’s PAC, its employees, and the spouses of its top executives donated $634,350 to the governor. Additionally, Comcast spent at least $100,000 on Mr. Rendell’s inauguration festivities in 2007, being designated “Benefactor” by the governor, the highest level of contributor.
The David Cohen Factor

The governor’s closest ally at Comcast is Executive Vice President David Cohen, who has contributed $80,000 to Mr. Rendell. Mr. Cohen is a longtime Rendell confidante and fundraiser, serving as Chief of Staff when Rendell was Mayor of Philadelphia. Prior to joining Comcast, Cohen was Chairman of the Ballard Spahr law firm, where Mr. Rendell worked while campaigning for governor. Ballard, which provides legal counsel to Comcast, has come under intense media and legislative scrutiny for the frequency and amount of secretive no-bid contracts it has received under the Rendell Administration. In addition, it received almost $800,000 for work on the Pennsylvania Turnpike without any contract.

Ballard Spahr LLP has contributed $481,000 to the governor’s campaigns, with its attorneys donating an additional half million dollars. Also, the Philadelphia Future political action committee (PAC), registered at the Ballard offices and whose treasurer is Mr. Cohen, pumped $471,000 into the Rendell coffers.

The address on Gov. Rendell’s campaign finance reports is the 51st floor of 1735 Market Street in Philadelphia. Ballard Spahr occupies the entire floor.

Cohen also serves as Chairman of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. Despite Mr. Rendell’s unprecedented intrusion into the private business sector by his attack on Sunoco, a major Philadelphia employer and Chamber member, no action was taken by the Chamber to defend the company.

The Comcast High Speed Money Connection

The Comcast money trail doesn’t end with Mr. Cohen. Ralph Roberts, Comcast’s founder, his son Brian, who serves as Chairman and CEO, and several other executives are strong Rendell backers. The elder Roberts contributed $52,500, and the son, $48,500. Comcast Chief Operating Office Stephen Burke donated $32,000.

According to Department of State records, the spouses of Comcast executives also made high-dollar contributions to Mr. Rendell. Rhonda Cohen donated $156,000, and the Roberts’ wives, Suzanne and Aileen, respectively, combined for another $25,250. Gretchen Burke contributed $5000.

The Comcast Corporation PAC contributed $93,500 to Rendell campaigns.

Rendell: On The Comcast Payroll

In addition to his $145,000 salary as governor, Mr. Rendell has also worked as a part-time football commentator for Comcast, earning a reported $20,000 per year. This arrangement has led many to question the apparent conflict, but the governor simply brushes off such criticism. As governor, Mr. Rendell has also collected a paycheck from the University of Pennsylvania, where Cohen serves as the Chairman-elect on the Board of Trustees, for his services as a lecturer. The university is a recipient of substantial state aid.

Comcast Aid: An End Run Around the Legislature

In constructing its new Center City headquarters, Comcast executives lobbied the state government for financial assistance. The firm sought a Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) designation for its building, which would have provided local and state tax relief. Despite the fact that KOZ’s are intended to spur development in areas of blight, not prosperous Center City locations, the $30 billion company almost succeeded with the help of Gov. Rendell. Had the Comcast effort prevailed, the company would have been exempt from state and local business taxes until 2015.

Ultimately, the Pennsylvania legislature defeated the efforts of Comcast and the governor.

The governor then made an end-run around the legislature, funneling nearly $43 million in taxpayer money to aid Comcast and pay for infrastructure near the Comcast building, prompting outrage from many. Comcast’s direct incentives were nearly $13 million.

The economic development funds equated to roughly 10% of the building’s cost.

A Cynical Public

At a time when political corruption trials, pay to play scandals and conflicts of interest are rampant, polls show a public with an increasingly cynical view of their government and elected officials. The Pennsylvania legislature has responded by introducing a number of bills aimed at how state contracts are awarded.

Under the Rendell Administration, over $1 billion in no-bid contracts have been awarded.

Chris Freind can be reached at cf@thebulletin.us

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March 28, 2009 at 2:15 pm Comments (0)

Inquirer’ Bailout Talks Raise More Questions

Inquirer’ Bailout Talks Raise More Questions
Publisher, Governor Make Conflicting Statements
By Chris Freind, The Bulletin

The Bulletin and other media outlets have recently disclosed ongoing discussions between Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, D, and Philadelphia Media Holdings (PMH) Publisher and CEO Brian Tierney. A possible taxpayer bailout of the struggling media company stands at the heart of the issue.

PMH bought the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News in 2006 for $562 million, and approximately $400 million remains in debt. The company is in default because it has not made a payment on its loan since June of last year.

There has been significant public opposition to a media entity seeking financial support from the government, including a Wall Street Journal editorial labeling it “the worst bailout idea so far.” 

Despite this, the governor’s press secretary, Chuck Ardo, stated earlier this week that Mr. Rendell is still open to continuing the bailout discussions.

Complicating the matter are contradictory statements made by Mr. Ardo and Mr. Tierney. 

According to a story on KYW News Radio, Mr. Ardo said there were discussions about state agencies renting space in the newspapers’ building.

Additionally, Mr. Ardo stated that some bailout conversations involved two of Pennsylvania’s large state pension boards, the State Employees Retirement System (SERS) and the Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS).

“I don’t know the specifics of the conversations, but the governor did suggest that Mr. Tierney speak with the pension boards to see what kind of arrangements could be worked out,” Mr. Ardo was quoted as saying on KYW.

Mr. Tierney made a contradictory statement, according to the news radio website, by claiming that discussions did not involve the use of pension fund dollars to buy any of the papers’ debt. 

Yet according to a Jan. 31 article in the Inquirer, “Gov. Rendell said he arranged a recent meeting between the publisher of The Inquirer and Daily News and the two largest state employee pension funds in hopes of helping the newspaper company lessen its large debt burden.”

The article elaborated on the bailout discussion timeline, stating that Mr. Tierney “…said that he first sought Rendell’s help about a year and a half ago. He wanted to see if there were any state agencies interested in moving into The Inquirer and Daily News Building.”

Mr. Tierney then approached the governor “to determine what, if any, economic-development funds were available from the state. As a result of those discussions, Rendell set up a meeting last autumn between the publisher and the pension funds.”

A spokeswoman for PSERS told The Bulletin that the pension board did not invest in companies such as Philadelphia Media Holdings, and was unaware of a leasing arrangement of PMH office space.

State Rep. Robert Godshall, R, Montgomery, who serves as a Board Member of SERS, told The Bulletin he too was not aware of any investment in PMH.

The Inquirer declined to comment, while calls from Ardo were not returned as of press time.

Chris Freind can be reached at cf@thebulletin.us

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February 13, 2009 at 9:11 am Comments (0)

Rendell To Veto No-Bid Contract Reform?

Rendell To Veto No-Bid Contract Reform?

By Chris Freind, The Bulletin
Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Pennsylvania Senate recently introduced 10 bills aimed at reforming state government. Senate Bill 102, sponsored by Majority Whip Jane Orie, R-40th, of Allegheny County, deals with how no-bid state contracts are awarded. The proposed legislation would eliminate no-bid contracts for consulting services, including legal and bond work, instead requiring an open bid process.

Secretive no-bid contracts doled out under the administration of Pennsylvania Gov. Ed  Rendell, D, have come under intense scrutiny by legislators, grassroots organizations and the media. This is largely due to the frequency and high-dollar amount of contracts being awarded to the governor’s close friends and political contributors, including Mr. Rendell’s former law firm, Ballard Spahr.

A similar bill reform bill passed the senate 50-0 during the last legislative session, but languished in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.

The Bulletin discussed the proposed no-bid contract legislation with Gov Rendell’s Press Secretary Chuck Ardo.

The Bulletin: If the legislation reforming no-bid contracts were to make it to the governor’s desk, do you think he would sign it?

Chuck Ardo: He is not likely to sign it. 

TB: What would be the rationale?

CA: Well, for instance, take professional contracts. You wouldn’t want to hire a surgeon by determining the lowest bidder. You’d want to find the most qualified surgeon for the procedure. The same is true for lawyers and other professional services providers.

Also, sole-source contracts have saved the commonwealth significant money over the last several years. There is political gain to be had by advocating the end of sole-source contracts, but that’s not necessarily in the best interest of the commonwealth or its people.

TB: Would the governor be in favor of no-bid contracts that had a capped amount, such as $100,000?

CA: The problem is that some legal proceedings could require significant investment by the commonwealth. You want the best representation possible, not necessarily by those who submitted the lowest bid.

TB: In that regard, caps or not, would the governor be in favor of no-bid contracts being either approved or rejected by the state attorney general?

CA: We’ll have to see what the specifics of the legislation might be.  It’s hard to answer a hypothetical question like that until we know exactly what the language requires.

TB: Many eyebrows were raised when Ballard Spahr performed $773,000 of legal work for the turnpike privatization initiative — with no contract.  No-bid contracts are one thing, but how does the governor address this “no-contract” type of situation?  How was the turnpike lease issue “urgent”? 

(With no contract in place, Ballard was required to sign a  “Compromise, Settlement and Release” to get retroactively compensated.)

CA:  The needs that the turnpike lease was meant to address were urgent, and continue to be urgent.  There is very little doubt about the urgency of transportation funding needs.

TB: But was it urgent to the point where Ballard billed 2,300 hours over 84 days, utilizing 55 attorneys? Could the firm not have taken the necessary time to execute a no-bid contract?

CA:  I think that everybody was relatively assured that a contract could be worked out.

TB:  Not to seem like we are beating a dead horse, but…

CA:  You choose Ballard Spahr, but there are lots of law firms that have done work for the commonwealth.  There are law firms across the width and breadth of the state that have various relationships, which provide such services.

TB: Many people have inquired about a comparison of no-bid contracts between the Rendell and past administrations.  But it has been reported that such records were “lost” during a computer transition.  Is there any update on the lost records?  Is there any possibility the records might be found?

CA:  I didn’t know they were lost.  Let me find out.

Chris Freind can be reached at cf@thebulletin.us

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February 11, 2009 at 9:59 am Comments (0)

A Recap Of Ballard’s $773K No-Contract Legal Work

A Recap Of Ballard’s $773K No-Contract Legal Work
By Chris Freind, The Bulletin
In 2007, Ballard Spahr, Gov. Ed Rendell’s former law firm, performed $773,000 of state legal work without a contract.

Normally, a contract must be negotiated and executed before any work for the commonwealth can be performed. Because no contract was in place,  however, the firm had no way of receiving compensation. Consequently, it had to sign a  “Compromise, Settlement and Release” agreement initiated by the state Department of Transportation to receive payment retroactively.

While state law allows for work of an urgent nature to be performed without a contract, questions have been raised as to how the turnpike privatization initiative qualified an “urgent” matter, especially since the governor’s plan had been met with resistance in the legislature and had little chance of passage.

The hourly rates of Ballard’s no-contract legal work varied based on seniority. Firm Chairman Arthur Makadon billed $637.50/hour, with partners Ken Jarin and Adrian King Jr. billing $531.25/hour and $403.75/hour, respectively.

Mr. Makadon, a close friend of the governor, has contributed $87,500 to his campaigns. Mr. Jarin is listed as the “relationship partner” on the $773,000 project.  He is a longtime confidante and fundraiser to Mr. Rendell, having contributed $90,000 to the governor’s coffers.  He also serves as treasurer to the Democratic Governor’s Association, an entity that has contributed over $1.5 million to Mr. Rendell.

Mr. Jarin is married to Robin Wiessmann, who at the time of the Turnpike leasing project was serving as state treasurer.  Her office issued payments for the Ballard invoices. Adrian King Jr., served as the governor’s deputy chief of staff and as a cabinet member prior to rejoining Ballard as a partner.

The Ballard firm, a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP), contributed $481,000 to Gov. Rendell’s campaigns. The Philadelphia Future Political Action Committee (PAC), registered at the Ballard offices in Philadelphia and whose treasurer is David Cohen, former Ballard chairman and former chief of staff to then-Mayor Rendell, contributed $470,000.  Mr. Cohen donated $80,000, and his wife, Rhonda, contributed $156,000 to Rendell campaigns. Ballard associates contributed nearly a half million more dollars to Mr. Rendell.

There is no limit to how much an individual or an LLP can contribute to state candidates.  The majority of law firms are LLPs.

Additionally, on Pennsylvania Department of State campaign filings, the address of Gov. Rendell’s campaign treasurer is the 51st Floor of 1735 Market St. in Philadelphia.  The floor is occupied entirely by Ballard Spahr.

Chris Freind can be reached at cf@thebulletin.us

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February 11, 2009 at 9:56 am Comments (0)

Port Authority: $11 Million in Non-Bridge Projects

Port Authority: $11 Million in Non-Bridge Projects

DRPA Still Can’t Afford to Repair Bridges, but Funds 2008 Army-Navy game and historic house

BY CHRIS FREIND

The Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) resumed its controversial “economic development” program yesterday, doling out millions of dollars to projects having nothing to do with the Authority’s primary mission of operating and maintaining the four major bridges in Philadelphia. Many politicians in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have close affiliations with these projects.

At its Thursday board meeting, the DRPA Projects Committee approved $11 million in grants to be spent on numerous initiatives in the cities of Philadelphia and Camden. The full board is expected to approve the expenditures at its Feb. 18 board meeting.

In Pennsylvania, the authority will spend $3.5 million for the restoration of an historic house in Philadelphia. An additional $2.5 million was allocated for several initiatives in the historic section of Philadelphia, including the development of a “permanent food structure” in Franklin Square and a technology update for the “Lights of Liberty” show. Lights of Liberty was the idea of then-mayor Ed Rendell to add an evening attraction to the historic district’s landscape.

The DRPA also authorized a resolution to give $250,000 to the Philadelphia Convention and Visitor’s Bureau “for expenses incurred hosting the 2008 Army-Navy game.” The military academies played the game almost two months ago.

According to the DRPA, Philadelphia hosted its eighth straight sellout Army-Navy game, had a national television audience of three million, and was the recipient of $35 million in “total economic output.” When questioned about why the DRPA felt it necessary to pay out a quarter-million dollars given the game’s economic success, the answer given by CEO John Matheussen was that the Army-Navy game was good for the Philadelphia region.

In New Jersey, the authority passed a resolution to spend $5 million for “educational and infrastructure improvements” in Camden. Projects include the demolition of a city-owned downtown building and recreational improvements related to Roosevelt Park. The DRPA will also be involved in the “site acquisition, demolition, relocation, and other costs in connection with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ)’s development of an Academic Research Facility.” According to discussions at the DRPA press conference, however, the decision by the UMDNJ to move forward with the research facility has not yet been approved.

A significant portion of the New Jersey economic development funds will be allocated to public infrastructure improvements along Admiral Wilson Boulevard in connection with the expansion of the Campbell Soup Company, a business with a market value of $11 billion.

The DRPA will also fund the West Jersey Line, a 17 mile private railroad in Salem County. It will primarily serve two companies in that region.

Port Authority Vice Chairman Jeffrey Nash, who voted in favor of these projects, also serves as an elected Camden County Freeholder. With the exception of the railroad, all of the New Jersey economic development projects approved at the board meeting are located within Mr. Nash’s district.

Commuters became enraged last year when tolls increased by 33%, a measure taken because DRPA didn’t have the $1.1 billion it needed for bridge repairs. While tolls will rise another 33% next year, the Authority will also be issuing bonds later this year to raise additional revenue for capital improvement repairs. The total bond amount could exceed $500 million.

The Port Authority’s nearly $400 million in economic development grants have come under intense scrutiny in recent months as politicians, the media, and watchdog organizations have increasingly questioned why the Port Authority continues to spend money on non-bridge related projects, especially in difficult economic times.

The Authority has a debt of more than $1.2 billion, and 76 per cent of every dollar is allocated to salaries, benefits and debt service.

Pennsylvania state senator John Rafferty, R-44, Chester and Montgomery Counties, expressed his concern regarding economic development spending by the DRPA.

“They can say all they want that they had this economic development money in reserve, but it should be allocated to rail lines and transportation. The purpose of the DRPA should be to fulfill the same mission of every other government agency— to provide safety, health and welfare to the people for whom they are responsible,” he said. “And you do that by having bridges and rail lines that are up to code and meeting the needs of the consumers. It’s not investing in all these other projects!”, he added.

Sen. Rafferty discussed how much the DRPA changed after being granted economic development authority in the early 1990’s. “We’ve gotten so far away from the scope of what was intended for that agency, that I think the best way to (rectify the situation) is have the federal government eliminate the economic development authority and give us (the state legislatures) the authority to start looking into this,” he stated.

“The DRPA should stop being a wish-list for governors to pull money for projects,” Sen. Rafferty stated.

A spokeswoman for United States Senator Arlen Specter, R-Pa, told The Bulletin that Mr. Specter is aware of concerns regarding the DRPA’s use of funds and is monitoring the matter.

The relationship of Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, the Port Authority’s self-appointed Chairman, to his former law firm Ballard Spahr has also been called into question, as Ballard has received nearly $3 million in legal fees from the Authority since Rendell’s election in 2002. In the three years prior to that election, Ballard received only $25,000 from the Port Authority.

John Estey, former chief of staff to Gov. Rendell who routinely chairs board meetings on the governor’s behalf, is a partner at Ballard. He regularly votes to receive and authorize the DRPA’s monthly bills, including those from his own firm. Ballard’s invoice from December was over $33,000.

Chris Freind can be reached at cf@thebulletin.us

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January 23, 2009 at 10:33 am Comments (0)

Legislators, Citizens React to Ballard’s “No-Contract” Work

Legislators, Citizens React to Ballard’s “No-Contract” Work

By: Chris Freind

Pennsylvania state legislators and community activists expressed outrage this week in response to the Bulletin’s Jan. 9 revelation that the politically connected Ballard Spahr law firm performed $773,000 of legal work for the Pennsylvania Turnpike privatization plan without a contract.

Chester county Republican state legislator Curt Schroder stated, “I can’t understand what was so urgent to the public’s interest that the attempted privatization of the Turnpike suddenly merited that a large no-bid contract be awarded. And that prior to that, why 2300 hours of work was done by Ballard with NO contract.” Mr. Schroder added, “At the very least, the Administration owes the public a complete explanation. Leasing the Turnpike has been a politically dead issue, regardless of its merits or lack thereof.”

Wally Zimolong, a center city attorney and Republican activist, was equally skeptical, stating that questions need to be answered about why Ballard performed work without a contract, and how they knew they would receive compensation.

“This whole thing reeks. I see several red flags. First, no reasonable business, particularly top notch attorneys like those at Ballard, performs work without a contract, unless they know they are getting paid, especially when the work performed is worth close to a million dollars,” Mr. Zimolong said. “So the question is how did Ballard know it would get paid? Was it the result of some back room deal with Mr. Rendell?,” he asked.

Companies performing state work normally negotiate a contract before commencing any activity. Without a contract, Ballard could not be compensated for its work, and was therefore required to sign a “Compromise, Settlement and Release” agreement initiated by the state Department of Transportation to receive payment retroactively.

Authorization to pay Ballard in this manner was justified “due to the extreme urgency of the work required,” according to the document.

The Bulletin has repeatedly illustrated the intimate relationship between the Governor and Ballard (see sidebar).

“The Bulletin article describes an incestuous and tangled web of relationships that can only be helpful in attracting no bid contracts from the administration,” Mr. Schroder added.

The legislator explained that this situation exemplifies the need to prevent big donors from obtaining no bid contracts. “I will be re-introducing legislation to place strict limits on campaign contributions for those who receive such government contracts. Anyone exceeding the low limits would not be eligible to receive such contracts,” he said.

Reform legislation sponsored by Republican Majority Whip Jane Orie, Allegheny, will be introduced in the state Senate next week; a similar bill passed 50-0 last session, but it was stifled in the Democratic-controlled House.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly should do all it can to eliminate the appearance of impropriety in regards to “Pay-to-Play” in Commonwealth government. This can be done by creating an open bid process and providing for transparency in regards to who is receiving state contracts and their political contributions,” Senator Orie said. “This issue is receiving an enormous amount of national coverage at the current time and there is no better time than now to adopt legislation to restore integrity as to how public dollars are spent,” she added.

Mr. Zimolong questioned the fiduciary duty the Governor owes to the taxpayers. “Ballard could have run up the bill as much as they wanted to, as this was open-ended. Theoretically, nothing prevented them from doing that, unless there was a gentlemen’s agreement of which we are unaware. Also, the hours worked are absurd,” he said. “Remember this was proposed legislation. Essentially, the Commonwealth paid to set up an outside law firm with 55 attorneys working 27 hours per 24 hour day, for 84 straight days, to perform due diligence for proposed legislation,” he added. “Setting aside that it is doubtful these Ballard attorneys worked 24/7, doesn’t the Commonwealth have a large number of attorneys among all state agencies? What do they do?,” he asked.

“While it’s true the Procurement Code allows services to be obtained in urgent cases without competitive bidding, the Code does require a written basis for the emergency, and why the particular party was selected for the work, to be included in the contract file. Taxpayers should demand to see that written basis in this case,” Zimolong said.

“Whether or not ‘pay to play’ can be proven in any particular situation, the appearance is certainly a big problem and continues to erode trust in government. It is time we take a strong stand against this continued practice,” stated Rep. Schroder.

Chris Freind can be reached at CF@TheBulletin.us

The Bulletin has published an ongoing series detailing the frequency and high-dollar amounts of no-bid state contracts doled out to Gov. Rendell’s political donors and friends. Please see the website for reference. www.thebulletin.us

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January 17, 2009 at 12:02 pm Comments (0)

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