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Rendell’s Real Legacy: High Taxes, Low Ratings And Clenched Teeth

It was a December night, late 90’s.  My entire family was in downtown Philadelphia taking in the Christmas attractions.  One of our traditions was marveling at the magnificently decorated, larger-than-life tree in the City Hall courtyard.  But when we arrived, the gates were locked.

Viewing the tree wasn’t going to happen.

Disappointed, we started walking away when none other than the Mayor himself came bounding out of City Hall right next to us, clearly in a hurry.  But he saw us, turned around, and shot the bull for several minutes.  Upon hearing our plight, he immediately summoned a police officer from his detail and instructed him to take us up to his office, which “has the best view of the tree,” for as long as we wanted.

That tree never looked so beautiful.

And through it all, that Mayor never asked us our names or where we lived.  Whether or not we were voting constituents had absolutely no bearing on him.  He instinctively did what he thought was right, in much the same way he operated while an Assistant District Attorney, and later, the City’s DA.  He was one of the good guys.

And after his two relatively successful terms as Mayor, hopes that he would lead Pennsylvania in the right direction were not unfounded.

But after eight disastrous years as Pennsylvania’s Governor, Ed Rendell being viewed as a “good guy” is as likely as the Eagles’ winning this year’s Super Bowl: nonexistent.

*****

Up to this point, his legacy was known for three things: the introduction of gambling, which did not live up to the promise of tax-relief; huge tax hikes, coupled with a 40 per cent increase in state spending; and a perception of widespread pay-to-play within his Administration. Of lesser note but still sore subjects were his signing an unconstitutional legislative pay raise and not getting a single budget passed on time — budgets that were full of smoke and mirrors, such as imaginary revenue from the failed I-80 tolling plan.

But now, the image of Rendell that is etched in people’s minds is the Governor blowing his top during one of his final interviews. 

With teeth clenched in a menacing growl, he karate-chops the air and literally screams at 60 Minutes interviewer Lesley Stahl that … “You guys don’t get that. You’re simpletons. You’re idiots if you don’t get that.”   He was defending his position that gaming was good for Pennsylvania, under the rationale that if gamblers are going to lose their paychecks anyway, it’s better for state coffers if they lose them in Pennsylvania.

Truth be told, Rendell’s anger wasn’t really directed at Stahl.  An intelligent man, the Governor is all too aware that, under his watch, the state earned points in all the wrong categories: some of the highest taxes in the country; the nation’s most hostile legal system, causing doctors and companies to flee; a failing educational product; the country’s worst roads, and a decimated manufacturing base.

Pennsylvania’s biggest export is its children, and that, more than anything, has extinguished the hope for a better tomorrow under Rendell.

But if there is ever to be a turnaround, the time is now. Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett will be the state’s new Governor, a leader who has promised to run Pennsylvania in the mold of New Jersey’s Chris Christie.  And he definitely has the horses to accomplish his agenda: the Senate is solidly Republican, and the State House saw a thirteen seat swing to give the GOP a double-digit majority.

Many analysts postulated that Dan Onorato was defeated in the Governor’s race, and the Democrats lost control of the State House, because of the national Republican tidal wave, with Rendell playing little role in that result.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In the off-year elections of 1994 and 2010, newly elected Democratic Presidents pushed unpopular policies: Clinton with national health care and gays in the military, and Obama with universal healthcare, cap-and-trade and the stimulus. In both cases, Republicans took advantage of the momentum and captured the U.S. House of Representatives and numerous Governorships, including the gubernatorial victories of Tom Ridge and Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania. 

The State House was a different story. In 1994, the outgoing Governor, Bob Casey, Sr., was a popular conservative Democrat, and his influence helped the Dems maintain their slim majority. But Rendell was an albatross around the neck of Onorato, his protégé, and Democratic incumbents statewide.  Given that Corbett made Rendell’s legacy the focal point of his campaign, the Governor bears the most responsibility for his Party’s shellacking.

It’s legacy time for the Governor, and his approval ratings are downright dismal: twenties throughout much of the state and only thirties in his home base of Southeastern Pennsylvania. Poll numbers don’t lie, so when the vast majority of people say that Rendell’s eight years at the helm were a disaster, the realization of failure sets in, and backlashes occur — hence the uncontrolled outburst on 60 Minutes.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Rendell’s unpopularity is that it occurred despite the media’s cozy relationship with the Governor.  That free pass culminated when…

Read the rest and post a comment at Philly Magazine’s Philly Post:

http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2011/01/11/rendell%e2%80%99s-legacy-high-taxes-low-ratings-and-clenched-teeth/

Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com

Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newsApapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”

Freind, whose column appears nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a guest commentator on Philadelphia-area talk radio shows, and makes numerous other television and radio appearances, most notably on FOX.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

 

 

 

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January 11, 2011 at 11:14 am Comments (0)

Chambers Of Horrors: Chambers of Commerce Have Sold Their Soul

Chambers Of Commerce Have Sold Their Soul

“The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to promoting regional economic growth…and advancing business-friendly public policies.”

So says the Mission Statement of Philadelphia’s Chamber of Commerce.

It further states that it is, “dedicated to supporting and encouraging the continued growth” of its members by striving “to influence business-friendly legislation in all levels of government, participate in initiatives to improve education and the community.”

And its Public Policy department is supposed “…to address pro-business legislation directly with the policy-makers who can make a difference.”

Wow.

If only the Chamber put just a small fraction of that mission into reality, maybe Philadelphia wouldn’t be such a dismal place to live and work.

But the city Chamber is not alone in selling out its members.

Last month, the Montgomery County Chamber, in an act that defies belief, issued a “Lifetime Achievement Award” to Governor Ed Rendell at a “Celebration of Excellence” event. 

It’s no small point that Rendell, more than anyone, is responsible for the carnage that is Pennsylvania’s economy.

*****

Chambers of Commerce are, and should be, non partisan.  They should work with, and support, candidates who advocate pro-business policies.  Even more important, they should be vocal —and unified —in opposing those who favor policies contrary to their mission.

Call me crazy, but Ed Rendell fits into the latter category.  Of this, there can be no dispute.

Maybe Rendell’s vision has been shaped by the belief that government knows best, and wealth should be redistributed from those who work to those who don’t.

Or maybe it’s because he’s been on the public dole for virtually his entire working life, which certainly gives one a different perspective from those in the private sector creating jobs, meeting payroll, and growing the economy.

Either way, Rendell’s policies should have been opposed at every turn by the Chambers, whose primary responsibility is to fight for a pro-business legislative agenda.

But too many didn’t.  And for a Chamber of Commerce, even one sell–out is one too many.

In the Montco Chamber’s case, maybe leader Al Paschall wanted to be liked by Rendell; maybe it was an ego boost to have the Governor know his name.

That’s fine if you’re a regular citizen, but not if you run a Chamber of Commerce.

So how could Rendell, of all people, have earned anAchievement Award?

 Difficult to answer, given the governor’s fiscal record.  Consider:

Read the rest of Freindly Fire’s column at:

http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2010/05/12/chambers-of-horrors/

Chris Freind is an independent columnist and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com

Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”

Freind also serves as a weekly guest commentator on the Philadelphia-area talk radio show, Political Talk (WCHE 1520), and makes numerous other television and radio appearances.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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May 12, 2010 at 3:42 pm Comments (0)

PA Business Leaders Sell Out Orie In Supreme Court Race

PA Business Leaders Sell Out Orie In Supreme Court Race

BY CHRIS FREIND

If there’s one word to describe the Pennsylvania business community, it’s consistent, as in consistently pathetic.

The state’s business leaders — and that description is a stretch— once again dropped the political ball and, in all likelihood, will be the biggest losers after next month’s state Supreme Court election —
one of the most important in decades. With the court deadlocked 3-3, the winner will shape the court’s direction for years to come. Republican Joan Orie Melvin and Democrat Jack Panella, both judges on the Superior Court, are duking it out.

Panella has outraised Orie Melvin by a wide margin, thanks to huge financial support from labor unions and trial lawyers. While Orie Melvin is certainly still a viable candidate, it’s no secret that whoever touts the largest warchest has a distinct advantage.

Why the large gap between the two? Enter the business community, or, more accurately, lack thereof.

Pennsylvania’s business leaders, for the most part, have sat on their hands, preferring the view from the sidelines, as is virtually always the case.

While Orie Melvin struggles to keep pace, Panella enjoys the nonstop support of the archenemies of business. Why?

Because when it comes to politics, the business community is lazy, incompetent, and clueless. That is a broad stroke, to be sure, for there are executives who innately understand what’s at stake (check out those in Luzerne County in northeastern PA) but courageous and politically savvy business folk are definitely the exception.

Pennsylvania business leaders make many excuses for their failures, but most common among their inane babble is that they “just want to run their companies, and don’t have time for politics.”

Two points:

1)That’s a cop-out. Make time. Organized labor and the trial lawyers do.
2)Business is governed by politics. Period. Every aspect of business is conducted in accordance with the political environment: regulations, health care, liability, taxes, etc. The list never ends.

What part of this can’t these guys understand?

Let’s make this simple.

If one candidate is strongly backed by labor and lawyers, then a business leader should support the other person, financially and otherwise. And no, it’s not beneath you to host a coffee klatch, put up a yard sign, form a political action committee, or, God forbid, stuff an envelope. Those “pedestrian” things win elections.

But despite business’ complete disregard for the political process, they are always the first to complain when something doesn’t go their way.

Which, this being Pennsylvania – home of the worst business climate in the nation – is an everyday occurrence.

Newsflash: if you bang your head against a wall nine times, you will get the same result on the tenth try.

But this incomprehensible behavior should come as no surprise.

The Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, chaired by David Cohen, one of Ed Rendell’s biggest fundraisers and closest advisers, actually thought the recent 100 per cent increase in the Philadelphia sales tax was a good thing. So much for the Chamber’s stated goal of sensible tax policy.

Where was the business community when the Fair Share Act came up for a vote not long ago (a bill that would have limited a defendant’s liability to only his share of responsibility)? Nonexistent, because they naively believed Gov. Rendell’s campaign pledge that he would sign it. Instead, he vetoed it.

Unlike business leaders, the trial lawyers didn’t need a proctologist to find their head. And guess what? They won.

We own the second highest corporate net income tax in the country. Onerous and often unnecessary regulations placed on our companies by unaccountable bureaucrats with no real-world experience stifle job growth, innovation and productivity. And instead of being phased out, our capital stock and franchise tax has found new life.

But where is the outcry regarding the state’s ever increasing taxes, which, by the way, result in companies and jobs fleeing Pennsylvania in droves? Nowhere to be heard.

And there is barely a whimper at the prospect of taxing to death those companies drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, a blossoming industry which, if not destroyed by our politicians, will create thousands upon thousands of good-paying, long-term jobs.

The manufacturing economy is little more than a distant memory, and our hostile legal climate has increased the cost of doing business in Pennsylvania to the point that we are virtually dead last in America for job creation.

The message should be absolutely clear — elected officials will act only when these issues become ones they cannot escape, whether at debates between candidates as they run for re-election, at meetings with community leaders in their districts, visiting a coffee shop, or giving a speech to a service club.

But that won’t happen unless the attitude of business changes. And since attitude reflects leadership, don’t hold your breath.

So if Mr. Panella happens to win, watch for the business community to emerge yelling and screaming after the court upholds its first ludicrous jackpot jury award or company-killing regulation.

And when they do, I have a message for those hypocrites: Look in the mirror, and don’t let the door hit you in the derrière as you fade into oblivion.

Chris Freind, author of “Freindly Fire,” is an independent 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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October 8, 2009 at 1:18 pm Comments (8)

Nutter’s Tax Increase Makes Him A Joke

Nutter’s Tax Increase Makes Him A Joke

BY CHRIS FREIND

It was a rainy, warm March back in 1936, and the snow in the hills around Johnstown began to melt. This caused the unfortunate city to be leveled by yet another flood. To help rebuild Johnstown, Pennsylvanians were forced to pay a temporary 10 percent tax on all wine and spirits.

The key word being “temporary.”

Even though the town was back on its feet in a few years, the tax remains. And it now stands at a whopping 18 percent.

About the only joke bigger than a politician telling you that a tax will be temporary is the politician himself. And what a laughingstock Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has become.

After two terms of John Street’s incompetence, expectations were high that Nutter would make the city shine again. Many thought the new mayor actually understood what it took to create a healthy business climate in Philadelphia.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Underneath his monotonous, boring exterior lies a blazing liberal Democrat who believes increasing the power of government is the best way to solve problems. In other words, trampling on the backs of his overtaxed and over-regulated constituents.

You see, Mr. Nutter doesn’t have the guts to make the bold decisions required of a true leader. He won’t take on the special interests, refuses to cut wasteful spending, and has done nothing to rectify the bureaucratic black hole that is city government. Instead of making Philadelphia the economic engine it should be, Nutter has chosen to continue down the disastrous path of business-as-usual.

Because of a lack of both business acumen and courage, Nutter begged the state legislature and Gov. Rendell to bail him out of his fiscal jam. His solution to make Philadelphia prosperous? Tax, tax, tax.

He sought, and unfortunately will receive, the power to “temporarily” increase the city’s sales tax by 100 percent. Wow, that’s going to work wonders for making Philadelphia a desirable place to live, shop and do business.

Any short term gain will be offset by long term losses, and, categorically, there is absolutely no way the tax will be temporary.

The reality is that people will simply cross the city line to make their purchases, from TV’s to refrigerators to washing machines. So not only will the city fail to realize the anticipated revenue of its tax increase, it will lose the sales tax in its entirety. But this isn’t just a Philadelphia issue. When people cross into New Jersey, or better yet, Delaware (where there is NO sales tax), Pennsylvania will lose its 6 percent. And more people will be incentivised to use the internet to shop, yet another way to avoid the tax.

When will elected leaders realize that you cannot tax your way out of a recession? Taxes never lead to prosperity. They simply result in people and businesses fleeing to a friendlier location.

But this obvious truth is lost on Philadelphia’s leaders.

Study after study show what the citizens of Philadelphia already know: that our great city is being devastated because of politicians who care more about themselves than the people they serve.

Philadelphia ranks as one of the least desirable places to locate. It levies some of the highest taxes of any city in the country. Its educational product is horrendous.

Between 2000 and 2007, Philadelphia lost 4.5% of its residents, the largest percentage drop of any Top 25 city. From 1990-2000, the City of Brotherly Love’s population losses were the third largest of the 243 cities with more than 100,000 people. Since 1970, the city has lost 265,000 jobs and 450,000 residents.

How many companies cross Philadelphia off their list of places to locate? We are out of the game before it even begins.

And where is the mighty Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, who should be leading the charge against such suicidal polices? Nonexistent. Why? Two words: David Cohen.

As Chairman of the Chamber, and one of Gov. Rendell’s closest allies and biggest fundraisers, Cohen can be counted on to be the go-along, get-along guy. So much for a pro-business Chamber.

When does it end?

If the 73 year old liquor tax is any indication, not for a very long time.

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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August 27, 2009 at 11:19 am Comments (0)

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)

Open Letter To Gov. Rendell: Why Your Approval Rating Is So Dismal

Open Letter To Gov. Rendell: Why Your Approval Rating Is So Dismal

BY CHRIS FREIND

Dear Gov. Rendell:

I noted with interest that your current approval rating stands at just 39% — the lowest point in your career. Despite denying my repeated requests for a one-on-one interview, I nonetheless offer my thoughts as to why you have fallen out of favor with so many Pennsylvanians.

Conflicts Of Interest

First and foremost, the citizens of the Keystone State are fed up with what they see as huge conflicts of interest permeating every level of your Administration, with you being the focal point of many.

The appearance of a governor showing favoritism and special treatment to his big-dollar political donors, close friends, campaign fundraisers, and, perhaps most disturbing of all, one’s former law firm, raises eyebrows and sinks people’s faith in government.

For example, Ballard Spahr, the law firm where you worked from 1999 to 2002, billed a total of $25,000 in legal fees to the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) in the three years which preceded your election as governor. Since then, Ballard has billed over $3 million. Considering that you were the self-appointed Chairman of the Authority during this bonanza time for Ballard, many still wonder at this peculiar arrangement.

Making matters even more suspect, your former Chief of Staff, John Estey, voted on your behalf as the Chairman-designate at virtually every meeting. Since you made him the outright Chairman three months ago, he continues to vote to receive and accept Ballard Spahr’s legal bills to the DRPA. As a partner at Ballard, Estey is, therefore, voting to put money into his own firm’s coffers — a situation that offends many of your constituents and would never fly in the private sector.

Additionally, Mr. Estey is also the chairman of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority (PRPA), an agency of the Commonwealth which you control. Not surprisingly, Ballard Spahr also happens to be the PRPA’s outside counsel.

But what takes the cake is Ballard Spahr performing nearly $800,000 worth of legal work for the Pennsylvania Turnpike privatization initiative with no contract. That’s not a no-bid contract, mind you. It’s no contract at all. Must be nice to be Ballard Spahr.

From assisting Al Boscov (of Boscov’s department stores) with a $35 million taxpayer-funded bailout, after Boscov and his family contributed $164,000 to your campaigns, to awarding a no-bid contract to a Houston law firm, whose lead partner donated $91,000 to your campaign efforts, an increasing number of Pennsylvanians are, quite frankly, skeptical of your integrity. Addressing that should be your first priority.

Your Comcast “High-Speed” Connection

Earlier this year, you publicly scolded the Sunoco oil company for its decision to lay off 750 workers, calling the company’s action “unconscionable.” Yet you were notably silent concerning the 3,000 layoffs — four times the number at Sunoco — that Comcast has executed in the past year.

Why the disparity? A look at the campaign money trail might well provide the answer.

Since your 2002 election, Sunoco’s political action committee (PAC) contributed $55,000 to your campaign, with Sunoco employees donating an additional $2,650.

During that same time period, Comcast’s PAC, its employees, and the spouses of its top executives, have donated $634,350 to you. Additionally, Comcast spent at least $100,000 on your inauguration festivities in 2007, being designated a“Benefactor,” the highest level of contributor.

One of your closest allies, Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen (and your former Mayoral Chief of Staff), has contributed $80,000 to your campaigns. His wife, Rhonda, donated an additional $156,000. Interestingly, Mr. Cohen served as chairman of Ballard Spahr prior to joining Comcast. (Comcast is represented by Ballard Spahr).

Speaking of Ballard Spahr, the firm has contributed $481,000 to the your campaigns, and its attorneys donated an additional half-million dollars. Also, the Philadelphia Future Political Action Committee, registered at the Ballard office, pumped $471,000 more into your coffers. Mr. Cohen serves as that PAC’s treasurer.

And the address on your campaign finance reports is the 51st floor of 1735 Market Street in Philadelphia — where Ballard Spahr occupies the entire floor.

It all ties together, doesn’t it?

No New Taxes

Being a member of the media means that I’m not very bright, but pushing for new taxes might not be the best idea for winning the budget fight. We have never taxed ourselves into prosperity, but to increase tax rates during a severe recession is simply ludicrous. Your budgetary math has been fuzzy, to say the least, further reinforcing the notion that you are completely out of touch with reality.

Just one more suggestion. The next time someone asks you the amount of your paycheck, you probably shouldn’t answer, “I wouldn’t have a clue what I get paid in a month.” It doesn’t come across too well for the 99.9% of Pennsylvanians who do actually need to know what their income is. After all, they have budgets to balance.

Your Teflon is fading, Governor. You need, for once, to forget your own interest and think of those whom you swore to represent. It’s time to get Pennsylvanians working again and re-instill a faith that their governor is a man of integrity.

Otherwise, the only legacy you will leave will be one of greed and personal ambition.

Chris Freind can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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August 5, 2009 at 12:02 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)

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)

Does Comcast Phone Service Violate FCC Rules?

Commission Questions Whether The Philly-Based Company’s Internet Phone Has Unfair Advantage
By Chris Freind, The Bulletin

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has mandated that Philadelphia-based Comcast Corporation submit a response by Jan. 30 to questions regarding the company’s broadband network management practices. 

The government expressed concern that Comcast could be operating as an unregulated telecommunications company, providing it with a competitive advantage on an unlevel playing field. It also sought answers as to why the company had “omitted from its filings to the commission” information related to its Internet phone service.

In a Jan. 18 letter, the FCC wrote it seeks clarification “to an apparent discrepancy” between Comcast’s earlier broadband network filing and its “actual or advertised” practices.

 The sound quality of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone calls placed over the network during periods of congestion presents a serious issue.  Comcast stated that consumers may find that VoIP calls “sound choppy” during busy times, and an appendix of the filing draws no distinction between Comcast’s own VoIP offering and those offered by its competitors.

According to the FCC, however, Comcast’s Web site suggests “such a distinction does in fact exist,” as the Web site claims that “Comcast Digital Voice is a separate facilities-based IP phone service that is not affected by this (new network management) technique.”

The government agency asked Comcast to clarify its business practices regarding VoIP. “We request that Comcast explain why it omitted from its filings to the Commission the distinct effects that Comcast’s new management technique” has on the company’s VoIP offering versus that of its competitors, the FCC wrote. It also asked for “a detailed justification for Comcast’s disparate treatment of its own VoIP service,” as compared to that offered by other VoIP providers on its network.

The FCC further requested detailed information as to how Comcast’s Digital Voice service was “facilities-based” as well as how that offering used Comcast’s broadband facilities.  In particular, the FCC was interested in ascertaining whether Comcast Digital Voice affected network congestion in a manner different from other VoIP services.

The “discrepancy” the FCC refers to could have significant implications for Comcast because its distinct phone service could potentially classify it as a telecommunications company. Such a decision would subject it to a whole new set of government rules and regulation.

In the letter, the FCC stated, “Given that Comcast is apparently maintaining that its VoIP service is a ‘separate facilities-based’ telephone service that is distinct from its broadband service, and differs from the service offered by ‘VoIP providers that rely on delivering calls over the pubic Internet’ (according to Comcast’s website), it would appear that Comcast’s VoIP service is a telecommunications service subject to regulation under the communications act.”

As a result of the FCC’s position, the burden of proof is on Comcast to “explain any reason the commission should not treat Comcast’s VoIP offering as a telecommunications service” subject to the same intercarrier compensation obligations as other facilities-based telecommunications carriers.  The FCC concluded that Comcast’s VoIP service “is not yet complying with such intercarrier compensation obligations”, and requested the company’s response by Jan. 30, 2009.  A call to Comcast went unreturned by press time.

Chris Freind can be reached at cf@thebulletin.us

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January 20, 2009 at 7:28 am Comments (0)

Ballard Spahr’s $773,000 “No-Contract” Work for PA

Ballard’s $773,000 “No-Contract” Work for PA

Gov. Rendell’s Former Firm Went Beyond “No-Bid” Contracts

By: Chris Freind

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) has recently come under fire as more information emerges regarding the frequency and high-dollar amounts of no-bid state contracts doled out to his political donors and friends. The Bulletin has published an ongoing series on this issue, much of which centers on the Governor’s intimate relationship with his former law firm, Ballard Spahr. (See recap sidebar).

Many eyebrows have been raised on these lucrative no-bid contracts, especially since the records from past Administrations were “lost” under Rendell’s tenure—- ostensibly the only way to compare the frequency, amounts and recipients of these types of contracts.

The state Senate passed a reform bill 50-0 last session amending how contracts are awarded, but it was stifled in the Democratic-controlled House. The legislation, sponsored by Republican Majority Whip Jane Orie, Allegheny, will be re-introduced early this term.

While conflicts of interest abound, the awarding of no-bid contracts to political donors is not illegal, so long as no quid pro quo arrangement exists.

But in 2007, the ethical line was taken to a whole new level when Ballard performed $773,000 of state legal work with NO contract at all, leaving many questions unanswered.

On March 1 of that year, the firm began work on the proposal to privatize the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Over the next 83 days, Ballard utilized 55 attorneys (more than 10% of its legal staff), and billed the state for 2300 hours, which equates to an average of 27.38 hours per 24 hour day. The hourly rates varied based on seniority, with firm Chairman Arthur Makadon billing $637.50/hour, and partners Ken Jarin and Adrian King, Jr. billing $531.25 and $403.75 per hour respectively.

Mr. Makadon, a close friend to 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, contributing $90,000 to the Governor’s coffers. He also serves as Treasurer to the Democratic Governor’s Association, an entity which has contributed nearly $1.5 million to Rendell. Jarin is married to Robin Wiessmann, who until this week was state Treasurer. Her office approved and issued payment for the Ballard invoices. Adrian King, Jr., served as the Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff and in a Cabinet position prior to rejoining Ballard as a partner. According to the Ballard press release at the time of Mr. King’s return, Mr. Makadon was quoted as saying, “Adrian was a star here at Ballard and has been a star for the governor. Upon his return, we expect him to play a large role in the future of the firm representing important clients and managing key client relationships.”

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. Cohen donated $80,000, and his wife, Rhonda, has contributed $156,000 to the Rendell campaign efforts. Ballard associates contributed nearly a half million more dollars to 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 Street in Philadelphia. Ballard Spahr occupies the entire floor.

When performing work for the Commonwealth, the normal procedure is to negotiate and execute a contract before commencing any activity. But since the Ballard firm jumped headlong into the project without a contract, it had no way of receiving compensation for its work. Consequently, it had to sign a “Compromise, Settlement and Release” agreement initiated by the state Department of Transportation to receive payment retroactively.

The document specifies that authorization to pay Ballard in this manner was due to certain “circumstances”, among them that on March 1 the firm “was directed by the Office of General Counsel to provide professional services as special counsel to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in connection with the Pennsylvania Transportation Funding initiative.”

The document continues, “due to the extreme urgency of the work required, work began immediately at the Office of General Counsel’s direction prior to having a fully executed contract document in place.”

The Settlement also states that, ” the Commonwealth cannot otherwise pay the Law Firm for services performed during the period of March 1, 2007 and May 23, 2007 because no agreement was in place prior to performances of such services.”

A no-bid contract was executed on May 24, 2007 for future services on the privatization initiative. To date, Ballard has billed the state over $2 million in legal fees relating to the project.

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 qualifies an “urgent” matter. The Turnpike, the nation’s first, was in no danger of disappearing or being unable to continue operations. Additionally, the legislative process is typically slow, preventing political issues from moving with any sense of speed and urgency in Harrisburg. Since the Governor’s plan had been met with resistance in the legislature and had little chance of passage, why Ballard rushed into the project with no contract remains a question on many political observers’ minds.

On numerous occasions, Mr. Rendell has been asked if he has played a role in the selection of no-bid contract recipients, especially when political donors are involved. The answer typically given is that the Governor has no involvement in the process, and that firms are chosen based on their particular expertise, with no consideration being given to large dollar political donors.

However, legislators, political experts and the media have been increasingly questioning the close relationship of the Governor to these no-bid contract recipients, especially the Ballard firm and its partners. In particular, questions have been raised regarding the role of John Estey, Mr. Rendell’s former Chief of Staff and currently a partner at Ballard.

While he was not involved in the $773,000 project, Mr. Estey still maintains a position of enormous influence with Rendell. He is Chairman of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, an agency of the Commonwealth that in June of 2008 chose Ballard Spahr to be its outside counsel. In addition, Mr. Estey still chairs board meetings of the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA), of which Gov. Rendell is the self-appointed Chairman. Ballard is the largest recipient of DRPA legal fees, receiving nearly $3 million since Gov. Rendell’s election in 2002. As a point of comparison, Ballard had received only $25,000 in the three years preceding Gov. Rendell’s election. As a board member, Mr. Estey receives and votes to approve DRPA legal bills, including those going to his own firm.

Many questions have also been raised as to why the state is utilizing outside counsel to such an extent, especially on the Turnpike project, given that that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDot) has a large in-house Legal Department. Ballard’s 55 attorneys working on the project are larger than the entire roster at many firms, which some believe is akin to the state renting a high-value law firm for several months. Calls to PennDot revealed that there are 49 attorneys on staff. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission currently has five attorneys serving as in-house counsel, and had several more at the time of Ballard’s work.

The public’s cynicism and mistrust of government has become exacerbated by the numerous scandals and pay-to-play investigations on the state and national level. The debate surrounding whether there is a need to reform how no-bid and “urgent” non-contracts are awarded will intensify as the Senate reform bill is reintroduced.

The Bulletin will continue to seek responses from the Governor and legislative leaders to questions this investigative report raises.

Chris Freind can be reached at CF@TheBulletin.us

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January 17, 2009 at 11:07 am Comments (0)

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