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No ID, No Vote…. Comprende?

Voter ID Bill Would End PA’s Banana Republic Election System

I am not wealthy, but have recently acquired twenty two domiciles throughout Philadelphia.  My real estate prowess has afforded me a unique opportunity to make a difference in the lives of our citizens.

I can vote twenty two times.

You see, I have staked out prime locations, from a cardboard box under the Walt Whitman Bridge to a culvert on Cobbs Creek Parkway to a burnt out shell at 7th and Diamond.   Yes, technically, habitating at these locations makes me “homeless,” but I much prefer the term “voter-enfranchised.”  When you have such a love of democracy, how can anyone have a problem with people who want to vote multiple times, especially the homeless?  (Although, in fairness, dead people should only be able to vote once). 

Incredible as it seems, folks in Pennsylvania don’t have to show any voter identification whatsoever at the polls, with the exception of the first time, in which a non-photo ID, such as a utility bill, is all that is needed. And even that’s a stretch since some politicians ignore the law and permit people, who have never produced identification, to vote.  So in Philadelphia, among other places, voters whose “address” is a park bench or condemned house are regularly pulling the lever.

This system has made multiple-voting quite easy, and affords a vote not only to those who aren’t registered, but those not legally permitted to cast a ballot — the nation’s 12 million illegal immigrants, since we aren’t checking citizenship status, either.

 *****

Because former Governor Ed Rendell vetoed legislation requiring voters to show proper identification, election fraud remains rampant.  By definition, allowing people to vote who are not properly registered is disenfranchising those who play by the rules and cast a ballot the right way.  Bottom line: every illegal vote nullifies one made by a law-abiding citizen.

And make no mistake. It has gotten so out-of-hand that illegal immigrants are voting in large numbers throughout the country.  Think about that — citizens from other countries are quite possibly deciding the outcomes of American elections

One only has to look to Florida in 2000 to see a real-world example.  President Bush won by a mere 537 votes out of 5.8 million cast.  As Governor of Texas, the Spanish-speaking Bush had always been popular with Hispanics, particularly Florida’s Cubans.  Given that Florida has a large illegal immigration population, it is not unrealistic to think that at least 537 illegals voted for Bush over Al Gore—the difference in determining the Presidency of the United States.  But since we have so many “sanctuary cities”—places where it is prohibited to ask one’s immigration/citizenship status— there is no way to determine who is an American citizen, let alone who is validly registered.

Rendell’s rationale for vetoing the bill was that it would have created voting problems for the homeless, the poor, displaced victims of natural disasters, and those without access to valid ID.  And now that another Voter ID bill is working its way through the legislature — this time with a solid shot at becoming law given Gov. Tom Corbett’s support— we are hearing the same old arguments.

Here’s a question.  How many natural disasters hit the Keystone State?  And even if one does, how does that obviate the need for an ID?

As far as access to an ID, it is really so excruciatingly difficult to produce a passport, driver’s license, or employee, government or student photo identification? Getting past the rhetoric, it has yet to be shown how a voter identification requirement negatively affects students, the disabled, and, as the ACLU puts it, “disproportionately impacts the elderly, the working poor, and racial minorities.”

Since identification requirements would apparently discourage people from voting, thereby “disenfranchising” them, here’s a solution: let’s have no rules at all.  That way, at least no one will be offended….well, except law-abiding Americans.  But hey, what do they matter, since they’re the only major constituency with no rights.

*****

Buzzwords like “voter disenfranchisement” aside, the Pennsylvania Voter Identification Protection Act, sponsored by State Representative Daryl Metcalfe, is long overdue legislation with which an overwhelming number of voters agree. What could be easier and more common sense that simply documenting who you claim to be when participating in the most fundamental American right?

The true motivations of those opposed are painfully obvious: the vast majority of non-registered voters have Democratic leanings.  They have become an integral part of the Democratic base, and as such, their voting process must be obstacle-free if the Party is to grow.

Translation: when you can’t legitimately win at the ballot box, go to Plan B — steal the election.

Welcome to the Banana Republic of Pennsylvania.

*****

It’s a shame there hasn’t been a meaningful debate on this. But rather than discuss the Voter ID bill on its merits, the Left has chosen to throw out inflammatory accusations of “voter disenfranchisement.” 

At one point in our history, Americans were subjected to discriminatory treatment which truly disenfranchised them, such as being required to pay poll taxes and take literacy tests.  Thankfully, such practices have been rescinded, and comparing an ID bill to what our ancestors experienced is a downright insult to those who fought for the right to vote.

And as long as we’re on the subject of voting reforms, maybe an amendment to the Voter ID bill could be offered that would eliminate the option of single-lever voting. Pulling just one lever is far too easy, and takes the thinking out of voting — which is, obviously, never a good thing.

Americans have become far too complacent when it comes to voting and, as a result, we are reaping the consequences of our corrupted system.  Good policy should never come down to just a “Democrat” or “Republican” one-second pull of a lever.  Instead, making citizens vote for individual over Party may yet inspire them to take a more avid interest in who will be their representatives.

The American voting system isn’t perfect, and Voter ID laws (which have been ruled constitutional) will go a long way to restoring the integrity so crucial in the power to choose one’s own destiny.

Having no voter identification requirement is a disgraceful blow to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that Americans could enjoy free and fair elections. 

In a society where one must show ID to enter office buildings, airplanes, trains or even buy antihistamine at the pharmacy, it is time to give the same level of importance to voting.  The current practice — a truly disenfranchising one — must end in order to preserve our hard-earned freedom.

Chris Friend is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigativereporter 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, whose column appears regularly in Philadelphia Magazine and nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a frequent guest commentator on talk radio and state/national television, most notably on FOX Philadelphia.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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June 21, 2011 at 6:42 am Comments (0)

Earth To Neshaminy Teachers’ Union: Have We Met?

In their heyday, unions represented 36% of the American workforce.  

How things have changed.

Now, that number stands at only 12 percent, and when you factor out the public-sector unions, the number plummets to a paltry 7 percent.

While unions were formed for good reasons —to combat deplorable working conditions and slave labor wages — shortsighted union leaders have made a habit of biting the hand that feeds them.  Ironically, the biggest casualty to organized labor’s greed are the rank-and-file members, as evidenced by the numbers above.

It is precisely for this reason that union leaders are the driving force behind card check legislation, which would eliminate the secret ballot in union elections.  While admitting to themselves that this is an inherently un-American tactic, labor leaders see card check as the only viable way to preserve the union movement.

Funny, but something else much more simplistic comes to mind that would achieve the same objective — without violating a member’s right to secretly cast a vote.

Common sense.

But for that, there is one prerequisite: you have to live in this world.

Not upper Uranus.

So for a classic case study of how space cadets operate, let’s take a look at the ongoing legalized extortion occurring in the Neshaminy School District.

The teachers union in that Bucks County district has been at odds with the school board for months.  Why?

Because they want a “fair” contract.

Pretty much everyone else on this planet calls it greed.  Unadulterated greed.

What are they asking from the taxpayers?  Salary increases, retroactive to 2008, of 2.75 percent in each of the first two years, 3 percent in the third and fourth years, and 3.5 percent in the final year. 

So a teacher making $100,000 a year now will be taking home a guaranteed $116,000 salary for nine months’ work in 2013.  What a deal! 

And there are quite a few teachers at or near that level: 64 make over $100,000, and over half make over $90,000, not including health care benefits.

But hey, times are tough, so the union leadership has another demand, one from which it won’t budge: continued free health care.

That’s right.  Neshaminy teachers do not pay a single penny towards their health care premiums.

Nothing.  Nada.  Zip.

How’s that for living in the real world?

Instead, the forgotten taxpayer foots the bill for their high-end plan, to the tune of around $27,000 per teacher, per year.

And it doesn’t stop there. 

The taxpayers’ largesse also extends to Neshaminy’s retired teachers, many with lucrative pensions (some over $100,000 per year) who also enjoy free healthcare.

But in the private sector —that forgotten place which employs the people who pay for all the teachers’ salaries and benefits — pay raises in today’s economy are the exception, and employees typically shoulder at least 30 percent of their healthcare costs.

Not content with the negotiations, however, the teachers showed their “class” by repeatedly boycotting Back to School Nights.  In addition, their classrooms aren’t decorated, bulletin boards remain vacant, recommendation letters are on hold — and reports have stated that the contract dispute has been discussed in the classrooms, which is the very last place it belongs.

But hey, the union’s demands have nothing to do with greed, we are nauseatingly told. No, no…. it’s all about the children!

Sure it is.

And pigs can fly. 

*****

Speaking of the airborne Neshaminy union leaders, let’s discuss the real issue. You know, the one that everyone —parents, teachers and union officials — pretend isn’t there.

Our educational product is failing.

All across Pennsylvania, and yes, in Neshaminy, too.

The beauty of math is that numbers don’t lie.  And Neshaminy’s numbers are dismal.

Only 67 percent of the district’s 11th graders are proficient in Reading.  In Math, it’s 72 percent.

So let’s tell it like it is: one-third of Neshaminy’s students can’t read proficiently and almost the same number can’t add or subtract.

And the real number is even higher, since students who have already dropped out of school — a significant number — aren’t counted. 

Yet the taxpayers are pumping out $17,000 per student, per year. And the results?

Pure mediocrity. 

Getting a 67 on a test is an F.  In the real world, being content with a 67% success rate is unacceptable.

*****

Several weeks ago, Governor Rendell celebrated the news that 82 percent of our schools met basic benchmark levels.

And that’s reason to celebrate? …..

Read the rest and post a comment on Philly Mag’s Philly Post:

http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2010/09/28/earth-to-neshaminy-teachers-union-have-we-met/

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 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, most notably on FOX 29.  He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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September 30, 2010 at 8:40 am Comments (0)

Open Letter To Gov. Christie: Five Reasons To Dump DRPA Chief John Matheussen

 Governor Christie:

Political courage.

That is the description you have earned as Governor.  And for good reason.

You have successfully confronted the most powerful special interests in the state, sending a message that there are no sacred cows. In doing so, to the pleasant surprise of millions, the entrenched “business as usual” crowd is finally on the run.

In that regard, I want to discuss what is perhaps the most patronage-laden and inefficient entity in the state — the Delaware River Port Authority.

As you are aware, the contract of Authority Chief Executive John Matheussen expired July 17. While he is still functioning month-to-month as the CEO, his future rests with you.

There has been much coverage devoted to the largesse of the DRPA, specifically the $400 million in “economic development” funds that were spent on everything under the sun — except the bridges — leading to massive debt and rising tolls.

In addition to the misuse of the people’s money, there are a number of other factors to consider when deciding whether Mr. Matheussen’s contract should be renewed by the Board and approved by you.

Following are several examples of John Matheussen’s failed leadership:

1) Permitted Immense Conflicts Of Interest

Without question, Matheussen’s greatest failing is his toleration of the unfettered conflicts of interest that permeate the DRPA Board.

Upon assuming office in 2002, Governor Rendell appointed himself Chairman of the DRPA. One of the major beneficiaries has been his former firm, Ballard Spahr. In the three years preceding Rendell’s election, Ballard received $25,000 in legal fees from the Port Authority, including only $480 in 2001. From 2002 until the 2009, Ballard has received over $2.7 million.

Ballard, its attorneys and associated entities have contributed $1.5 million to Rendell’s campaigns.

Two of the governor’s former top aides, John Estey, his former chief of staff and Adrian King, his former deputy chief of staff, are currently partners at Ballard, and both hold or have held influential positions related to DRPA.

Estey has chaired virtually every Board meeting since 2002, and Mr. King served as the Authority’s Outside Counsel. Mr. Estey and Mr. King are brothers-in-law, and together have contributed over $35,000 to Mr. Rendell’s political coffers.

Former Pennsylvania Treasurer Robin Wiessmann, who had been a Rendell appointee, sits on the DRPA Board. Her husband, Ken Jarin, also a partner at Ballard, served as DRPA Outside Counsel and occasionally chaired board meetings

Incomprehensibly, Matheussen never raised an eyebrow when Estey, King, Jarin, and Wiessmann voted to “accept and receive” Ballard’s legal bills to DRPA, since that action amounted to money going into their law firm’s pocket, and, ultimately their own.

As you know better than most, Governor, the toughest challenge of being a leader is to buck the crowd and do the right thing, no matter how difficult.  But instead of illustrating that trait, John Matheussen was an instrumental part of the go-along, get along crowd — to the detriment of all but the insiders

 

2) The Campaign Finance Report Conflict Of DRPA Executive John Rogale ….

(Read More at Philadelphia Magazine: Comments welcome)

http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2010/07/21/its-time-to-clean-house-at-the-drpa/

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July 21, 2010 at 11:04 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)

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)

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)

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)

Reaction To Inquirer Bailout Discussions Draws Ire

Reaction To Inquirer Bailout Discussions Draws Ire

BY CHRIS FREIND

On Dec. 29, the publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News wrote a column entitled “Papers Matter More Than Ever.”

In his essay, Brian Tierney stated, “Our original news reporting sets the table for the entire region’s news output, much of which derives from the work we do. No other news medium – television, radio or Web – can compare to the daily coverage (we) produce.”

He added, “This is a tremendous responsibility, and we take it seriously. Without the Daily News and Inquirer, who would be exposing corruption and incompetence…and covering our city and region so thoroughly?”

Mr. Tierney concluded his article by stating, “Our local owners know that it’s more than a business; it’s a public trust.”

Not mentioned in the column was that Mr. Tierney had been in discussions with Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, D, for several months regarding a potential government bailout of Philadelphia Media Holdings, the entity that owns both newspapers.

In a discussion with Chuck Ardo, the Governor’s press secretary, The Bulletin was informed that “the governor and Brian Tierney have had a number of conversations over the course of the last several months (regarding a possible bailout). The governor has made no commitment as a result of those conversations.”

When asked if a bailout of the newspaper was still on the table, Mr. Ardo responded that the governor, “would certainly be open to discussions with Brian.”

Reaction to a possible taxpayer-funded bailout of a news entity was one of consternation by elected officials, media watchdog organizations and newspaper readers.

“Where does one start?,” asked Brent Bozell, III, President of the Media Research Center, a media watchdog organization in Washington. “I would submit that if there were a bailout, it would prove the end of the free market system in America. There’s no such thing as free enterprise when everything is government owned. It’s called socialism,” he said.

Mr. Bozell stated that the last thing a journalist should want is to be controlled, even in the slightest, by the government. “When a media outlet proposes a bailout, it proposes to put itself under the authority of the entity bailing it out. Therefore, if it’s a government, the media entity proposes to become an arm of the government,” he explained.

“I guess my first reaction would have to be, ‘Are you kidding me?,’ ” stated State Representative Doug Reichley, R, Lehigh. “Mack Trucks in Allentown could use a bailout, but I haven’t seen the governor’s office soliciting them to see how much aid they need,” he said.

The legislator, a leader in the effort to reform no-bid contracts, said that had a “better idea” for a bailout. “Maybe the governor’s office could make the best out of two bad situations by placing slot machines in all the Boscov’s stores. That would be a way of drawing shoppers into the failing retail chain he is trying to prop up, and would assist the declining slots revenue until the two Philadelphia slots locations are done with litigation,” he said.

Boscov’s Inc. received a $35 million bailout to rescue the department-store chain from bankruptcy, courtesy of Gov. Rendell’s maneuvering.

Mr. Boscov contributed $139,000 to Mr. Rendell’s campaigns, and other Boscov family members gave an additional $25,000. Questions posed to the governor regarding this connection were repeatedly dismissed.

A concern of many is that the objectivity of the Inquirer and Daily News is now irreparably compromised because of the bailout discussions, regardless of whether money ever changes hands.

“If ‘Papers Matter More Than Ever,’ as Brian Tierney has written,
then how is it that journalistic integrity and editorial independence
apparently matter less than ever?” asked Colin Hanna, President of the public policy organization Let Freedom Ring.

Mr. Hanna added, “There’s some small difference between moral compromise and the outright selling of one’s soul. This request from The Philadelphia Inquirer seems to me to be the latter. ”

A lack of substantive content from the Inquirer was the primary concern of Kevin Kelly, founder of The Loyal Opposition in Philadelphia.

“If the Inquirer didn’t alienate 50 per cent of its potential customer base with left-wing nonsense masquerading as news, it wouldn’t be in
Harrisburg with a cup in its hand. If I cut my customer base in
half, I’d be out of business in a week,” he said.

Matthew Brouillette, President of the think-tank Commonwealth Foundation in Harrisburg, cited the historical importance of an independent American media in expressing his opposition to the possible bailout.

“Thomas Jefferson understood the importance of a free press in a free society when he said, ‘Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.’ “

“The Inquirer’s request for a bailout and Governor Rendell’s entertainment of it must have Jefferson and Franklin rolling over in their graves, and Lenin and Hitler cheering them on,” Mr. Brouillette added.

Jay Miller, a newspaper reader from Wallingford, Delaware County, expressed his contempt that tax dollars would potentially be used to bail out the Inquirer. “Maybe Ed Rendell will take some notice that not everyone thinks he’s God’s answer to Pennsylvania. I will be letting my representative and senator know of my displeasure with even thinking about a bailout!”

“How in the world can this paper propose to be a watchdog for the public when it’s had conversations about being bankrolled by the government? Period!,” Mr. Bozell stated. “When you are bankrolled, you are then beholden. There is no way around that proposition. No way,” he added.

When asked how the public, and in particular the Inquirer’s readers, might view bailout discussions, Mr. Bozell said “as long as the people who even considered this are involved with that newspaper, it has no credibility.”

He stated that non-Inquirer readers would be incensed that their taxes could be used to fund an enterprise like this. “And I think readers of the Inquirer would be outraged that they could no longer rely on the paper for objective truth. It now becomes a propaganda arm of the government bankrolling it,” he said.

“If the media wasn’t trusted before, just where do you think the trust factor will be for this newspaper now?,” he asked.

Whether the deal goes through or not, Mr. Bozell said, “the reputation of the paper is sullied forever. That a newspaper would even consider prostituting itself like this…is outrageous.”

Calls to Philadelphia Media Holdings went unreturned.

Chris Freind can be reached at CF@TheBulletin.us

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January 30, 2009 at 8:49 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)

Political Contributions and Government Contracts: A Fine Line

Political Contributions and Government Contracts: A Fine Line

By: Chris Freind

One of six articles about Gov. Rendell, Ballard Spahr and state contacts in 11/14/08 Bulletin (thebulletin.us)

While Americans voted in record numbers in last week’s election, surveys show that the electorate’s view of politicians is near an all-time low. Many harbor the mentality that “they’re all crooks,” believing corruption and back- room deals are commonplace between political figures and their big-money contributors. Some cases clearly have crossed the legal line, but for the most part, “business as usual”, unethical as it may seem to many, continues unimpeded at the state and local level. Legality and ethics are distinctly separate issues.

To be sure, there are numerous examples of illicit activity which have solidified the cynical mindset of voters. Several prominent members of former Philadelphia Mayor John Street’s inner circle were indicted, and some convicted, of “pay-to-play” schemes. City Treasurer Corey Kemp was convicted on 27 charges, including extortion and honest services fraud, and several businessmen were convicted of conspiracy and fraud. Ronald White, longtime confidante and fundraiser of Mayor Street, was indicted but died before his trial commenced.

Philadelphia State Senator Vince Fumo, one of the most powerful politicians in Pennsylvania, is currently on trial facing 139 criminal counts dealing with public corruption.

And in Harrisburg, twelve individuals have been charged in the “Bonus Gate” scandal in which legislative staffers stand accused of receiving taxpayer-funded bonuses for performing campaign work. Two defendants have agreed to plead guilty and are cooperating with the government. More indictments are expected in the coming months.

Pay-to-play is a term which generally relates to the illegal practice of giving political contributions in return for government contracts. Violators can be prosecuted under an array of charges, including the federal Honest Services Fraud Statute, which stipulates that it is a crime to engage in a conspiracy to deny taxpayers the honest services of their elected officials.

Investigators and prosecutors, however, face a significant hurdle since it is inherently difficult to prove pay-to-play activity. Without “smoking guns,” such as explicit tape recordings or written documents clearly demonstrating a quid pro quo arrangement, prosecutions are rarely undertaken. Rather than being labeled “pay-to-play,” relationships between financial backers and elected officials are viewed as the cost of doing business with the government. Many politically connected companies feel that contributions “keep them in the game.” Elected officials need only to tell them that they will be considered. No guarantee of a contract is necessary.

While this type of activity gives the appearance of impropriety, skirting the line of ethical business practices, it remains the predominant manner in which business is conducted.

Several prominent examples:

While a state senator, Vince Fumo was also a partner at the Dilworth Paxon law firm. For obvious reasons, Mr. Fumo was not “in the law office” on a regular basis, but was compensated because of his status as a political rainmaker. For example, he is generally acknowledged as having been instrumental in bringing the firm such prominent clients as Independence Blue Cross, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, and the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), all of which are closely connected with state government. Sen. Fumo had close friends at each entity, and even sat on the boards of PHEAA and Blue Cross. Despite this, spokesmen for these organizations uttered the standard line that Mr. Fumo had no bearing on the entity’s choice of Dilworth as their law firm.

Another instance raising significant ethical questions is Governor Rendell’s relationship with Ballard Spahr, the law firm for whom he worked prior to his 2002 election as Governor. Since Mr. Rendell assumed office, Ballard has received millions in legal fees from entities tied to the Governor. Specifically, from 1999 to 2001, Ballard received $25,000 from the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA), including just $480 in 2001, but since Rendell’s election in 2002, has received $2.7 million. After becoming Governor of Pennsylvania, Rendell appointed himself Chairman of DRPA. Gov. Rendell’s former Chief of Staff, John Estey, and former Deputy Chief of Staff, Adrian King, are partners at Ballard, and both serve in prominent roles at DRPA. Mr. Estey is the Chairman-designate, voting on behalf of the Governor, and Mr. King serves as Outside Counsel. The Ballard firm is the largest recipient of legal fees from the Port Authority.

The Ballard firm has also received over $2 million in no-bid contracts for work related to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Ballard attorneys have contributed nearly $500,000 to the Governor’s campaigns. The Philadelphia Future Political Action Committee, registered at the Ballard offices and whose Treasurer is former Ballard Chairman David Cohen, donated $471,000 to Mr. Rendell.

Chris Freind can be reached at CF@TheBulletin.us

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November 15, 2008 at 7:39 am Comments (0)