A conservative group is going where Republicans can’t, knocking state Rep. Steve Santarsiero over his vote for a bill that could have been used to fund a project for The Second Mile (but wasn’t). The bill was passed a month after the charity’s founder, Jerry Sandusky, was indicted on charges of child sexual abuse.
The mailer, from the Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, listed among other accusations of reckless spending: “the most IRRESPONSIBLE project Santarsiero voted for was to give over $3 million of borrowed tax dollars to convicted criminal Jerry Sandusky’s Second Mile Foundation AFTER it was revealed that it was under investigation for being the place Jerry Sandusky used to fund his future child victims.”
Santarsiero, of Bucks County, said the claim is an outright falsehood stemming from a misunderstanding about the appropriations process. He noted that not a single dime went to Second Mile.
“None of that money ever went to Second Mile because no money was never released to them. They never commenced that project,” Santarsiero said. “To cite that bill is completely erroneous.”
The Pa. House passed the bill in question, the budget for capital projects, on December 19, 2011 – more than a month after Sandusky was indicted.
The bill didn’t actually allocate spending for individual projects. Technically, it authorized the Governor to reimburse spending on projects that had already been approved (in the case of Second Mile, back in 2010).
However, while the December 2011 bill and its fiscal note simply named a lump sum for all reimbursements statewide, it did refer back to an itemized list of such projects: this list, which includes the $3 million allocation for a Second Mile youth center.
If lawmakers had looked back at the list, they could have (and probably would have) offered an amendment specifically striking that item. They didn’t.
In any case, they also might have have concluded that it was unnecessary. A month before the vote but after Sandusky’s indictment, Gov. Tom Corbett’s office announced that it was putting the Second Mile project on hold indefinitely.
CAP spokesman Leo Knepper says the real problem isn’t that Second Mile got any money. The problem is that legally, if not for the Governor’s decision, it could have.
“It’s their fault they didn’t look at it,” he said of the projects list. Knepper added his group’s criticism over the Second Mile building is just a way to get at an underlying issue: the way the legislature allocates money.
“The problem is what they’re doing in the first place,” he said. “We shouldn’t be sending tax dollars to private enterprises anyway; this is the kind of risk you run.”
Santarsiero said CAP’s use of Sandusky as a political attack was out of line.
“I think that people see through this stuff. But the point is that, this is such an outrageous claim, and such a blatant use of a horrible tragedy for a completely unfounded political attack that it needs to be called out as such,” Santarsiero said.
“I’m the father of two young boys. This is offensive.”
This was the second CAP mailer to make the claim against Santarsiero.
It’s likely an attack that other candidates will experience soon. Knepper declined to comment when asked about CAP’s plans in other state legislative districts, but hinted, “Let’s just say, if you’re a vulnerable Democrat and you voted for this, don’t be surprised to hear about it.”
The issue is one that could only be brought up by a group like CAP, which is known for supporting primary challenges to moderate Republicans. GOP campaign committees, on the other hand, cannot attack this vote without indicating their own members. The bill in question passed the Pa. Senate unanimously and the Pa. House 119 to 75 on a bipartisan basis: 69 Republicans and 50 Democrats voted yes, 38 Republicans and 37 Democrats voted no.
It’s not the first time, even this week, that the Sandusky case has emerged as a political issue. On Wednesday, Pa. House Democrats tried to push a resolution calling for a federal review of the way then-Attorney General Tom Corbett handled the investigation. House Republicans left the floor to avoid addressing the issue, and within hours Democratic House candidates across Pa. were bashing their opponents on the subject.
So why Santarsiero?
The 31st district has been a perennial target for Republicans in moderate Bucks County. That’s partly why GOP leaders supported Helen Bosley, a moderate former Planned Parenthood employee, to run against Santarsiero.
But Bosley lost to conservative Anne Chapman in the April primary, thanks in part to CAP’s support for Chapman. Now the party establishment is less excited about their chances in the 31st House district, and it appears CAP is hoping to fill the gap.
Here’s the mailer: