Corbett Investigating Opponent of Ally — But Won’t Investigate Ally?

Corbett Continues Pattern as He Investigates Independent Candidate Who Demanded Action on Alleged GOP Petition Fraud

PITTSBURGH: Harrisburg Republican Tom Corbett added to the long list of political actions made by his Attorney General’s office today when his office announced it had opened an investigation into Jim Schneller, independent candidate for Congress in the 7th District.

Yesterday, Schneller filed a lawsuit against Corbett and acting Secretary of State Basil Merenda that sought to compel Corbett’s office to complete an investigation into the alleged fraud contained in the nominating petitions of Schneller’s Republican opponent, Pat Meehan.  Instead of intensifying his pursuit of the charge against Meehan, Corbett is instead investigating Schneller for alleged petition irregularities of his own.

On March 29, the Attorney General’s official spokesman said that Corbett would take over a Delaware County case alleging that GOP Congressional candidate Pat Meehan’s nomination petitions contained fraudulent signatures. Meehan has endorsed Corbett for Governor and made a $2,000 contribution to Corbett’s campaign, and the same Republican officials who circulated petitions in Delaware County for Meehan also did so for Corbett.  Despite this apparent conflict of interest, Corbett’s Attorney General’s office accepted the case – and has remained silent ever since.

The Attorney General’s office under Tom Corbett has exhibited a pattern of looking the other way when potential election abuses by his Republican allies are discovered, while unleashing the power of his office on his critics.

While Corbett claims to be concerned with Schneller’s petitions, he has refused to investigate similar charges of forgery and fraud within the Philadelphia Republican party, where party chairman Vito Canuso Jr. and general counsel Michael P. Meehan filed dozens of legal challenges to GOP ward leaders they did not personally select – challenges fraught with multiple potential legal violations that have prompted calls for a criminal investigation.

According to the Philadelphia Daily News, “the City Committee’s challenges were filled with apparent forgeries. Attorney Matthew Wolfe, the Republican leader in University City’s 27th Ward, tried to contact all the challengers and documented 30 situations in which individuals said they hadn’t signed the legal documents that carried their names. One of the “challengers” was a Wynnefield woman who had died a year earlier.” [Philadelphia Daily News, 8/11/2010]

Michael Meehan and Canuso actually admitted that they submitted fraudulent challenges when they blamed the bogus signatures on “overzealous ward leaders whom they declined to identify.”

Nevertheless, despite entreaties from dissident Philadelphia Republicans, Corbett has refused to take any action at all in the case, which could prove embarrassing to his gubernatorial campaign.  According to the Daily News, “(Local Republicans) expect the state party to try to minimize the Philadelphia friction through November, fearing that it could hurt their candidate for governor…Corbett, state attorney general, is said to be petrified about being drawn into Philadelphia warfare.”

The founder of one independent Republican organization said he pleaded with Corbett to investigate the fraudulent petition challenges by city Republican leaders. “I said, ‘Mr. Corbett, I have some grave concerns about these guys. They’re criminals.’ He looked me right in the eye and said, ‘I’m looking forward, not backward.’” [Philadelphia Daily News, 8/11/2010]

Corbett’s long history of questionable election law judgment dates back to his first days in office.  Weeks before the November 2004 election, Corbett collected $480,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee for his tight race for Attorney General. Corbett refused to reveal the source of the money – his attorney at one point argued that “the fungibility of money” made it impossible. The month after Corbett won office as Attorney General, campaign finance filings were released that revealed that the bulk of the money was from Aubrey K. McClendon, the chief executive of an Oklahoma based oil and gas company [Associated Press, 10/30/2004 and 12/4/2004].  The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office exonerated Corbett days after he was elected. [Associated Press State & Local Wire, “AG’s office clears $480K donation to candidate,” November 6, 2004]

In addition, Corbett’s use of his office to intimidate critics is well-documented.  In May, Corbett subpoenaed Twitter to expose the identities of two anonymous users who had been posting criticism of the Attorney General.   And, the Philadelphia Daily News reported that earlier this year, after state Representative John Galloway was critical of Corbett’s politicization of his office, Corbett confronted the Representative at a budget hearing and after exchanging “sharp words”, sent agents to the Representative’s office demanding Galloway “produce evidence of corruption that [the Bonusgate] investigation had missed.” [4/9/10]

“Tom Corbett continues to brazenly misuse his office for political purposes.  Today’s revelations are just the latest example in a pattern of behavior that includes investigating political opponents and intimidating his critics, while repeatedly looking the other way when an investigation might embarrass him or complicate his own political aspirations,” said Brian Herman, Onorato Communications Director.

“All of these actions – or inaction – fundamentally call into question Tom Corbett’s judgment.  Pennsylvania voters deserve better from the state’s highest law enforcement official – and certainly from anyone who aspires to be governor.” Herman said.

A life-long Pennsylvanian, Dan Onorato was raised in a working class neighborhood on Pittsburgh’s North Side. He graduated college from Penn State and received his law degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Onorato has served as Allegheny County Executive since 2004 and was unopposed for re-election in 2007.  Prior to being elected County Executive, Onorato served as Allegheny County Controller and a Pittsburgh City Councilman.  Dan and his wife Shelly reside in the Brighton Heights neighborhood of Pittsburgh with their three children.

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