He had to jump through some hoops to do it, but Jim Foster, the 69-year-old Germantown newspaper editor, is officially an Independent congressional candidate running against Democrat incumbent Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Phila) in PA-2.
The good news for Foster came Friday, nine days after the state originally denied his candidacy because another individual from the Independent “party” was already running. Independent affiliation, as opposed to affiliation with the Independence Party or Independent Party, specifically denotes non-affiliation.
Attorney Lawrence Otter, who is serving as Foster’s legal counsel, said that his client was required to deliver 1,715 signatures. He delivered about 4,000 signatures to Harrisburg on Aug. 1.
The number of signatures that a third-party or Independent candidate is required to deliver is equal to two percent of votes received by the highest vote-getter in the district’s previous election.
Republicans and Democrats are required to deliver 1,000 signatures.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, one Robert J. Ogborn, delivered a petition of about 2,000 signatures and filed as an Independent candidate one day before Foster. Given that the classification “Independent” implies non-affiliation with any political party, the grounds for Foster’s initial rejection may seem unfounded.
Foster classified the technicality through which his access was blocked as a “narrow concept” and “obnoxious.”
“This tool is in place for the two main parties to keep people off the ballot,” Foster said. “It’s standard Philly politics. What blindsided me was that the PA Election Commission has the same policies and procedures that can be so easily manipulated. It really did catch me off guard.”
But who precisely does Foster believe tried to take advantage of this law? Nine-term incumbent Fattah.
Foster, who claims that he was purposely left in the dark about the rule that eventually tripped him up, said Ogborn “was completely crafted and created by the machine. His petitions were created to meet the minimum requirement. He is a stalking horse created to make sure I didn’t get on the ballot…I believe it was contrived.”
Foster also claims that he had intended to deliver his signatures on the afternoon of Tuesday, July 31, but was strongly encouraged by an employee of the Elections Commission in Harrisburg to wait until the following day to deliver them, because the office would be busy processing other petitions.
He said that the phone call occurred at 8:15 a.m. and that two hours and eleven minutes later, at 10:26 a.m., Ogborn’s petitions were time-stamped. Foster believes the employee purposely waved him off so that Ogborn could deliver his signatures first.
“The guy is a complete unknown. He has no political history whatsoever, and he gathered every single one of his signatures from one zip code…He gathered the bare minimum of signatures and didn’t show up until the last minute. This was a shadow deal designed from the get-go to be so quiet that no one knew it was happening,” Foster asserts.
“People can draw their own conclusions from that,” he said.
In addition, Foster is convinced that a third party, the law-firm Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, aided the Fattah camp in the “shadow deal.”
Though it has yet to be confirmed, Foster asserts that two out of the three people listed by Ogborn as his Committee to Fill Vacancies — people selected to appoint a replacement for a candidate in the event that they fall victim to illness or an accident — are associated with the firm.
Furthermore, he said that the notary who signed off on Ogborn’s petitions also works for Stradley Ronon.
As to the why this is significant, Foster claims that Stradley Ronon is a heavy supporter of Fattah, though the cited evidence of this — a $1,000 donation by Chairman Attorney William R. Sasso to Fattah for Congress in 2009, and a fundraiser organized in part by lobbyist Herb Vederman of Stradley Ronon, of which Fattah was a beneficiary — is inconclusive.
According to CampaignMoney.com, Sasso has donated larger sums of money to Republican candidates including Sen. Pat Toomey, Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks) and Jim Gerlach (R-Chester).
After Foster was rejected by the state he filed an appeal with the Commonwealth Court. The Department of State signed off on a stipulation agreement granting Foster permission to run under the affiliation of the Philadelphia Party.
The stipulation also acknowledged that Foster would be challenging Ogborn’s petitions and allowed that Foster could be listed as an Independent candidate on the ballot in the event that Ogborn’s signatures were proved invalid.
In an interesting turn of events, however, Ogborn withdrew from the election Friday, saying “I’m not going to fight this…why draw this out?” as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Ogborn admitted that not all of his signatures were valid, explaining that some of the corresponding addresses did not match voter records.
Fattah’s spokeswoman, Maisha Leek, denies all allegations of a conspiracy to ballot-block Foster.
“Unfortunately, Foster admits to using state election law to challenge another candidate’s right to run. And now, to cover his tracks, issues a false allegation that requires the Corbett Administration and Fattah to have secretly joined forces in order to keep him off the ballot,” she said in a press statement.
“While false and unfounded allegations appear to be Mr. Foster’s mode of operation, there are more pressing public policy issues facing the public – those issues remain the Congressman’s focus,” Leek continued.
Whether there is truth to Foster’s allegations or not, third-party and Independent candidates have long been pushing against the notoriously tough ballot access laws in Pennsylvania and challenges brought against them by the Democrats and Republicans.