"What's black and white and read all over?"

Saturday, July 29, 2006
Posted 7:56 PM by

Dead men do tell tales

State Rep. Michael Diven claims gutter politics, not his own stupidity, are to blame for the five dead people who signed his reelection nominating petition. His chief of staff has been arrested for perjury.Pennsylvania state Rep. Michael Diven claims "gutter politics at their worst" are to blame for the arrest of his chief of staff on charges she filed nominating petitions signed by at least five dead people.

Debora Lynn Romaniello, 51, of Pittsburgh, was arraigned Friday on charges of unsworn falsification to authorities, perjury under the election code, and false signatures and statements in nomination petitions.

Diven claims Romaniello is innocent and will be exonerated. All she did was sign off on a nominating petition that a campaign staff worker handed her, he said.

The lawmaker said he found out a staffer responsible for getting the names jotted several names from a street ledger and then signed the petition as those people.

Diven said he fired the staffer, whom he refused to identify, soon after learning the petitions had been falsified.

Too bad. Both Diven and Romaniello signed the petition and both should be held responsible under the law. He should have withdrawn the petitions in question and promptly turned the underling over to the authorities.

Instead, Diven tried to cover his tracks. But dead men do tell tales and he was caught in the lie.

It's not stopping him from seeking re-election, however.

Although Diven withdrew from the GOP primary ballot in March after his nominating petitions were challenged, he ran a successful write-in campaign for the Republican nomination in May and will face Democrat Chelsa Wagner in the November general election.

Does this guy really deserve another term?

Possibly as a result of this screw-up, H.B. 334 was introduced. It would require funeral directors to report the name, date of birth, date of death and address of every deceased person to the state Election Commission


Friday, July 28, 2006
Posted 8:41 PM by

Lobbyist to Pa. gambling board: Nevermind

Lobbyist Stephen R. Wojdak got special permission to continue his political contribution even though his minor children hold part ownership in a slot machine distributorship.One week after being given special permission by Pennsylvania's gambling regulators to continue his contributions to politicians, a lobbyist has decided to drop the partial ownership in a slot machine distributorship he set up to benefit his kids.

Lobbyist Stephen R. Wojdak, 67, a former state representative from Philadelphia, said he never could have predicting the furor surrounding the Gaming Control Board's controversial decision to ignore a state ban on political contributions by slots hopefuls.

"Had I anticipated it, I would never have gone near it," Wojdak said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

Wojdak has given more than $50,000 to political campaigns or political action committees since Liberty Gaming Distributors LP filed its application for a state license in February.

He also spent more than $125,000 last year lobbying on behalf of gambling-related clients, state records show. The law legalizing slot machine gambling does not bar lobbying, only campaign contributions.

"I saw it as an opportunity ... that could be beneficial to my children," Wojdak said. "I, as a parent, do not want to subject my children to that kind of controversy."

Instead, the trust he set up in the names of his kids, who are are 11 and 13, will divest its interest in Liberty Gaming Distributors LP, a Plymouth Meeting-based slot machine distributor.

Excuse me? If he didn't want his kids' in the spotlight then he shouldn't try to pull this off.

We should thank him, though, for showing us once again how our state regulators are barely considering what's in the best public interest while making their decisions.

The board is expected to award all 14 slots parlor licenses by the end of the year.


Thursday, July 27, 2006
Posted 9:56 PM by

The city that kills you back

I just couldn't resist putting a clown nose on Philadelphia Mayor John Street after tonight's speech. I think if he wore one, he might have held everybody's attention longer.Philadelphia Mayor John Street delivered a televised live 10-minute speech tonight about a spike in the city's murder rate with a delivery that made George Bush look like Winston Churchill.

Although stiffly reading from a teleprompter, Street still actually managed to ramble - proving the point that it takes a village to raise an idiot.

Touting a new citywide curfew, he said, "Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to fight crime. But the village can never be a substitute for responsible parents. Our new curfew center goes into service tonight."

Street asked viewers to phone their state lawmakers and urge them to pass legislation for reporting requirements for lost or stolen guns, limiting gun purchases to one a month; a trigger lock requirement and increased penalties for illegal possession of weapons.

"Let me take a moment to personally appeal to our young people," Street said. "Please take a deep breath before resorting to the use of guns to settle minor conflicts or perceived personal snubs which are inevitable. That momentary loss of control or need to demand respect might not only snuff the life out of your victim but could also destroy your life's chances and subject two families to untold pain and suffering."

When I think of the murders in Philly - which number 226 so far this year - I think of drug crime, not crime of passion. So I don't know where he was going with that.

Finally, Street repeatedly referred to the city as "our house," which explains why thousands of Philly houses have been abandoned. With neighbors like that....

Secret municipal pay grab revealed

Pennsylvania House minority leader H. William DeWeese snuck an ammendment into law that lets township supervisors bill taxpayers for the time they spend away from their real jobs doing municipal business.Supervisors in the state's 1,456 second-class townships currently receive a token yearly compensation of $1,875 to $5,000, depending on their municipality's population, to attend evening board meetings and handle township business.

Some also receive fully paid health and life insurance plans with their board's approval.

That could change dramatically in September, when they will be allowed to bill their townships for up to 120 days a year for time spent away from their regular jobs to appear in court on a township matter or attend other unpaid board or authority meetings to which they are appointed, according to the Bucks County Courier Times.

How did this happen?

House Democratic Leader H. William DeWeese initiated the change in state law after township supervisors in his district covering Greene and parts of Fayette and Washington counties pressed him for extra pay.

DeWeese introduced a bill in late June on the supervisors' pay.

But rather than wait for a lengthy committee process - and give the public the ability to rally against his measure - he snuck it into the state budget as an amendment to a bill that dealt with locally elected auditors' pay. Lawmakers in both chambers passed that amended bill unanimously July 1.

And you thought only the Republican legislators were sneaky about their pay raise last year. Now you know why I was disappointed when DeWeese wasn't ousted in the May primary.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Posted 9:57 PM by

Parallels between Fumo and Jefferson cases?

Federal investigations of U.S. Rep. William Jefferson and Pennsylvania state Sen. Vince Fumo seem similar, but which one is the alleged piker?At first blush, the criminal investigations of Louisiana congressman William Jefferson and Pennsylvania state Sen. Vincent Fumo seem pretty similar.

A 16-month international bribery probe of Jefferson, who allegedly accepted $100,000 from a telecommunications businessman - $90,000 of which was later recovered in a freezer in the congressman's home, culminated in an 18-hour search of his congressional office.

The FBI, IRS and federal prosecutors began looking into Fumo's ties to a series of nonprofits about three years ago questioning whether Fumo "engaged in extortion" while seeking money for them from Peco Energy and Verizon Communications.

Peco gave $17 million to Citizens' Alliance for Better Neighborhoods under secret deals in 1998 and 2000 in which Fumo dropped his opposition to the electric giant's business plans, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Feeling stonewalled, the feds launched an obstruction-of-justice investigation which resulted in the arrest last month of two Senate computer staffers. The duo deleted e-mails and other data from harddrives allegedly under Fumo's orders. Both men pleaded not guilty last week.

Jefferson never gave such an order to his staff, but is fighting the search of his office, claiming its covered by the speech or debate clause, which protects elected officials from being questioned by the president, a prosecutor or a plaintiff in a lawsuit about their legislative work.

However, Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan upheld the legality of the raid this month, saying a measure barring lawmakers' offices from being searched could turn Capitol Hill into "a taxpayer-subsidized sanctuary for crime."

Jefferson is appealing that ruling and won a temporary injunction today preventing a Justice Department review of the documents seized from his office.

There are no such provisions barring a search of a legislator's office in Pennsylvania law. Meanwhile, Fumo insists he is cooperating with the federal probe.

At least Vince didn't appropriate a National Guard helicopter in the middle of hurricane relief efforts just to grab stuff out of his home the way Jefferson did. His Web site still features a picture of him in front of the Superdome, where so many people were stuck during the storm.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Posted 11:16 PM by

Pa. Gaming Board issues IOUs

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell's transfer of $10 million in loans to the Gaming Control Board from two other state agencies is setting up a fight between him and the Republican-controlled Legislature.Spending money like a drunken man in a casino, Pennsylvania's Gaming Control Board had to issue two IOUs this week for more than $10 million just to stay afloat.

And we're less than a month into the budget year.

Gee, I hope these guys are better picking slots parlor hopefuls for licenses than they are sticking to a spending plan or hiring employees, five of whom have been arrested so far.

The Treasury Department transferred $6.6 million from the Revenue Department and $3.85 million from the State Police to the gambling regulators on Monday, said Treasury spokeswoman Karen Walsh.

The funds come from $36.1 million the Legislature appropriated for the startup of slot-machine gambling in Pennsylvania.

In December, Gov. Ed Rendell's administration also filled the agency's coffer with $7.3 million from the Revenue Department.

Republican lawmakers are squawking that such transfers require their budgetary approval and are considering legal action, said Stephen C. MacNett, a Senate Republican lawyer.


Monday, July 24, 2006
Posted 10:21 PM by

John Perzel's new image problems

John Perzel's campaign finances are facing scrutiny as is his part-time job with a prison management firm.One month after he put his foot in his mouth once again over last year's failed pay grab by Pennsylvania lawmakers, House Speaker John Perzel now faces two more image problems.

For one, Common Cause has reportedly asked the state Bureau of Elections and Attorney General Tom Corbett to investigate whether Perzel's "extraordinary uses of campaign funds" violated state laws.

My only question is, what laws?

Pennsylvania sets no limits on how much money a candidate can raise and how much someone can donate and there are little to no restrictions on how the money can be spent.

Perzel, R-Philadelphia, used $700,000 of his contributions to reimburse family, friends and legislative staffers assisting his campaign - in effect paying them for their political help when some already draw a salary from the state.

Perzel's campaign also reimbursed Chairman Brian Preski, who is also Perzel's chief off staff, a total of $264,000 in 2004 and 2005 for expenses ranging from bottled water, to trips to Las Vegas for him, Perzel and their wives and trips to the last two Super Bowls for both men and their sons, as well as babysitters and food for Preski's kids.

Perzel's spending "by far, is the most wide, sweeping expansion of campaign spending I've ever seen," G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

However, Madonna said the law "is so vague that I don't know what you can do in terms of finding people in violation. It's clear there needs to be a tightening of the law by the Legislature."

Yeah, right. Like that's going to happen on Perzel's watch.

After seeing his take on lobbying reform, I'm willing to let that sleeping dog lie until Perzel gets ousted, indicted or dies in office, whichever comes first.

That's because I believe in karma.

Case in point, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported today that Perzel faces a potential conflict of interest by virtue of moonlighting as a director for prison management firm GEO Group Inc.

The company pays him $20,000 a year plus thousands more to attend board meetings in Boca Raton, Fla.

GEO runs the Walter R. Hill Correctional Facility, Delaware County's prison, but has no state contracts.

However, GEO now wants to takeover a competitor, Cornell Cos. Inc., in a $220 million buyout.

Therein lies the rub.

Cornell has at least $50 million worth of state contracts to run 17 juvenile detention centers across Pennsylvania as well as the Moshannon Valley Correctional Center in Clearfield County.

Can you say conflict of interest?

I'm pretty sure the P.R. firm Perzel pays $5,000 a month in tax money can't.


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