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Date Posted: 22:26:32 03/15/05 Tue
Author: No name
Subject: Specter's Don Barnes Transfers Power to Asher
In reply to: 's message, "Specter's 92 Fund Raiser & Dons Barness Annenberg" on 22:25:20 03/15/05 Tue

Come June, you can go on a two-day golf outing with Gov. Ridge. In November, you can attend his private reception before the Governor's Ball. And on occasion, you might dine with him at Le Bec-Fin. All it takes is $50,000. A pledge to contribute that sum to Ridge's campaign fund over four years buys admission to the Governor's Club board of directors - current membership 97 - and a half-dozen exclusive gatherings each year. Or, for $25,000, you can be a regular member of the club, as are 131 people, and still get some of the special invites. Created after Ridge became governor in 1995, the club guarantees the Republican incumbent a minimum $8.1 million toward his expected reelection bid next year. And he has yet to even declare his candidacy. Many club members' companies have business with the state, some have big business. In all, their state contracts are worth a half-billion dollars. Some are longtime state vendors; some got new work under Ridge. At least 120 of the 228 club members or their businesses receive something from the state: a contract, a grant, a loan, a lease, legal work, or a seat on a state board. And some are in the business of influencing government: Club members include 20 paid Harrisburg lobbyists. Some members don't get anything from the state and say their only interest is in good government. Ridge says that there are no paybacks for donors and that ``government isn't for sale.'' At a time when the Clinton White House is under intense scrutiny for rewarding big Democratic donors with access to the President and his aides, a close look at the Governor's Club reveals how campaign money leads to access at the state level. Though hardly unique to the Ridge administration, the club also underscores a pattern: Many who give to the chief executive's campaign also receive something from the government he runs. Consider the following: * Thirty-seven Governor's Club members and directors are with companies that held state contracts worth about $530 million as of December, the midpoint of Ridge's term, records show. Roughly $375 million of the contracts began since January 1995, when Ridge took office. * Thirty-three members are lawyers whose firms have done state work. In 1995 and 1996, their firms' contracts were worth about $18 million. And a dozen of those firms got about 70 percent of $5 million paid in bond-counsel fees under Ridge. * A dozen members' companies also have done millions of dollars of work since 1995 for one of the state's biggest quasi-independent agencies, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. The governor nominates four of the five commissioners; the fifth is his transportation secretary. * Nine members' companies lease space to the state. Their multiyear leases are worth more than $80 million. * Seven members' companies got economic grants, loans or tax credits from the Ridge administration totaling $15 million. * Ridge has named 40 club members to unpaid state boards that approve everything from tuition to licenses to loans. Businessman Tim Buchanan, a college dropout, said ``it blew my mind'' when he was made chairman of the museum commission. Robert Asher, the former Montgomery County GOP chairman jailed in 1989 after a bribery scandal, got a seat on a conservation panel. Ridge acknowledges there may be a perception that campaign donors get rewarded, but says it is not the reality. ``The perception is created, to a certain extent, by the notion that people will get the contracts whether they're qualified or not,'' Ridge said in a recent interview. ``. . . We're looking for people who do a good job; it doesn't matter what they gave.'' He agreed that many of his campaign donors got seats on state boards, but said, ``I'm sure you could find 250 or 350 who were not members of the Governor's Club as well.'' * One thing every Governor's Club member gets is access to the governor. ``Fund-raising is knocked by the media when we say it gives us access. But that's what it does,'' says John Milliron, a Harrisburg lobbyist and a Governor's Club director. ``If I call Tom Ridge, I feel within a reasonable time he'll call back.'' Access ranges from dinners with as few as 30 to 40 people, as was the case at Le Bec-Fin and the Locust Club last year, to the June golf outing at Nemacolin in Western Pennsylvania and autumn links at Saucon Valley near Allentown. And there is access to other club members, many of whom are influential in their own right. A club event could, for instance, offer a chance to rub elbows with club member and Turnpike Commissioner Robert Gleason. Need Phillies tickets? Maybe team owner Bill Giles can help. He's in the club, as are NFL owners Art Rooney 2d (Steelers) and Edward DeBartolo Jr. (49ers). Planning a special occasion? Call club director Olga Lembesis. Her firm, Kitchenworks, catered Ridge's campaign for a fee. Now she caters events at the governor's mansion - at taxpayer expense. The tab is $39,000 since Ridge moved in. ``One benefit'' of being in the club, says director LeRoy Zimmerman, former state attorney general and now a Harrisburg lawyer, ``is getting together with leaders of business, commerce and other professions. And who knows? You may get the opportunity to make a deal while you're there.'' Some members say they want nothing and get nothing. ``I don't think there is a member of the Governor's Club who has joined because they think it's going to help them get business in any way,'' said Herbert Barness, the GOP national committeeman who helped found the club and is its chairman. ``There might be one or two who think that way, but it is infinitesimal.'' Asked whether members would get as much state work if they didn't give campaign money, Barness said: ``We're in a democracy. Some of them would, maybe some of them wouldn't. I don't know.'' State Sen. Clarence Bell (R., Delaware), who has 43 years in office, says most donors give for a reason. ``They make investments to get returns,'' Bell said. ``I haven't run into any political philanthropists for a long time.'' There is also prestige. David Girard-diCarlo is the governor's campaign treasurer and headed Ridge's 1994 transition team, helping to select cabinet members. A wall in his Philadelphia office is adorned with pictures of himself with politicians, including the governor, who named one of Girard-diCarlo's law partners, Paul Tufano, as his general counsel. Girard-diCarlo gave $84,500 to Ridge's 1994 campaign. Not only does his firm get state legal work, the fact that he's a close Ridge ally could be a reason some seek his high-priced counsel. ``I'm sure some people do. But some people think I can do things I can't do, too,'' he said. ``I turn down more people than I take [as clients] because all they want me to do is pull a political lever, and I won't do that.'' Girard-diCarlo noted that Ridge's contributors are publicly disclosed. ``You know who the supporters are, and they are likely to be part of the process one way or the other. And if you don't like it, elect somebody else.'' Another sought-after Ridge club director is William A.K. Titelman, one of the capital's most prominent lawyer-lobbyists who, with retired Rite Aid chairman Alex Grass, held a 1995 fund-raising event that netted $230,000 for the new governor's campaign coffers. The elegant sit-down dinner was held at the home of Titelman and his wife, Maria Keating Titelman, who is a Ridge deputy chief of staff. William Titelman is one of several club directors who also raise big money for Democrats. He boasts of collecting ``substantial six figures'' for President Clinton - and last fall, he got to stay in the Lincoln Bedroom. Ridge has taken fund-raising to a new level in Pennsylvania, one of a minority of states that don't limit contributions by individuals or political action committees. He spent a record $12.7 million in 1994. And he didn't stop there: His campaign, with five full-time staffers, has raised $4.7 million since he became governor. About 30 fund-raising events are planned this year. The latest, a laid-back, wear-your-Hawaiian-shirt ``beach party'' at a Harrisburg hotel, raised about $70,000. Critics see the Governor's Club as an example of what's wrong with campaign financing these days. The pattern of donations to Ridge's fund from state contractors ``says that campaign contributions are a wise investment with big paybacks, especially when you're in the upper echelon of contributors,'' said Barry Kauffman, Pennsylvania director of the self-styled citizens' lobby, Common Cause. ``It sends a strong message that state government is for sale,'' said Sen. Allen Kukovich, a Western Pennsylvania Democrat and the legislature's leading advocate of campaign finance reform. Kukovich said it would be ``unfair to simply single out the Ridge administration, but I think with each succeeding administration it gets worse and worse. Part of it is the constant escalation of the need for campaign finances. It drives these folks to think of nothing else except how to raise more and more money.'' All you need is dough. ``I don't think I've ever turned anyone away from the Governor's Club,'' said Laurie Simmons, executive director of Ridge's campaign committee. To be on the board of directors, a contributor must give (or raise from others) $10,000 a year in 1995, 1996 and 1997, plus $20,000 in 1998, Ridge's reelection year. A similar schedule at half the price buys a club membership. And half that, or $12,500 over four years, buys a spot on the campaign's 212-member finance committee. (That adds $2.6 million more to Ridge's war chest.) And that's only a part of Ridge's financial picture. For one thing, many club members do more. Montgomery County developer Ronald Mintz held a 1995 fund-raising event at his home that netted $300,000 for Ridge, then still in his first year as governor. Mintz picked up the $51,749 tab. Others give without joining. Like Marilyn Ware Lewis, chairwoman of the American Water Works Co., whose family gave Ridge about $210,000 for his 1994 race. Last year, 46 people who weren't in the club gave the Ridge campaign fund $5,000 or more. A number of club members were major rain-makers for Ridge, giving not only of their own but helping bring out the unselfish side of others. In this realm, Barness, a Bucks County developer, is a regular thunderstorm producer, having brought in as many as 40 percent of the club's members, according to Simmons. (He also gave $60,000 of his own in 1994.) ``It was Herb's idea,'' she said of the club. ``During the campaign your pitch is always the same - you've got to have money for media. We wanted to have a way to raise the funds during the off years. . . . I thought it was a great idea and so did the governor.'' She said Bob Asher is a major Ridge fund-raiser in suburban Philadelphia, as are Titelman in Harrisburg and lawyer Evans Rose in Pittsburgh. The club membership reads like a Who's Who in Pennsylvania Business, as befits a governor who ran as pro-business and has called for corporate tax cuts in three straight years. Many members have CEO after their name. The club is mostly male and white. It includes just a half-dozen minorities and eight women. Many club members interviewed spoke of the state's highest official as ``Tom.'' 84 Lumber CEO Joe Hardy praised the governor's impressive long golf game this way: ``The son of a bitch, he was pounding them out.'' Members can be spotted on the fairways by their umbrellas and golf shirts emblazoned with the words Governor's Club. The club also gives members round blue and gold cufflinks bearing the initial R. What membership does not necessarily buy, said Simmons, is a one-on-one with Ridge. ``I won't guarantee a meeting for $10,000. I'll take your money, but I won't guarantee a meeting with the governor,'' she said. Unlike Clinton, Ridge doesn't bring his donors home. ``We don't have private coffees or sleepovers with the governor,'' Simmons said. `` . . . It's offensive.'' Said Ridge: ``Probably the toughest part of politics is the fund-raising side of it. We did a good job during the election, but now that I'm governor, I've tried to create a bit of a wall between myself and fund-raising.'' Simmons said that since he became governor, Ridge had not made a single phone call for cash. ``As we get closer to the campaign, we might ask him to,'' she said. ``If there was someone who would only take a call from him. And there are people like that.'' Rick Reynolds, a Harrisburg construction manager who joined Hardy and Barness in Ridge's golf foursome last year at Nemacolin, said he holds no state contracts or hopes that his club membership will help him win any. But Reynolds, who recalls tying Ridge with a 90, figures that if he called the governor's office now, ``they'll know who I am.'' Hardy, who owns the Nemacolin course, says the same. ``I think if I have a problem I would call his deputy or something like that . . . and I'm sure it gets to the governor and perhaps he can help,'' he said. ``I think it's important that we have access to some of these people - his staffers, the head of this, the head of that, the head of the other thing. And they're available.'' Contracts. As of December, 37 club members' businesses had state contracts, according to Treasury Department records. Of those, 36 have won new contracts, or had old ones renewed, since January 1995, when Ridge became governor. Many have additional contracts that predate him. Most of the state contracts are competitively bid. Many aren't, including those for engineers, architects and law firms, with the state generally extending ``requests for proposals'' and then selecting the lowest responsible bidder, though not necessarily the least costly. Last year, the largest under Ridge was a one-year contract for $204 million, a hefty chunk of the roughly $2.5 billion the state spends annually for goods and services. That contract was with Healthcare Management Alternatives (HMA) to provide health insurance for poor people in Philadelphia. The company is owned by AmeriChoice, whose chairman, Tony Welters, is on the Governor's Club Board of Directors. Steven Matthews, AmeriChoice vice president and spokesman, said Welters had supported Ridge before he became governor, and that HMA had had major contracts with the state before that time, too. Matthews said HMA's latest contract, for 1997, was awarded through a competitive process. New Enterprise Stone & Lime Co., which is headed by a club member, had state contracts totaling $87 million, more than two-thirds of it since January 1995. The company has also earned millions from the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission since the 1980s. Several New Enterprise officers were civilly fined $150,000 in 1995 for federal elections violations - specifically, for reimbursing employees after they gave thousands to a congressional campaign. Correctional Physicians Service Inc., whose president is club member Emre Umar, signed a contract with the Department of Corrections for $49.2 million to provide medical services at six state prisons. Umar's company has had this work since 1990 and was lowest bidder in 1995. Umar could not be reached for comment. Legal fees. Among the law firms that got the most state work since Ridge took office were those whose letterheads include club directors Titelman, Girard-diCarlo and Zimmerman. Number one in another category, bond-counsel fees, was Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll, the Philadelphia firm that includes club director Tom Ellis. Ellis, who is also a Cheltenham Township commissioner, said the firm got more work from the previous administration under Democratic Gov. Bob Casey. ``We are the biggest bond counsel firm in the state. So I would hope we would get the most bond counsel work,'' Ellis said. ``People support their friends,'' Titelman said. ``If there are two equally competent people capable of providing a service or a product . . . is it reasonable for someone to select their opponent to provide it, or their friend?'' Asked why the Ridge administration had given so much bond work to law firms that gave campaign money, Titelman said: ``Well, why shouldn't he? The reality of the system is, people do need to raise political funds.'' He hastened to add, ``There's never a quid pro quo. Never.'' Loans and grants. Several major companies that got a helping hand from state economic programs under Ridge also have executives in the club. PNC Financial Corp., whose lobbyist is a club member and whose chairman is a major Ridge donor, got a $6.5 million commitment for various state grants for its new operations center in Southwest Philadelphia. PNC is investing $14 million of its own money. Advanta, whose CEO is club director Dennis Alter, received a $3 million Job Creation Tax Credit in fiscal 1997, plus a $1 million grant to help finance a $22 million project in Montgomery County. Alter could not be reached for comment. Bentley Systems Inc., an engineering software company, got a $2 million low-interest loan in 1995 through the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority (PIDA) to expand facilities in Exton. About six months after the loan was approved, state GOP chairman Alan Novak contacted company president Gregory Bentley and asked him to enroll in the club, according to spokesmen for the company and the party. Later, Bentley and his brothers, who help run the company, gave $11,000 to Ridge's fund. Leases. Philadelphia Suburban Development Corp., where club member Bob Nicoletti is president, holds a handful of 10-year leases worth a total of $13.5 million on state welfare, labor and revenue offices in Philadelphia, and is negotiating to extend three other leases that could be worth millions more. Nicoletti could not be reached for comment. Two other club members' businesses lease large office buildings to the state in the Capitol area, one worth $22.5 million, the other $32 million. Harrisburg developer Robert Mumma's company holds leases with the state worth close to $500,000. A club member, he gives office space to Ridge's campaign for free. Mumma says he bids against other landlords to win state leases, and that helping the Ridge campaign makes ``no difference whatsoever.' Appointments. Ridge has named 40 club members to state advisory commissions and licensing boards - some to two or three boards each. Spouses and siblings of club members hold seven other seats. Members were named to boards of colleges including Temple, Drexel, West Chester and Pennsylvania State University. Ridge put businessmen (and club directors) Manny Stamatakis and Paul Zelenkofske on the Delaware River Port Authority board. Stamatakis was also named to head the widely publicized government efficiency panel known as the IMPACCT Commission. Stamatakis in turn named 21 others to head various IMPACCT committees - including club director Charles Sexton Jr., a longtime Delaware County Republican leader, and three other club members. For a follow-up panel Stamatakis chose another club member - a Dodge dealer whose political contributions include the car driven by Ridge campaign director Simmons. Explaining why big contributors were placed on state panels, Tim Reeves, Ridge's press secretary, said: ``You tend to nominate people you know.'' One who is well known is Bob Asher, a Ridge appointee to the Conservation and Natural Resources Advisory Council. Asher, a former state GOP chairman, was convicted of conspiracy and other charges in the 1980s bribery scandal over a computer company's attempt to win a state contract. Prosecutors said Asher had tried to steer money into Republican campaign coffers. Asher, CEO of Asher's Chocolates, said he is on other conservation boards, and that, ``conservation is my real passion in life, even more than politics.'' He declines allowable travel expenses. Ridge press secretary Reeves said that Asher had ``paid a very serious price'' and that now, ``he deserves the opportunity to show that he is a good citizen again.'' Timothy Buchanan's company was paid $350,000 by Ridge's campaign, mostly for printing. Buchanan gave $22,450 to the Republican's 1994 race and $4,780 in the first three months of Ridge's term. Six months later, Ridge named Buchanan to head the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. How did that happen? ``After the campaign they asked me if I'd like to be on a board or commission and if so, which one. I said, `I love history.' They mentioned [the commission] and said, `We'll get back to you,' and they did and told me, `You're chairman of that commission.' It blew my mind.'' Buchanan, who left college after a year and a half, said: ``I'm sure there are many other people that would be eminently more qualified.''

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