Turning up volume in the campaign for governor

Published by Mike Pound on .

From here on out, it's only going to get louder.

Between Tuesday's attempt at Swift-Boating Tom Wolf and an ad released earlier in the day, the campaign team of Gov. Tom Corbett is turning up the heat on Mr. Wolf – and it probably shouldn't be a surprise if that continues during tonight's third and final debate – airing at 7 p.m. on WTAE – between the two candidates.

The discussion about Mr. Wolf's draft record may or may not have been the responsibility of the Corbett campaign – a spokesman said there was no official connection, but a GOP operative at the event said he was there "helping out the governor." But there's no question about the origin of the ad, titled "Learning Curve." That's all Mr. Corbett, with an assist from U.S. Rep Allyson Schwartz.

In the run-up to May's primary election, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Ms. Schwartz – who now serves as chairwoman of the "Women for Wolf" group that is bringing Hillary Clinton to Philadelphia to campaign for Mr. Wolf -- spent a lot of time poking at Mr. Wolf about what happened to his company when he retired and then returned. And while the Corbett campaign has asked plenty of questions about Delaware and the corporate taxes paid by the Wolf family's business, it had yet to jump into this area – until Tuesday, when it jumped in with both feet.

There are issues here, all of which were refuted in the primary campaign. The implied connection between Mr. Wolf's contributions and the investment by the Pennsylvania State Employees Retirement System in the fund that bought out Mr. Wolf when he retired doesn't work; the Philadelphia Inquirer points out that PSERS invested in the buyout fund that paid Mr. Wolf and his cousins upon their retirement two years before Mr. Wolf cashed out. And while it's true that PSERS and the other investors haven't recouped their money after the economy tanked – nearly taking the Wolf Organization with it – but neither has Wolf, who told the Inquirer that the investment he made when he bought back the company was substantial enough that he's borrowed money to fund his campaign.

Attacks by Ms. Schwartz and Rob McCord – the state treasurer who also opposed Mr. Wolf for the Democratic nomination – during the primary campaign prompted the Wolf team to release the following ad. And thanks to the latest broadside from Mr. Corbett, we'd bet that it's going to return to a television near you very soon.

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Selective service, selective facts

Published by James O'Toole on .

20141006lrtomwolflocal04-3erTom Wolf. (Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette)

On a day when one more poll showed a big deficit for Gov. Tom Corbett, the campaign for governor took a puzzling detour through history Tuesday as allies of the governor's campaign sought to raise questions about the nearly half century old draft record of Democratic nominee Tom Wolf.

In a Grant Street press conference conjuring echoes of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's critique of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, several Pittsburgh area veterans displayed draft records that they said posed "troubling questions'' about the student and Peace Corps related draft deferments that Mr. Wolf had received in the late 1960s during the Vietnam War. The documents chronicled the draft status from his time as a high school student in 1966 through 1971, when he was classified as 1-A, meaning that he was eligible to be drafted but was not called to serve because his lottery-generated draft number was high enough to exempt him from that year's levy.  

The speakers, Kim Stolfer, of Firearm Owners Against Guns, and Sam DeMarco, of the Tea party affiliated group, Veterans and Patriots United, voiced concern at the records but failed to show that Mr. Wolf had done anything improper or had in any way run afoul of the Selective Service System.  

"This record is anything but clear, and in some cases, highly troubling,'' Mr. Stolfer insisted.

In particular, he had his colleague pointed to an entry on the purported service records that suggested that Mr. Wolf had been summoned for an armed forces physical on Dec. 5 1968, a time when he was serving in the Peace Corps in an interruption in his undergraduate career at Dartmouth College.  Next to that date was the notation "FR,'' which the GOP activists said stood for "failed to report.''

In a demonstration of the thoroughness of the opposition research on both sides, however, the Wolf campaign _ which had obviously anticipated such scrutiny _  supplied a copy of correspondence with the Selective Service agency from July of this year in which an an information specialist for the agency said the initials stood for "forwarded record.''

Mr. DeMarco declined to say how his group had obtained the Wolf draft records.

Mike Mikus, a spokesman for the Wolf-affiliated Committee for a Fresh Start, stood by as the lunchtime event proceeded outside the City-County Building.  Afterward, he denounced the charges as the actions of "a desperate campaign reaching for straws.''

Mr. Mikus borrowed his own page from history -- in this case, the partisan controversies over the Vietnam-era National Guard records for former President George W. Bush, and before that, of former Vice President Dan Quayle.  He maintained that the GOP attack was ironic because Mr. Corbett had enlisted in the National Guard at around the same time.

"He joined the National Guard to avoid going to Vietnam,'' he said. 

Billy Pitman, a spokesman for the Corbett campaign, said, "It's appalling that Tom Wolf and his campaign are disparaging the committment and sacrifice of Pennsylvania's national Guard Forces.''

And he insisted that the group who staged the press conference had no affiliation with the governor's re-election effort.

The communications for the event, however, was handled by Matt Beynon, a veteran GOP campaign operative.  When asked about his role, he said, "I'm helping out the governor.''

Mr. Beynon was an associate of Mr. Corbett's media strategist, John Brabender, when they both worked on former Sen. Rick Santorum's 2012 presidential campaign.

The records on display amid the midday traffic showed that Mr. Wolf's draft status varied during the years.  He registered with the system in 1966 when he was still a student at the Hill School, a private highschool.  Upon entering Dartmouth in 1967, he was classified 1-D as a member of the Navy Reserve Officers Training program.  He entered the Peace Corps in 1968 and would end up serving in India with a draft deferment tied to his work with the volunteer agency.  He returned to Dartmouth in 1971 and received a standard student deferment because the campus NROTC program hd gone out of existence.  In the meantime, the government conducted a draft lottery in which draft eligible individuals received a number based on their birth date.  The lower the number, the more likely one was to be drafted.  Mr. Wolf's number was 143.   In 1971, after his student deferment expired, the highest number called was 125, according to the Democratic campaign, so he was not called for service.  

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Coalition pushes education funding reform

Published by Karen Langley on .

Ed funding rally

From the Monday files:

HARRISBURG -- A coalition of business, education and community groups gathered Monday at the Capitol to kick off a campaign for fair and predictable funding for K-12 education.

The group, The Campaign for Fair Education Funding, launches its public effort as a state commission holds hearings around the state on how Pennsylvania pays for its elementary and secondary schools.

Representatives of the funding campaign described principles that will guide their approach -- accurate data, stable funding, shared responsibility and accountability by schools -- but said they had not yet settled upon a formula they could recommend. The state funding commission, made up of Corbett administration officials and legislators, is charged with reporting to the General Assembly by June 2015.

"We will get to the point where we are advocating for a specific proposal," said Kathy Manderino, manager of the education funding campaign. "We are working our way through those principles, to figure out what all of our partners think needs to be in that formula. And at at the same time, obviously, we're following very carefully and kind of trying to share our knowledge and information and resources with the Basic Education Funding Commission because we realize we're on parallel paths."

Campaign members include A+ Schools, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, Allies for Children, the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh. Mayor Bill Peduto, in town for a meeting of the Pennsylvania Municipal League, appeared at the event.

Education funding has become a prominent topic in state politics, particularly in the campaign for governor. But where Democrats and Republicans have tangled over the accounting of state and federal money in their efforts to show if Gov. Tom Corbett cut or invested in public education, the group Monday stuck to broad goals of fairness and predictability.

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With last debate looming, Corbett chipping at Wolf's lead

Published by Mike Pound on .

wolfcorbett2smallGov. Tom Corbett and challenger Tom Wolf laugh during one of their gubernatorial debates. (AP photo)

The home stretch is approaching and one of The Battling Toms is gaining ground in yet another poll. The question: does he have enough time to left to come all the way back?

Quinnipiac: Wolf leads 55-38. The newest poll from Quinnipiac University has a now-familiar theme: Gov. Tom Corbett is cutting into the lead held by Democratic challenger Tom Wolf since the primary election in May, but in spite of the gains, Mr. Wolf's lead is still substantial. In this poll, Quinnipiac found Mr. Wolf holding a 17-point lead; that's down from the 24-point lead he held over Mr. Corbett in Quinnipiac's poll released last month. The poll points out that Republicans are finally lining up behind the incumbent governor, but the 75-22 percent margin, represents one of the lowest rates of same-party support for a sitting governor in the country. And even with the gains, it's clear that time is running out for Mr. Corbett, said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll: "With a slight shift in the numbers as a handful of Republicans come back, there is a pinprick of light at the end of the long, dark reelection tunnel, but time is not on (Gov.) Corbett's side. It's a matter of simple math and the ticking clock and both are working against Gov. Corbett."

It's the economy, stupid. The campaign of Mr. Wolf has seized on a recent no good, very bad week for Mr. Corbett – the one that was filled with less-than-happy economic news – and created two news attack ads, both of which were released Monday. Here's a sample:

Both ads hit the same themes: the Corbett administration securing a $1.5 billion line of credit from the state treasury, an increase in the state's unemployment rate for the second month in a row and a downgraded credit rating for the third time in two years. Both also add a parting shot we saw in an ad last week – that the state had dropped to 47th in the country in job creation. Mr. Corbett is focusing on money issues as well, as we saw in an ad – one that's actually a little funny – his campaign released last week:

This works on a couple of levels. It moves attention away from education funding, a battle that Mr. Corbett has probably lost. It plays on the uncertainty that surrounds Mr. Wolf's income tax proposal, especially since Mr. Wolf hasn't yet told us the specifics of his plan. And Mr. Corbett's people get bonus points for being actually funny, as opposed to trying and failing.

One last try. If Mr. Corbett is going to overcome the lead that Mr. Wolf has enjoyed for months, the comeback will have to begin at 7 p.m. Wednesday night, when The Battling Toms hold their third and final debate of the campaign, held at and airing on WTAE. By our count, Mr. Corbett has won twice, first in front of a Republican-friendly crowd at the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry's annual dinner and then in a Philadelphia television studio. But neither victory was decisive, and if Mr. Corbett is going to make up a double-digit deficit with just a month to go, he's going to have to start with Corbett-Wolf III.

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Delays threaten to extend email scandal

Published by Mike Pound on .


If you're looking for a thorough dissection of the issues facing The Battling Toms in the home stretch for the race for governor, you can find an excellent one, written by PG political editor Jim O'Toole, right here.

And we'd be that's exactly what Gov. Tom Corbett would want you to do – focus on the issues, that is – rather than spend a lot of time on the scandal over pornographic emails that were apparently passed around his office when he served as the state's attorney general. But one of the men accused of participating in that email chain is not going quietly, which threatens to drag out the controversy well past the point that would be comfortable for Tom Wolf, Mr. Corbett's Democratic opponent.

Flap over Feathers. Once the office of current Attorney General Kathleen Kane handed over information about the emails, which she said where uncovered during her review of how Mr. Corbett and his deputies handled the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse case – to the governor's office, two resignations came quickly. Christopher Abruzzo, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, and Glenn Parno, the DEP's deputy chief counsel, both resigned quietly last week as Mr. Corbett reviewed the information for the first time.

But that wasn't the case for Randy Feathers, an appointed member of the state Board of Probation and Parole who led the Sandusky investigation under Mr. Corbett; Mr. Feathers refused to resign from his $116,000-a-year job, pending an independent forensics review of the messages Kane said he viewed. Feathers also told the Philadelphia Inquirer Ms. Kane's accusations are politically motivated:

"This attorney general doesn't have the best credibility with me. I'm not going to resign from a position because she says I did something. This is politics, and I'm caught in the middle of it."

Mr. Feathers said he would step down if the investigation determined that he did not "uphold (his) professional responsibilities." What's not known – how long would such an investigation take? Note that Mr. Corbett, who undoubtedly wants the scandal to end quickly and quietly, cannot remove unilaterally Mr. Feathers from the parole board, because Mr. Feathers was confirmed by the state Senate. But if two-thirds of the Senate were to vote to remove Mr. Feathers, he'd be gone – and a spokesman for the Senate's Republican caucus told our Kate Giammarise he anticipated "strong bipartisan support if a vote is needed." If Mr. Corbett does want the scandal end this quickly – as we'd suspect – perhaps Mr. Feathers should consider himself warned.

See no evil, send no evil. If the scandal does drag on, it won't be Kevin Harley's fault. Mr. Harley, who served as spokesman for Mr. Corbett – the attorney general and governor versions – made it clear in a Patriot News interview that he did not participate in "opening, originating, forwarding or replying to" the explicit emails. That's not to say Mr. Harley didn't receive any – a file released by Ms. Kane on Friday said Mr. Harley received a mountain of the messages, but didn't pass on any of them.

May it please the court? There is at least one more significant potential delay for closure of the email scandal, and that's state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille. Justice Castille implied early on that he'd be displeased – to say the least -- to find out about state-level judges being involved in the ring. And we assume that he was upset enough to hear that Justice Seamus McCaffery forwarded at least eight racy messages from his personal account to an unnamed employee in the attorney general's office. Perhaps that's why Justice Castille asked Ms. Kane to forward information about the scandal, a process that Ms. Kane said may take some time while she figures out what she can divulge without violating collective bargaining agreements or risking lawsuits. Justice Castille wasn't pleased by the delay – he called Ms. Kane's caution "frivolous" – but still, it's pretty clear there is the possibility for the release of more names, demands more resignations – and even more time spent by the Corbett administration on the scandal when its leaders would rather be talking about nearly anything else.

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