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Inquirer 20090406

Inquirer 20090406

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Published by Signor Ferrari

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Published by: Signor Ferrari on Jun 11, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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06/16/2009

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April 6, 2009
Bonusgate records contradict DeWeese
By Mario F. Cattabiani and Angela CouloumbisInquirer Staff WritersHARRISBURG - Since the Bonusgate corruption probe was launched two years ago,Rep. Bill DeWeese has adamantly and repeatedly denied knowing that taxpayer moneysecretly had been used to underwrite political campaigns.But records turned over to defendants in the case by Attorney General Tom Corbettappear to paint a different picture of the onetime House Democratic leader, who has notbeen charged in the ongoing investigation.Documents show that in 2006, facing a stiff challenge in an election that DeWeesenearly lost, his campaign tapped a state-paid computer consultant - a key figure in theBonusgate probe - to perform a long list of political tasks.Among other duties, that consultant crafted fund-raising invitations and sent out blast e-mails to constituents in DeWeese's district in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania.The documents, provided to The Inquirer by a defendant, also indicate that the GreeneCounty Democrat exchanged campaign-related messages with his legislative stafferson state e-mail accounts."I love it," DeWeese responded in September 2006 to a legislative aide of his who had just drafted a letter for a constituent to send to the local newspaper supporting therepresentative's campaign."Great work," DeWeese wrote with 44 exclamation points when told by campaignoperatives in April that party canvassers had knocked on nearly 600 doors.State law prohibits public money from being used for campaign-related purposes.DeWeese, who has served in the House for three decades and is now majority whip,declined to be interviewed. In a statement, he said it would be inappropriate to commenton individual documents.
 
He called the e-mails "a desperate attempt by the criminal defendants to try their case inthe media by cherry-picking documents they received in discovery and leaking them."The documents - more than 100 in all - were given to The Inquirer by Brett Cott, aformer top aide to House Democrats who faces 42 corruption counts. As required bylaw, state prosecutors provided the documents to Cott and the other defendants as partof the discovery phase of the case.Cott was among a dozen caucus insiders charged in July in the first wave of Bonusgateindictments. The 12 are accused of carrying out a conspiracy to use millions in stateresources and staff to further the campaigns of House Democrats.His attorney, Bryan Walk, said the documents "speak for themselves."Asked to elaborate, Walk said: "We're disappointed that Brett is charged for allegedlydoing political work on state time when it appears that there were other people who didthe same - or more things - on state time who weren't charged."DeWeese, in his prepared statement, said prosecutors had decided not to charge him"based on the totality of the evidence over a two-year period, which included thousandsof e-mails and other documents that we turned over to them and the sworn testimony of hundreds of witnesses whom we urged to cooperate."Corbett has said that the fact that DeWeese was not charged does not indicate he is inthe clear and that the investigation continues. Corbett spokesman Kevin Harleyreiterated that last week, but declined to comment further.
Democratic push
Fall 2006 was a critical period for Democrats who had been toiling for a decade toreclaim the majority in the state House.The Bonusgate indictment alleges that they pulled out all the stops, even paying acomputer consultant, Eric Buxton and his Harrisburg company, Govercom Strategies,hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars for political work.Prosecutors have argued that Buxton, son of a longtime state representative fromHarrisburg, was paid with tax dollars for government services while in reality he onlyworked on campaigns.Cott and three others were charged with theft stemming from the Govercomarrangement.DeWeese was mentioned in the indictment, but only in passing. It noted that virtually alldealings with Buxton among House Democrats were done through the state e-mail
 
system. DeWeese was one of the few exceptions, because he used his campaignaccount to correspond with Buxton.But his legislative aides who worked on his campaign did not.The documents Cott provided show that several of those aides were in regular contactwith Buxton, using their state e-mail accounts to task the consultant with campaignwork.Staffers Tom Andrews and Kevin Sidella had Buxton send fund-raising e-mails andnews releases, update the campaign Web site, and help solve computer glitches.On Oct. 31, 2006, Andrews sent Buxton an e-mail telling him to drop everything andcreate a document with a photo of DeWeese receiving the NRA's defender of freedomaward."It will go to all 50th District MALES," Andrews, DeWeese's legislative press secretary,instructed Buxton.In some cases, such blast campaign e-mails backfired."Do not send any more e-mails," constituent Karen Zgela wrote DeWeese, demanding amonth before the November 2006 election that he take her off the e-mail list. "It is just awaste of taxpayers money."Sidella and Buxton are cooperating with prosecutors under grants of immunity.Sidella left the state House to open a private consulting business in 2007 and wasimmediately hired to help guide DeWeese's campaign.In an interview last week, Andrews said he took time off from his state job to helpDeWeese's campaign. Asked to provide documentation, however, Andrews did notrespond.He also said he didn't know how Buxton was being paid.State records show the DeWeese reelection campaign paid Buxton's firm only $530 in2006 - $500 to buy a database and $30 for a domain name - even though the e-mailssuggest he did a lot more work than that.For most of 2006, Buxton was paid $16,875 monthly under a state contract with HouseDemocrats.Buxton's attorney, Ed Spreha, declined to comment.

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