May 13, 2000

DA opens probe of smear calls in 37th
By Ernest Schreiber; Tom Murse The Lancaster County District Attorney's office has opened a preliminary inquiry into charges linking Kevin Harley's state House campaign to last-minute negative telephone calls against two of his April 4 primary opponents. District Attorney Donald Totaro ordered the inquiry Friday to determine whether election laws or criminal laws were broken by consultants who ordered 2,800 negative phone calls to voters in the 37th House District. "I can confirm that," Totaro said this morning. "There is a county detective who is looking into the allegations." But, Totaro stressed, the probe is only in its initial stages -- to determine whether laws were broken and, if so, who was responsible. Although fellow Republican candidate Marc Lemon, one of those named in the negative calls, has suggested the Harley campaign might be responsible, the district attorney said he was making no assumptions about who ordered and paid for the calls. "We have no preconceived notions as to who might be involved," Totaro said. Harley himself has denied knowledge of or involvement in the phone call campaign. "I have nothing to do with it," he has said. The calls, on the eve of the election, accused candidate Tom Creighton of wrongdoing as a township supervisor and suggested, indirectly, that candidate Lemon was behind the calls. Late that night, Creighton, the election winner, and Lemon, the fourth-place finisher, held a joint press conference condemning the calls. The next day, Lemon fired off a letter to county, state and federal officials, charging that the calls were false, fraudulent and defamatory. "We believe this activity may be linked to the Kevin Harley campaign," he said. Lemon, an attorney, has vowed to file suit against Harley and those who made the calls. To date, however, he has not revealed what evidence, if any, he has for the charge. In the negative campaign, anonymous callers accused Creighton of using his political influence to avoid paying for improvements to a small tract of homes he developed in Rapho Township. "This will save Creighton hundreds of thousands of dollars but force taxpayers to pay for Creighton's responsibility," Conquest Communications callers told voters. "It may not be illegal, but it's wrong."

At the end of the message, the callers said, "Please vote for the only true conservative, Marc Lemon," a message that Lemon believes was designed to target him as the source of the negative campaign. Lancaster County voters dislike negative political campaigns and have rejected candidates who use them. As the calls were being made, the Creighton campaign traced them to Conquest, a Richmond, Va., political consulting company. After threats of legal action by Lemon, Conquest made a second, post-election round of calls, correcting the information in the first calls. More significantly for investigators, Conquest executives also revealed that their firm had been hired for the telephone campaign by the Eagle Consulting Group of Harrisburg. In an interview Wednesday, Eagle president Christopher Nicholas acknowledged that he had ordered the telephone campaign on behalf of an unnamed client. "We were hired by a client to provide the telephone calls. We provided the script. We provided the (telephone) numbers. We did the calls to the client's specifications," Nicholas said. But, Nicholas said, the calls violated no law or election-code rules. To the best of his knowledge, Nicholas said, the content of the transcript was true. The phone calls did not state that Lemon -- or anyone else -- was responsible for them, Nicholas said. State law does not require such a "disclaimer" with campaign phone calls, he said. Nicholas suggested that Lemon was overreacting to his election loss. "Let me say that most candidates, when they lose, are able to get on with their lives," he said. Nicholas declined to name the client who hired him to order the phone calls, until he obtains permission from the client. He acknowledged that he has worked in the past with Donald Raymond, the political consultant who guided the Harley campaign. But he declined to comment on what role, if any, Raymond had in the phone campaign. Both men worked for the House Republican Campaign Committee in the early 1990s -- Nicholas as political director and Raymond as executive director. Their ties actually go back further than that, Nicholas said. According to campaign expense reports, the Harley campaign paid Raymond's firm, Raymond & Cliggett, $15,720 for "professional services" in February and March. The reports do not show any payments to Nicholas' business. Final expense reports have not yet been filed. Raymond did not return repeated requests for comment that were made on Wednesday and today. Nor did Harley. Lemon said he is continuing to develop a legal case against those he believes responsible and intends to file it in court next week.

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