Following the money and the robo-calls.

OFF THE FLOOR A Capitolwire Column By Peter L. DeCoursey Bureau Chief Capitolwire HARRISBURG (Dec. 22) – When everybody quiets up and won’t give answer to questions that demand explanation, it makes you wonder what else is going on? That is the point I have reached in continuing to try to track down who paid for the anonymous robo-attack-calls that went out in mid-April against Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford, and Cumberland County attorney Lowell Gates. Roae complained about the calls and told his friends quietly that he thought former House Speaker John Perzel, R-Philadelphia, was behind them. Roae said they were revenge calls against him for voting for House Speaker Denny O’Brien, R-Philadelphia, not Perzel, for Speaker in January of 2007. The defection of Roae and five other Republicans stunned and shocked Perzel, and cost him the Speakership, even after Democrats claimed a 102-101 victory at the polls. Publicly, all Roae would say is “I don't think the calls were organized by anyone from Crawford County. The responsible person was not man enough to admit to paying for the calls. The calls were coming from a Harrisburg phone number. The best I can determine is a coward who works in Harrisburg who engages in negative campaigns was behind the calls. I do not know specifically who it was.” That same week, Gates, waging what turned out to be a losing campaign against Sheryl Delozier for Rep. Jerry Nailor’s Cumberland County district, was the target of anonymous robo-calls attacking his record and ethics as an attorney. Then and later, Delozier told allies she thought Perzel was behind the calls, but also said she did not know, since no one told her, then or since, that he had paid for them. Because the anonymous, apparently unclaimed calls break the law – someone has to say they paid for them under state campaign law – Cumberland County District Attorney David J. Freed launched a probe. Freed said last week only that “I’ll confirm there is an active investigation going on.” Then Gates filed a lawsuit against Perzel and some Perzel allies, alleging they conspired to make the robo-calls which Gates said were knowingly false and damaged his reputation.

That is where we have been since last summer when Gates announced his lawsuit. Then the campaign finance reports from last spring were turned in, and they had some fascinating information about Perzel, his campaign consultant, Don Raymond of Raymond, Cliggett and Raymond, and his co-consultant and wife, Pat Cliggett, also of RCR. Not that it matters to our story, but the third partner in RCR is just-retired Rep. Ron Raymond, R-Delaware, who listed the firm on his financial disclosure forms, where you have to detail your sources of income. So you had a sitting state lawmaker making some money, at least, through a firm Perzel hired, recommended to other members, and had others hire. But hey, let’s stick to the controversy at hand. OK, on April 10 of this year, Perzel gave $100,000 to the 1776 Committee PAC. That is a political action committee whose treasurer is Pat Cliggett. When you call the number she lists on the form she signed as treasurer of that PAC, the voice answering you says “RCR Inc., may I help you?” The $100,000 was described in the campaign report and that of the PAC as a “contribution.” That same day, the 1776 Committee PAC gave the Better Government Committee, another Perzel-controlled-entity, $75,000. The next day, the Better Government Committee then gave Spring Hill Group $52,148 for "political advertising." Anyone who guessed Pat Cliggett, yeah, her again, was listed on the corporation documents as the president of Spring Hill Group, goes to the head of the class. Righto. Just a few days later, the anti-Gates robo-calls started. A few days later, four days before the primary, the anti-Roae calls kicked in, Roae says. So I called the 1776 Committee, at “RCR Inc.” and Cliggett didn’t call back for the last weekplus, to answer my question about what the “political advertising” was and who it was for. Perzel did not return e-mails and calls requesting comment, even after telling me 9 days ago at a Pennsylvania Society event that he would do so. Neither did his private spokesman Marty O’Rourke, although I am told that may have something to do with the House GOP cutting off the taxpayer-paid staff and consultants Perzel has piled up over the years. Nor did his chief of staff or anyone else I asked. Why not say what he paid $100,000 and passed money through two PACs to accomplish? Perzel told me last May that “I don’t know anything about it” when I asked about the Gates robocalls.

They’re not alone in their silence. Roae would only answer a question about it when the calls against him began. Other questions he declined to answer. Gates did not return six calls and an email over weeks. The cat hasn’t gotten everyone’s tongue though. Roae’s partner in the anti-Perzel coup, Rep. Curt Schroder, R-Chester, says Perzel’s RCR consultant, Don Raymond, looked for someone to run against him in the 2006 primary, and sent robo-calls into his district telling people not to sign his nominating petitions. And as Schroder says, even House Majority Leader Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney, Perzel’s former protégé and top leadership ally, says be thinks it’s possible that Perzel hired attack dog Joe Carduff to dig up dirt on Smith and a bunch of other Republicans so he could seize back the House GOP leadership. Except that that plan, just like Perzel’s 2007 speakership plan, and most of the other stuff he has tried in the last two years, blew up when Carduff went public, right before the leadership elections when Smith defeated Perzel, one-on-one. Schroder said of Perzel and his RCR allies: “It is apparent that he used RCR to run his dirty tricks through and keep certain activities under cover. This looks like one example and hiring Joe Carduff to oppo-research us is another example.” Unlike Schroder, I still have an open mind, and some open questions: why did Perzel move all that money and what did he want or expect 1776 Committee PAC to do with it? Why go through all those machinations to get Pat Cliggett, a partner at your consulting firm, to spend money? And for Ms. Cliggett, what political advertising did you buy for the Better Government PAC? For whom? When? What medium? Now these folks have been ducking my questions, and may continue to do so. I’m not a DA. But David Freed is. I’m not an attorney able to depose people. Lowell Gates is, though, and although Perzel is already feeling deposed from the Speakership and GOP leadership, the third time might not be the charm for him in depositions. It will be interesting to see what happens now.

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